I have always felt complete freedom in my life; until one day, I awoke and realized I was lonely.
Despite being an independent person, who not only enjoys my space to write and create, I also know how blessed I am. I have the luxury of living exactly as I please without having to answer to anyone. Anyone. Yet, this loneliness appeared, much to my displeasure.
Loneliness isn’t just being single and staying home on a Saturday night. Loneliness is a spectrum of situations and it has many effects on our emotional, mental, physical, and even spiritual lives. Through my own writings and analyzing my own life, I noticed these patterns of loneliness, and one such pattern is the tie to our ancestors.
Imagine my surprise when I read loneliness may be attributed to our genetic evolution. Genetics and epigenetics is one of my all-time favorite studies; I am fascinated by it.
What scientists are discovering is that our genes not only predispose us to diseases, but also neurological and psychological conditions passed down from our ancestors. One such example is descendants of Holocaust survivors tend to be more susceptible to depression and anxiety even though their modern day lives are calm and peaceful. Basically, we carry on the emotions of our ancestors through our genes.
When we take a moment to analyze our own stresses, we can look back at the lives of those who came before us. Were their lives quaint and free of worry? Were our parents’ and grandparents’ lives full of strife? This awareness removes the personal tag, “There’s something wrong with me.”
It’s not necessarily us, it is our experiential and environmental genetic connection. It’s important to understand our feelings don’t define us, yet ironically our feelings act as receptors, which activate the DNA inside us, and thus alter our emotional state.
According to John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, evolution offers variables in the genetic makeup of people. We are not created equal (the same). We are all beautifully designed marvels and masterpieces. Although we may have similar physical bodies and emotional states, how we think, and more importantly how we feel, is intrinsically unique.
Playing researcher to my own life, and studying the traits of my family, I recall my grandfather’s attempts at avoiding most social interactions. He left church before the benediction to “get the car.” He built a massive hobby train downstairs, along with a quiet, peaceful village that was no doubt his utopia. Seeing this trend in my own family demonstrated my proclivity toward solitude.
Since I come from a family of lone wolves, instead of a tightly woven pack, it’s no wonder why I found myself in this lifestyle. The problem is loneliness does sink in, and I have the desire to break this cycle of solitude and return to the pack.
What I learned is DNA and our genetic conditioning is not absolute. My favorite biologist—yes, I have a favorite biologist—Dr. Bruce Lipton describes with scientific detail in his documentary, Biology of Belief, how we can change our DNA. Emotions and thoughts act as receptors to the cells. Our DNA lies dormant until triggered. DNA only appears when the body needs a response, and it responds to physical and emotional stimulus.
While I can’t change my brown eyes to blue, I can alter my connections in the world by getting in touch with my feelings. Oh feelings! When we live in such a “heady” world, it’s hard to know if we’re actually feeling or thinking about how we feel. Herein lies the modern day paradox.
Making the correlation to genetic diseases like heart disease, we have come to realize one aggravator of the disease is stress. You got it—emotions. If we are predisposed to heart disease like our parents, the best thing to do is change our lifestyle, change our environment, and most importantly change how we feel, so not to trigger the gene which contains heart disease. Understanding that our personal and social traits stem from DNA, we can break the mold by changing how we feel.
For me, as one who likes my space, but sometimes find myself lonely, I decided to break this circle. This inner journey to uncover why at times I chose to be a loner, rather than be part of the social circle, led me to feel emotions such as fear, self-doubt, anxiety, guilt, and judgment. It’s easier to hide the away from the other social wolves than to let others know we’re not the confident façade we put on.
This is why it is hard for people who suffer acute loneliness, and why the advice: “Just get out there and meet people,” fails so poorly. Because if we haven’t dealt with our emotions which bought us to a state of solitude, “getting out there” will be painstaking and in some cases make us retreat further from the big bad world.
It starts with examining the positive influences in our lives—family and friends, and indulging in what makes us feel good, including hobbies in which we excel. Once we start changing how we feel about ourselves and the world, we can discover a place for ourselves in it.
I began my process by attending healing meditations and yoga classes, and not only did my confidence steadily grow, but I actually looked forward to participating. Sitting at home was no longer an option. As time progressed I developed greater methods to enhance my career as a fiction writer and my hobby of painting.
Now I find myself in a place where I want to share, and more so want to belong. I feel the change inside me, and I feel like a social person. Ta da—a new me!
What is fantastic is we all have the power of self-evolution. We have the power within us to change our experience by adjusting our lives based on our feelings about people, the community, and even ourselves.
Author: Jennifer Ott
Image: Mag Pole/Unsplash
Editor: Taia Butler