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On being alone.

Here at Counselling Connections this week we took time out to have a long look at our waiting room. It is a very attractive room, high ceilinged with original plasterwork and a large open fireplace. We have a few nice paintings and two comfortable couches. There is a long coffee table with an eclectic mix of reading from psychoanalysis through fairy tales to the local free advertiser. We sat for a few minutes to feel what the experience was like. We realise that a waiting room can be a place of anxiety and we are trying to make ours as welcoming and comfortable as we can. Quite apart from the reading material we place there we realise that one of the first things that someone does nowadays if they have to wait is to reach for their phone.

Whether it is on a bus or a train or waiting for a food order to be brought to your table in a restaurant those few minutes of being alone can make us feel anxious. With the mobile phone being so accessible it is often the crutch that we use to fill those awkward few minutes. It provides the illusion of not being alone; it serves to help us to deny our separateness. With so much information now available we can check the latest news updates for a while or log in to a social network to see what friends have been up to. Or if we feel like we really need to reach out to another we might choose a friend and send that great contemporary conversation opener; the ‘where r u?’ text. It seems to us that this is all about relieving the anxiety of being alone.

Imagine a baby who wakes after a short nap. On waking the baby wants to re-establish human contact and will usually call out for their mother. Depending on the age of the child this may be by making a range of different noises and movements or it may be by use of the word ‘Mammy’ once they have learned this. Just say that one particular day the mother is temporarily out of earshot and does not react to the baby straight away. In this instance the baby will experience a sudden rise in anxiety levels and will worry for a moment about being abandoned forever. A few short minutes can seem like an eternity in these circumstances. Depending on the placement of the cot and the accessibility to it this may happen a lot during infancy and this baby may grow up with a slightly higher than usual level of fear when it comes to being alone.

Fast forward now by twenty years or so and the baby of our example has grown to be an adult in our twenty first century world. Among their gadgets, indeed a necessity for their job is a mobile phone. They may have the addition of a wireless Bluetooth facility to make hands free calls on the go. Imagine then that with voice recognition dialling they had the ability to make a call while driving or walking along a city street. It is very convenient to be able to get in touch with their office base in this way. We feel that this ability also serves to keep at bay their fundamental anxiety about being on their own. They may even have made allowances for the occasional personal call and programmed in their mammy’s number so that she too can be reached simply by calling her name. Just like in their childhood dreams they can experience the soothing tones of their mother’s voice in an instant.

Mobile technology and internet access have made so many things so much more accessible and straight forward. They have also helped us to keep at bay the anxieties we feel abut being alone. It is a good exercise to watch these things in our selves. Sometimes, turning off our modern devices, even the radio and just listening to silence or the ticking of a clock can be very instructive. In those quiet moments we might get in touch with some things which we fear. By considering these things and reflecting on them and on their possible origins in infancy we can understand and placate our fears. In this way we can get in touch with feelings of confidence in our selves as separate from but still in relationship with others. We can learn to feel relaxed rather than fearful when things go a little quiet and we are left alone with our thoughts.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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