Loneliness and the Capacity to be Alone
by Marilyn Charles, PhD, ABPP
Recently, I was invited to participate in Boston College University's Counseling Services Colloquium on Loneliness and presented my ideas regarding “Loneliness and the Capacity to be Alone.” This opportunity allowed me (and others) to address the concern that young adults, who, despite being more “connected” than ever, are increasingly isolated and less able to navigate and nurture successful relationships with others. The colloquium also provided the opportunity to reflect upon my work with patients at Riggs who struggle with these same issues.
My work at Riggs with young adults who struggle with complex psychiatric problems has shown me how trauma, in its many forms, can disrupt important life passages. These disruptions, in turn, impact the identity development so fundamental to the capacity to be alone. Developmental failures can keep the individual isolated behind a façade that protects them but also insulates them from any real or satisfying engagement with others.
One of the goals of the intensive psychodynamic treatment at Riggs is to help patients build or rebuild the capacity to work, play, and love – activities that require learning how to create and cultivate meaningful relationships. These capacities depend on the ability, first, to become oneself. Such development can happen in many ways – whether working with the individual therapist to build a strong treatment alliance, forging meaningful relationships with nursing and other staff, or developing supportive relationships with peers. It can be very moving to witness the transformation of patients in this unique treatment environment.
Technology can make it easy for some young adults who do not relate easily to others to become further isolated and constrained in their capacity to learn. That is why it is so important for us as mental health professionals to provide active, integrative, and relational opportunities to build and enhance the capacities for reflection and creative thought so crucial to wellbeing and further development.
Hear Dr. Charles speak about creativity and the future of psychoanalysis