Of interpreting loneliness
Published on: Sunday, November 08, 2020
By: Rev Dr Peter Abas
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THE existence of a state of being overwhelmed with work and emotion is fully explained through a feeling of being overwhelmed, a feeling of being helpless and the feeling of being incapable. 

A feeling of being overwhelmed. These participants shared a feeling of being overwhelmed along with their feeling of loneliness.  The variables in their situations of course differed, but the commonality was evident.  Sonia states, “Sometimes it is the feeling that I am responsible for everything and sometimes I am overwhelmed.”  She elaborated during the second interview, as she discussed being overwhelmed, in this way: “That is overwhelming to know that you are responsible for everything. I felt overwhelmed and angry.” Sonia placed emphasis on being able to function, to do work and to be healthy enough to care for herself. The lived body component of her existence was extremely challenged when she succumbed to illness; which did not fit in to her daily schema of life. She then had to use judgment about what she could actually do, and what she couldn’t do.

Vicky feels that her capacities are limited, now that she is alone, and honestly states, “I feel overwhelmed and I realize my limits when doing something which I am incapable of doing. “She is constrained by a limitation that was not familiar to her before she became alone.  It is that constraint that inflicts an overwhelming sense of limitation on her; that there are now things she must not try to attempt.  

Josephine’s overwhelming feelings come from trying to move on; trying to cope with her loss.  She says it in this way: “It is difficult to lose someone. This was a feeling of becoming overwhelmed when dealing with my own emotions.”  She does not question her capabilities however, and feels strong enough to attempt things, even though mentally burdened. When asked to describe the process of loneliness in her own life, she responds, “It usually comes from something I am doing that my husband and I used to do together.” She further states, “I’m a doing person, I think that’s where it starts; in my head, then in my heart.” Josephine’s great emphasis on the realization that she is now alone, proves to address the lived other component. The reality of actually being alone becomes overwhelming to her, because of the great importance she has placed on actually losing someone.

Sandra sums it up well when she states, “It is painful, sad, and overwhelming.”  The feeling of emotional pain transfers over to overwhelming feelings in her situation.  Being overwhelmed is not always linked to sadness and pain; but in Sandra’s case, emotional pain leads to sadness, and sadness leads to “overwhelming feelings.”

Therefore, becoming overwhelmed encompasses two basic situations. Some participants who felt overwhelmed were overwhelmed with responsibility. Sonia says, “Sometimes it’s the feeling that I’m responsible for everything and sometimes it’s overwhelming.”  

Being overwhelmed with emotion is yet another situation.   They were, however, overwhelmed with emotion in their own way.  Some coped, some did not.  Some feel inadequate; some considered the challenges attached to the situation.  All in all, becoming overwhelmed along with being lonely did not make coping easier, as the realization of limitation became quite evident with some of the participants.    

A feeling of being helpless. Another feeling attached to loneliness that was quite common among the participants was that of feeling helpless.  Occupying a space once shared by more than one person, challenges one, in respect to the reality that there is in fact, no one else there to offer support, or appease sad feelings.  Vicky explains, “I think it is a feeling of helplessness because I am alone.”  This brings out the lived other component in which, Vicky says, “I think it’s like when you compare your life with other people who have big families.”  She adds, “I was married and I never had children. That was a disappointment.” Jessica reinforces this further by emphatically saying: “Social interaction holds great importance when it is necessary to maintain self-confidence and pride.” 

Alice delves into the issue of helplessness by saying: “It did feel like there was something ‘sucked out’ of me.”  By using the term “sucked out”, Alice means this: “I found that I had less and less ambition or want or desire to do anything.” 

Although Andrew lives alone, his admission of not feeling comfortable with his situation is revealed when he says, “The feeling of helplessness occurs because of the inability to handle the emotion of living alone.”  He does not go deeper into discussing what he can or cannot do; only that he now does it alone, which makes him feel helpless.  

Quite differently from the others, Sandra has a basic problem of not knowing exactly what her negative feelings are in all actuality. She identifies her weak point as being unable to describe her feelings.  This then brings on helplessness.  She states with frustration: “I have difficulty with my feelings.  I’m helpless in identifying my loneliness.”  

The feeling of helplessness mostly accompanies the realization that one is not only alone, but is extremely lonely. Sandra says, “I really feel lonely when I have problems that I feel that I can’t handle and I do not have help.” Loneliness can most definitely breed helplessness as soon as the person feeling lonely feels there is nowhere to turn. Sandra speaks of her lived body component, “It’s so hard to take, and I mean, you keep up with it as you get older, it gets really difficult.”  That is the crossing-over point, when one “gives up” so to speak; helplessness sets in rather quickly.  Once helpless, those persons can, and most likely will experience something even deeper; sometimes, more often than not, a sense of ambivalence. 

The feeling of being incapable. More often than not, the importance of feeling responsible for oneself, as well as possessing the ability to function on a daily basis, is a high priority among the participants involved in these interviews.  According to Sonia: “Being alone and incapable of doing certain tasks is loneliness.”  She then deals with despair as well, as it is within this admission that she realizes her lived body, lived space and lived other experiences. Concerning her health issue as she says, “I have to admit that the illness has caused me to be weak.” Sonia has previously stated that she cannot tolerate becoming so dependent. In relation to becoming limited in her abilities, Sonia’s statements show the importance of independence in her life. The fact that she emphatically states that she is weakened due to her illness, affects her level of functioning. The limit then occurs when she does not feel responsible for herself due to her own incapability. She states when asked about the feeling she gets from being limited in her abilities: I’d say frustrated that I cannot get things done.” She adds, “That’s frustrating for me because I am used to setting out to do a task and getting it done.” She concludes, “…having to rely on other people. It was the worst feeling.” Remarkably, incapability creates a dependence that is unfavorable to most of the other interviewees as well.  

Adrian states, “It is something hard to define, but the limitations in my capacity to be able to work, create a lonely situation for me.”   Josephine almost echoes these thoughts by stating: “My slowness and incapability to perform my work is a kind of loneliness.” By creating this certain incapability, she is exemplifying reliance on the lived body component. Undoubtedly, these statements deal with high expectations.  However, because they have to leave their lived space to find someone else to share their responsibilities, they feel a loneliness that is measured in the questioning of their own personal self- worth.  

Josephine places importance on the rate at which she is capable of performing certain tasks.  She says regrettably: “I notice slowness and an incapability to perform work. That is a type of loneliness.”   She places high expectations on herself and when not met, loneliness sets in because of the realization that there is no one else but herself to depend on, and she is not living up to the standards that she has set for herself. She concludes, “Well, I am not satisfied but I accept it and I try to make the best of it and I think that about it.” Alice also agrees by adding: “Loneliness starts with a thought, but when I am incapable of carrying out certain tasks, it is the reality that I am, in fact, alone.”  

Jessica regards her incapability of being with people as a major emotional conflict.  She says decisively: “Well, the only way to overcome loneliness is to be with people.  Being incapable of being with others sometimes, is loneliness for me.”  She includes the lived other concept in her way of thinking.  It was evident that her first priority was not that of household responsibilities, but the fact that she possessed the incapacity to interact.  This way of thinking differed greatly from the other participants who were involved in this study.  Jessica focuses on lived other component of how incapable she is, “I am not very good in interacting and expressing myself.” 

Sandra approached the concept of incapability in yet a different way from the rest.  She addressed her own issue of not being able to think clearly. Facing this dilemma, she states, “When I am afraid of something and incapable to refocus my thoughts that is loneliness to me.”   She places great emphasis on the social exchanges she shares with her friends.  If she cannot think on her own, and there is no one else around her to redirect her thought processes, she experiences loneliness immediately, along with, by her own admission, the fear that causes her to think unclearly in the first place.  She says, “Gee, I had a thought and now it is gone, this makes me lonely too.”

Incapability is a state of mind and body.  These participants who have experienced feelings that involve both body and mind now experience loneliness because of these inabilities. The ability to release their pride and to admit that being incapable does not make them less of a person, is quite difficult to accomplish.  To be successful at putting loneliness aside and separating it from incapability is a difficult task.  It is in coping with the situation of incapability that one can conquer a loneliness trigger.  


Realizing that the participants have voiced their feelings pertaining to loneliness, whether they be that of strong feelings of being overwhelmed, helpless or incapable; the overall commonality amongst these elderly individuals revolves around a basic factor. They all share an inability to successfully deal with their individual emotions when reaching their own limits, as stated in many of the interviews and termed as having overwhelming feelings. (Next week, I will delve into the in-depth interpretations of loneliness, it should be noted that names used in the article are pseudonyms) 

Rev. Dr. Peter Abas is a mental health counsellor and psychologist, founder of Home of Hope: Counselling and professional Development Centre, a non-profit organization.  He formulated a Programme: Vision of Hope – Partner in Healing (65 and above). An opportunity to identify and experience your personal “Vision of Hope” while journeying with others.

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