|Case Studies Jan/Feb - Page 4|
Reflecting about the unrecognized, but inhibiting influence of shame in her life prepared Lisa to consider all the ways it was intimately connected to a fear of being alone. As women, we feel ashamed because we're always being told we're not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, sexy enough, "feminine" enough, or, contradictorily, "tough" enough. All these messages have the effect of preventing us from discovering our true selves, and we yield to a desire to become shape-shifting perfect women—sexual sirens, nice girls, mother-figures, breadwinners, ideal housewives. Being alone contributes to our shame: we're culturally programmed to think that if we were better, more successful women, we wouldn't be alone.
Aloneness vs. Loneliness
In an unfinished, posthumously published essay, psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichman pondered the problem of loneliness. She cautioned psychotherapists to recognize that aloneness, loneliness, isolation, alienation, and solitude are descriptively and dynamically different experiences, which need to be differentiated and individually explored by the psychological community, rather than being lumped together in one jumbled "psychological basket." As psychotherapists with women clients who are or will be alone (or who might wish to be alone if fear of being alone didn't hold them back), we need to sort out our own tangled feelings about aloneness, loneliness, and solitude. Too often, while we want to help clients develop a personal self, we tend to think about progress in terms of their capacity for and success at forming close relationships with others.
Overlooked, as psychoanalyst Anthony Storrs suggests in Solitude: A Return to the Self, is the vital truth that the personal self is often best nurtured and realized in aloneness—specifically, in the animating form of aloneness that I call "creative" or "active" solitude. Psychotherapists need to pay close attention to our two opposing drives, the one impelling us toward close connection with our fellow human beings, the other toward our need for the sovereignty of selfhood that only the aloneness of solitude can foster. At a time when an unprecedented number of women are unmarried, it behooves us to help our clients acquire more balance between their desire for relationship and their capacity for solitude.