Loneliness and Freedom

Pasadena, California
Tuesday, June 19, 2018



Loneliness and Freedom

Regardless of why their seek their help, psychoanalysts strive to increase their patients’ freedom.


By confronting avoidance, uncovering unconscious dynamics,  and facilitating immersion in unresolved emotions such as grief and anger. These methods resolve trauma. They loosen rigid, often self-destructive patterns, allowing patients to resume growth in more mature and effective ways.

But their patients’ journeys towards maturity and effective living comes at a painful price:


The painful emotion may pass after brief exposure;

Or, it may linger.

But loneliness accompanies almost every forward step.


Because the unconscious themes revealed, the situations faced, and the traumatic emotions experienced shake up patients’ interpersonal worlds.

Here are some common examples:

A 48-year-old woman who tended to excessively self-sacrifice in her relationships, particularly with men, begins better attending her needs. Others, who have unwittingly grown accustomed to her overly-accommodating style, react negatively—at least initially.

The woman faces loneliness while paradoxically enjoying her newly-found self-valuation.

A 15-year-old boy begins refusing to heed the demands of an excessively critical father. His father reacts by withdrawing from him; his mother insists upon reconciliation; his siblings distance themselves from him.

The boy faces loneliness as he stands firm in asserting himself.

A 55-year-old businessman, having prepared for retirement and paid off his home, devotes himself to philanthropy. He concludes he has been excessively self-involved. He feels guilty at the workers he has exploited; he believes his lifelong profit motive has harmed the world. As he restructures his life, his business associates become angry, his friends fall away, and his wife becomes insecure about their financial future.

The businessman, too, faces loneliness as he privileges the needs of others over his own.

These three examples demonstrate how changes in self necessarily affects its social fabric.

In a more general way, we all face loneliness when countering  societal norms. Echoing the way the personal unconscious affects us individually, the interpersonal soup of culture—the Big Other—imposes ways we should act, or dress, or speak.

Dutch Psychoanalyst Paul Verhaeghe writes:

The very idea of free choice is threatening, extremely threatening. Most of us are usually prepared to pass on the choice as quickly as possible, to God, to science, or to the advertising industry. 

If you exercise your will—daring to live life authentically—ready yourself to face loneliness.

If not, adhere to the program dictated by internal or external programming and, well, ready yourself to face lethal doses of boredom.

Worse, you may lose yourself entirely.

You may vanish—poof—into living a life dictated entirely by the Big Other.


Verhaeghe, P. (2011). Love in a time of loneliness. New York: Karnac.



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