Collage Therapy: Integrating the Gift of Loneliness

Woman in art class“Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love.” – Eric Fromm, The Art of Loving

Self-Nurture through Self-Mirroring

Finding a way to emotionally take care of ourselves when we are alone is an individual process of self-discovery. One way to truthfully see ourselves is through collage therapy. Collage therapy is a simple form of art therapy that does not require drawing or painting. It can help you see your inner life in a fresh way. We all project personal meaning onto everything we see. If we are having trouble verbalizing what we are feeling, we can mirror our emotions through spontaneous collage.

Choosing imagery spontaneously, and then seeing what feelings and ideas arise, can incite new understanding about what you unconsciously believe about yourself and how you feel about your life. Whenever you feel strong feelings that you do not fully understand, take a few moments to spontaneously choose some imagery from an old magazine. Cut out and glue your pictures down without much thought. Then take a few minutes to contemplate what you have chosen.

The Loneliness of Individuation

As we learn to express ourselves more authentically, our particularity asserts itself into our life, and we may begin to feel misunderstood by those around us. Many years ago, I put together a spontaneous collage about loneliness when I was discovering my true life path. At the time, I was discovering new strengths and gifts inside of myself and I excitedly tried to share my newly discovered authenticity with the people in my life. But few at the time seemed to understand what I was going through. I was mistakenly looking outside of myself to be mirrored for my inner truths.

I was not yet devoted to mirroring myself to myself. I was still looking for validation from the outside. I was still looking for other people to help me feel good about myself. Sitting alone with ourselves is not always easy. Difficult emotions that we do not want to feel tend to come into our awareness when we are quiet and alone. We can mistake these uncomfortable feelings as loneliness instead of seeing the emotional awareness that is trying to rise. It is during such times of emotional discomfort that is becomes easy to fall into unhealthy distractions. Thinking we are lonely, we may want to spend time with people in ways that are not healthy or meaningful to divert our attention away from what feels emotionally uncomfortable inside.

Instead of spending time in ways that are merely distracting us from what we feel, we could turn towards our inner strength and creativity during our alone time instead. Being alone is a fruitful time to tend to our emotions in order to understand how we feel on a more truthful level. When we start to see our deeper thoughts and feelings more carefully—in the outer projection of our collage—we realize that we have a distinctiveness that wants to reveal itself. We consider that we may never be able to rely on other people to know the total depths of who we are, but we can choose to know ourselves profoundly. When we realize that we need to do our own inner work, without insisting on validation from others, we may begin to feel lonely.

Strength in Loneliness

As we become more authentically expressive and self-examining of all our feelings, we might find that some of the relationships we have been hiding in no longer support our fullest self-expression. Some people do not leave unhealthy relationships because they fear loneliness more that they fear abuse. If we have felt abandoned, shunned, or ignored for expressing our true feelings as children, the loneliness of true self-expression can be a primal place of fear. The genuine loneliness of authenticity can feel piercing to the core when we have received little validation for how we felt in the past.

Our authentic self-expression can feel like it is the exact place where we have not been loved in the past, yet it is this very place where we need to learn how to love ourselves. As we progressively delve into our uniqueness, however, we grow to understand that we can find self-love and emotional strength in the aloneness of our unique personhood. As we become more honest about expressing the truth of our feelings, the fear of not being loved and accepted can intensify at first. But it is in our most alone places, when we are willing to stay in supportive witness to our arising truths, that we can find the love we crave.

Emotional Self-Connection Heals Loneliness

It is our own emotional self-connection that heals loneliness. We can be surrounded by people, but if we are not authentically expressing who we are, we will feel lonely. When we feel authentically connected to ourselves, we feel connected with others. When we begin to know who we truly are, we can reach out for help in ways that are healing instead of hindering to our emotional growth. We can start to build a support system that can help us further develop into our unique strengths in the world.

We can extend ourselves in healthy ways towards genuine friendships with people on similar life paths. When we are in touch with our deeper truths we will start to gravitate towards people who nurture their own unique personhood and who respect our individuality. As we come to know how to soothe our painful feelings without demanding that other people do it for us, we deepen into a self-nurturance that is kind and mature. We can choose to become deeply present to our emotional life. As we tend to our own emotional needs, we discover the warmth and abiding friendship of the true self.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • grace t

    July 18th, 2013 at 4:12 AM

    Loneliness does seem somewhat bittersweet until you stop to consider how strong that it can make you. This time alone is what can ultimately give you the time to figure out who you are and where you wish to go. You no longer have to stay ensconsed in the drama of others- this is a time to create a life of your own.

  • sandy

    July 18th, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    Wow loneliness is the result of one not expressing oneself… thats a powerful thought…

  • Bree Kalb, LCSW

    July 18th, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    I am an expressive art therapist who also does collage. This is a lovely, evocative description of how the process can be deeply meaningful. Thank you.

  • abby

    July 18th, 2013 at 8:40 PM

    If only it was that easy.

  • beck w

    July 19th, 2013 at 4:26 AM

    I am afraid to be that lonely. I would much prefer a crowd to being alone to dwell on the things that in life that are not what I want them to be.
    I know that If I were in a healthier place with that whole concept I am sure that I would be more able to thrive but I can’t seem to get there.
    I have tried all kinds of expressive outlets but honestly they just make me feel like I have nothing to offer in that vein.
    I am tired of feeling like this but haven’t been able to find something that makes me feel worthy and not just a loser at another project.

  • cathy

    July 20th, 2013 at 2:24 AM

    @beck w:please know that you are not alone.having time to look deep within yourself should be welcomed.only when we are afraid of the results do we avoid a not be afraid to spend some time with your own self.

    we need to understand and listen to ourselves in order to feel more comfortable.remember,spending time with a stranger is far more difficult than it is to be with a well known friend.

  • Linda W

    October 8th, 2019 at 8:37 AM

    This is very complete and factual. I’m writing and drawing and ultimately making collage- combining words with drawing is remarkably valuable in knowing oneself.

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