Coping With Feelings of Alienation

As a writer, I often feel alienated from the world.

I spend so many hours typing away at a manuscript that virtually nobody has seen. I can’t really reveal too much about it because much of its potency relies on its secrecy. A writer has to be mysterious in order to pull off his great magic trick: the trick of making you wonder what’s going to happen next in the story.

But there is a consequence to keeping the writing process completely mysterious:  you often feel alienated from others.

I am discovering that one way of dealing with that sense of alienation is to let go of the need for so much mystery and let people take a peak at all that’s going on inside of you. No, maybe you don’t share with them your whole story, but maybe you let them take a little peak at your process.

No, you won’t always land on others understanding you, but the effort can make you feel a whole lot less isolated. This is helpful, especially if feelings of alienation are getting in the way of your work.

Coping With Feelings of Alienation

Recently, I spoke to you about what it is like when your very nature is contradictory to the norm. When the very basis of who you are is unconventional, life can be very challenging. But sometimes it’s not who we are that seems contradictory to the norm: sometimes it’s our experiences that seem abnormal.

When we feel as if our experience is fundamentally different from the experience of others, this is when we feel alienated.

We may encounter some loss, trauma, or hardship that others around us do not experience as directly (or as deeply) as we do, and this makes us feel incredibly alienated from them. When we feel alienated, we feel as if we are freaks. Unable to cope. Unable to move forward as easily as others do. Unable to overcome challenges as quickly as others do. Unable to zoom through life as others seem capable of doing.

It’s almost as if we are in a different dimension, experiencing a different reality from others.

In fact, we are experiencing a different reality. Not literally. But emotionally, psychologically, we are living on a different “plane” of life.

For instance: the person who has lost a love one may find it hard to recieve the proper care from people who have never lost a loved one. This can be hurtful to the person who is mourning her loss. The person who is mourning is expecting everyone around her to say exactly what needs to be said, and to do exactly what needs to be done. But, most importantly, the person who is mourning her loss expects complete understanding. Total, deep understanding.

It’s the least she can expect in her moment of great suffering, right? Just a little bit of understanding?

She, in that moment, is suffering far too much to have any energy left to explain herself to others. So, when she is forced to explain her suffering on top of experiencing her suffering, she can become very angry, bitter, and frustrated. Who can blame her? Who can suffer and still have any energy left to explain that suffering to others? It’s hard for her not to let her feelings of alienation intensify her feelings of hopelessness and grief. She lost her loved one and she is grieving that lost. But now she must also grieve the loss of understanding–and the loss of understanding is a heavy loss to grieve.

Moreover, because the individual who is mourning has entered a new plane of life, others cannot follow her there. So, first she experiences grief, then grief on top of grief, and now, on top of all that, a sudden, deep loneliness.

This is alienation in a nutshell.

Healing Feelings of Alienation

Alienation can happen in other cases, too. It isn’t just felt after the loss of a loved one. Any great hardship, or trauma, or heavy loss will do. All three of these are liable to fling us into a different plane of life.

In this new plane, suddenly, life takes on the sepia tones of old photographs. Just like in those old-timey photographs, in this new plane of life, there is a shocking absence of smiling and a lack of bright faces. Just like in those old-timey photographs, in this new plane of life, there is less movement but more sharpness; there is less width but more depth; less flashiness but more exposure.

Leave no doubt, if you are experiencing deep feelings of alienation, you are in a different plane of life. This plane of life must be honored, even if it cannot be validated by others.

The way you begin to heal feelings of alienation is by recognizing that you are experiencing a different reality from others. You are, in many ways, in a different dimension–a deeper dimension—of life.

You are not the only one who is being pulled down into that deeper dimension: many have been pulled, many are being pulled, and many, one day, will be pulled down into that depth as well. That “depth”–that deeper plane of life–is the experience of hardship, trauma, or loss.

The way you heal feelings of alienation is by honoring the fact that you are on this different plane of life, and by realizing that this different plane of life requires a different set of tools than the ones you used on the superficial plane of life you were used to.

The way you heal feelings of alienation is by summoning up the energy to explain your experience to others (however hard or unfair you think it is to have to explain your suffering to others on top of experiencing your suffering). Reveal some of the mystery of what is going on deep inside of you. You don’t have to share your whole story, but maybe you can give people a little peak at your process.

This takes time and courage, but if you are patient, sharing your experience with others will yield great results. Because the more you share what you’re going through with others, the more you may encounter surprise flashes of unexpected understanding. You may even stumble upon the type of deep, total understanding you have been yearning for, and that will be truly wonderful and healing.

much love,


Today’s Courage Exercise

Let’s try to heal some feelings of alienation today: in the comments below, speak of an experience you are going through right now that you feel no one in the world could possibly understand. Then, read what others have shared in the comments and see if you cannot find some kindred spirits across the country (or the world) who are going through exactly what you are going through. Reply to the comments posted by your kindred spirits: prove to them that they are not alone. But don’t stop here: keep searching for understanding by explaining your process to those in the physical world as well.

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12 comments on “Coping With Feelings of Alienation

  1. I don’t believe in coincidences, so I am sure your latest posts are a sign that I am on the right path to healing. Over the summer we were matched with a couple who wanted to give up their baby for adoption. The girl was due on Labor Day weekend. The baby was stillborn two weeks early. It was the first time I’ve known actual cruelty. Counseling and reading your posts have helped me realized how blessed we have all been to have experienced this chapter. I’ve chosen to live in faith, not in fear, so here’s hoping something big and beautiful comes out of this tragedy.

    • Ollin says:

      I’m so sorry to hear of this loss, anayansi. Tragedy like this can reveal a harsh and cruel side of life we have never known and never thought possible. But if we are patient and move forward in faith, we will one day arrive at the meaning of it all. And we will heal.

  2. Ollin, thank you so much for writing this post. Right now, I’m having difficulty with a professor who seems to have singled me out for no reason. He’s more or less bullying me in front of my peers, and I don’t know what to do about it. And I’m not the only one his attitude has affected. He is disrespectful and treats people more as projects than as human beings. I need prayer and some encouragement at the moment.

    • Ollin says:

      I’m sorry to hear you’re being treated so unfairly.

      I had a professor once who believed I was plagiarizing and making sources up in the papers I wrote for her in class. She was determined to find me out. I found it very unfair and cruel of her. I have never done such a thing. Of course I proved her wrong, and by the end of the class she actually even suggested I submit one of my class papers to the college newspaper.

      It was clear that she hated me through most of the class though, often looked at me with disdain, and seemed incredibly intrigued by a fellow student in the class who was from Mexico, who she treated like some prized artifact. She seemed fascinated with everything he had to say about Mexico and Mexican politics. Even though I was Mexican-American and she didn’t seem to care at all what I had to say about Americans with a Mexican heritage. That seemed so phoney to me.

      Anyways, I wouldn’t take it personally, novelista, this is just a brief period of time you have to deal with this person. Soon it will be over and you’ll move on to bigger and better things. Also, you can always nail him in those evaluations at the end of the quarter/semester. That is if your school does that, they should.

  3. Julia says:

    I’m sorry to hear of your loss Anayansi. Another child will become your son or daughter and you will love them and they will love you. I’m adopted by the way. (54 years ago) and thank God every day I was given two wonderful adopted parents and another chance of living in a family.
    My feelings of alienation now are to do with my lack of resilience. I had it in bucket loads up until 10 years ago, and it does affect my writing (and non-writing life). It brings me down dreadfully.

    • Ollin says:

      Hey Julia,

      I wonder, can you remember, or think, about what was so different 10 years ago. (Or maybe you already know this.) I suspect that maybe it’s not that you lack resilience but maybe life’s been a little tougher on you than others? I would consider other factors first before you blame yourself. 10 years ago there was no Great Recession, for instance, it was a very different time. Nor was there War, and other such global problems.

      We often forget to put ourselves into a global context. What effects the world does affect you, even though you may not be able to see it.

      Here is my advice, (even though I might risk being wrong for lack of specifics–so take it with a grain of salt): try first to validate what you are going through and have went through that may bee different from 10 years ago. Consider that it may not be that you changed (or lost resilience) but that the circumstances of life changed and they made endurance much harder for you to be good at.

      Consider that maybe it wasn’t you that fundamentally needs to be changed, but that maybe the circumstances require a new set of tools you did not have 10 years ago. A new set of tools that pertain to a different plane of life you may be currently experiencing.

      Acquire these new tools, search for them, find them, and I guarantee you will find your resilience again.

  4. Andrea Lewis says:

    Ollin, your blog post confirms that I’m not alone and reading the comments I emphasize with everyone. Life feels like a struggle these days for me and I was beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Thanks for sharing your insights, it helps me feel supported.

  5. I feel isolated and alone much of the time even though I do a lot to counteract that. But I have a chronic illness that is also actually terminal if I don’t one day receive a liver transplant. There is no treatment for the autoimmune disorder I have. Sometimes when I tell people about it, they give me what I call “the look” – ah, liver disease, a drinker, right? Well, that’s just not the case. Liver diseases are not on the popular list of diseases to have. I was diagnosed 7 years ago and progressively am getting worse, with the worst 2 symptoms being fatigue and sleeplessness at night.

    I get a lot of advice that works for “normal” people. And I get advice on diet, lifestyle, and everything else you can think of. It feels mean-hearted but I know that people are trying to help in any way that they know. Sometimes I wish I had a pamphlet to hand out on liver disease and that also states why “natural” methods don’t work for us.

    Yes, I have friends who have been transplanted, who are still sick, who are trying to cope with both the medical and financial burdens of being sick in the US. But mostly we meet online or communicate by phone, and rarely get together because of the logistics – fatigue and finances.

    I have a blog and people seem to like my raw sharing of my story, but it’s so hard for me to put myself out there like that all the time. And they’re pulling for me to be “positive” and “upbeat.” I do write as much as I can, and I volunteer for the library (just 2 hours a week, but it gets me out), and I’m even campaigning for Mr. Obama right now (on the virtual phone bank at home).

    I live with this every single day, and …. well, you know what? Your blog, Ollin, and what you write helps me to keep it together some days. You are one of my supports. I just want to thank you for posting this story about alienation and encouraging your readers to comment with their stories and reach out to others.

    I want others who have commented to feel their alienation and be with it and push the edges of it – just a little bit. Mostly I want to encourage them to be very sweet and gentle with themselves and to truly love themselves first, so they can fill themselves up and eventually have something to give. You too. Thank you so much for giving so much of yourself here.

    • Ollin says:

      Dana, this was incredibly moving–and I have to say, my eyes are opened to this disease. If ever I meet a person with it, I will have a deeper understanding of it and will be able to be more sensitive to it.

      I think this is the healing part of addressing alienation, even though it isn’t perfect, letting me into your process helps me “get” you a bit more.

      I am ever so thankful for you being so brave and so clear about what it is you go through. I know that others reading this will have a better understanding of liver disease and what it’s like to suffer from it.

      I wish you all the best and will pray that you get the transplant you need soon.

      And I thank you also for your kind words, I am grateful and blessed to be of service to others.

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