When You Feel Like the Only Living Person in the Room

ReflectionsEver go into a room where people are chatting, kind of to themselves, everybody is making noise but nobody is listening to anybody, and you feel a bit odd but decide to approach the nearest person, and that person looks right through you, like you aren’t even there, and you start wondering if maybe there is something wrong with you?

Ever feel like you aren’t there, even though it’s the people around you who aren’t there, but they don’t know it, but there are more of them than the one of you, and there is no way you can let them know, and even if you tell them they won’t know what you are talking about, so why bother?

You’re feeling hurt and invisible, but you don’t want to stay that way, so what do you? You’re feeling battered, so you batter up and try to chatter up, too?

What if you are looking to make contact, make a human, eye-to-eye, one-to-one connection? Would you feel sad that no one seems to hear you or see you or feel you at all?

Earlier today I had a conversation with a restorative yoga teacher who is renowned for her sensitivity. Although her English words are hard to understand—she talks with a strong accent—her meanings are clear because she is thoroughly and completely present. Because she is so present, it hurts her sometimes to walk around and see so many deeply sad people who cannot make contact.

She told me about an experiment she heard about on NPR. In this experiment, people are locked in a room painted all white, with white furniture. They have been stripped of any distractions, including cellphones and books. There is nothing to do but think … or self-administer a “severe static shock” from a device powered by a 9-volt battery. Clearly, the answer is to sit, be still, and look within, but somehow this is too threatening or maybe beyond some people’s experience, so instead the people who are locked in the room keep shocking themselves.

This is a great example of what neurosis is—you keep doing the same painful thing, over and over, and you keep getting the same result. This happens in relationships all the time—you keep doing the same thing hoping that this time will be different, but it isn’t. You are so hungry for connection that you keep reaching out to someone who doesn’t reach back. No alternatives occur to you, so you keep hurting yourself.

More importantly, perhaps, the experiment shows people so disconnected that they prefer the painful stimulus of an electric shock to connectedness, even with themselves, much less with anyone else. Who do you think is better off: the shocky ones or the talky ones?

When a person who is connected walks into a space like this—maybe the scientist’s experimental laboratory, maybe a cocktail party or family gathering—real communication is not going to happen. This makes many people, people such as my yoga teacher friend, feel hopeless and sad. It makes me feel pretty bad, too.

How do you communicate with people who are too scared or too dead to feel, to be in their bodies, to be alive? On another level, you might say that their meaningless chatter is how they make contact—false contact, unfortunately, because to be close to someone, even themselves, is so painful that this glancing connectedness, this mindless chatter, is the best they can do. Don’t take their behavior personally.

It helps to remind yourself that you did not cause this emptiness; it is not your fault or your responsibility. Your true responsibility is to yourself, to keeping yourself alive in a lifeless situation. Maybe your liveliness will help them come alive, too. Perhaps they can learn better. They need a hand.

How do you keep alive in a place that feels dead? Remember who you are. Go deep and feel the inner self. There is a renowned meditation teacher, Stephan Pende Wormland, who teaches us to say, “I am a human being. I have feelings. I care about my feelings. I care about myself.” Maybe others can learn by his example.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT, Object Relations Topic Expert Contributor

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

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  • margaret

    October 28th, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    Gosh I hate that feeling of walking into a room and not knowing anyone! That is way out of my comfort zone for sure!

  • Lois

    October 28th, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    While I do feel sad for those who go through life in this way, at the same time I know that the only person that I can control is me and I have to look out for the things that make me the most comfortable. Now that may mean engaging someone that I know is disconnected and having a difficult time establishing those ties and relationships, but that is to me make me feel good while at the same time hopefully doing the thing that could be beneficial to this other person as well. I think that there are a lot of times we have to take a quick step back and think about the situation and really soul search as to whether we would want to do this because it would make us feel right or whether we want everyone to feel the same that we do so are we pushing something onto them that really isn’t what they want at all?

  • Buzz Yightlear

    October 28th, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    Hey Lynn, just wondering, how do you feel about social psychology experiments like the one you describe from NPR? Are there ethical concerns or considerations? Thanks for the great article!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    October 28th, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    That’s a great question, Buzz, and I guess I feel ambivalent- the info is important, the method is a bit tough on the soul, even if the people are administering the shocks to themselves, rather than to someone else like in the famous Milgram experiment. What do you think?
    Thanks for reading the article!

  • Gordo

    October 28th, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    I guess I just don’t worry about this or even notice it all that much? Because I can honestly say that I guess I have walked into rooms and thought that it was kinda dead but maybe not because the people were empty, just that maybe there was something else behind it sucking the energy out of the room. I have never really given too much thought to it on such a personal level I guess.

  • ty

    October 29th, 2014 at 3:43 AM

    Breaking through those barriers that others have put up at times can be difficult but necessary

  • Lynn Somerstein

    October 29th, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    Thanks ty and Gordo, it does take a lot of energy to survive sometimes.
    Take care,

  • Vidhi

    October 29th, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    This is such a fabulous article. It IS sad.
    Very well written.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    October 29th, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    Thank you Vidhi, I’m glad you liked the article. And you’re right, it is sad.
    Take care,

  • Cate

    October 30th, 2014 at 2:13 PM

    This is when I definitely have to try to add a little bit of spice to the room.

    While other people are feeling uncomfortable being there I am the one person who feels discomfort because of the bad vibes in the room! I always feel like I have to liven things up a bit in situations like that and I think that overall that is pretty draining.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    October 30th, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    HI Cate,
    Sounds like you’re a good person to invite to a party!
    Thanks for writing in.
    Take care,

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