Updated: Apr 28
There is so much shame associated with loneliness isn't there? It really plays to that voice of "I'm not good enough".
And yet we ALL feel lonely from time to time - and oh so acutely in motherhood when our circumstances change so significantly. When suddenly we find ourselves spending more time than ever before in our own company, alone with our thoughts, devoid of the routines, purpose and social interactions of pre-baby, work life.
Loneliness is not just a physical thing, it is an emotional thing. We can be physically all alone and not feel lonely at all. But we can also be in a room full of people - at a toddler group, at dinner with friends or family, lying in bed with our partner - and yet still feel intense loneliness. Intense disconnection. It can feel hard to know how to even start to reconnect.
Feelings of loneliness and disconnection can feel most acute when we feel misunderstood and unsupported emotionally. When it feels like no one seems to relate to or understand the turmoil within our minds. We can even beat ourselves up for feeling that way, when everyone else seems to ‘have it together’ or seems to find it so much easier to connect with others.
As we navigate loneliness in motherhood, getting out of the house and seeking out moments of social connection is critical to help lift the mood - especially for those extroverts among us. Even a smile from a stranger can be enough to brighten the spirits a little. Have a look at this section on the Nourish app for inspiration to boost social connections.
However it is meaningful connection that really feeds the soul and makes us feel worthy. When we feel held and truly heard and understood by another human.
The key to creating such connection is vulnerability.
Research by Brené Brown concluded: “There can be no intimacy—emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy—without vulnerability. It’s about being honest with how we feel, about our fears, about what we need, and, asking for what we need. Vulnerability is glue that holds intimate relationships together.”
The problem is, when we're feeling intense loneliness, we tend to withdraw inside ourselves even more. Hiding away, putting on a mask and saying ‘I’m fine’ is the easy option. Reaching out to others for support, being open and vulnerable, can feel terrifying.
By being vulnerable we are taking the risk that we will be judged or rejected, and of course it is possible if that happens, that we may feel more shame or inadequacy as a result. But by opening up and relinquishing our fears of rejection helps build trust and honesty with others, fosters empathy, and builds stronger bonds. We need to risk failure in order to succeed in building those meaningful connections.
That’s why we often need to start by connecting with ourselves first, so we can build that inner strength to be brave and be vulnerable. The first step is noticing what we are feeling and validating our emotions. Trying, where possible, to foster a compassionate mindset - what would you say to your best friend? Can you use those kind words to talk to yourself?
We also need to question our assumptions and beliefs. What if we are wrong and not everyone else has it all together? What if the mother sitting next to us at the playgroup is longing for someone to initiate a conversation with her? What if she is also desperate to share her motherhood struggles with someone who understands, but is also finding it difficult to find the courage? What if our friend or family member would love nothing more than to help us however they can? What if we believed asking for help and support is a strength, not a weakness?
Finally, it can help to start small and experiment with vulnerability. We can’t deny the potential risk of opening up to others, and sadly we won't always be met with the empathy and compassion that we need and deserve. It is so important to find the right support network to build those connections with. It can therefore help to test the water slowly, but also not be put off in continuing to seek that connection, if we don’t receive it where we first hoped.
If you are struggling and don’t feel like you can open up to friends or family, maybe a health professional would feel easier. Alternatively there are a number of charities or other support communities that you can reach out to - places where you might be anonymous, but might still harness the connection you need to feel held and understood.
We all have a role to play in supporting mothers. We can't always expect mums to be able to find that strength and articulate their distress. We all need to be checking in with each other regularly - with friends, with family, with colleagues - noticing and creating space to listen and hold each other.
I wish I had been more vulnerable with others when I was a new mum.
You don't have to do it alone. Please try and take small steps to building connections today!
About the author
Sara Campin is mum of 2, life coach and founder of the Nourish app. Sara founded Nourish after the impact self-care had on her and her family’s wellbeing. Sara struggled with her mental wellbeing both as a new mum and in juggling the pressures of work and mothering and felt incredibly alone and unsupported in her struggles. Through the app she brings together a team of compassionate, empathetic, parental wellbeing experts to offer an accessible, multidisciplinary and relevant mental well-being toolkit and support team to parents in the UK and beyond.