Loneliness: Filling the Void

Last week I discussed how the act of collecting can come in all shapes and sizes. I briefly contextualized the impact of traumatic experiences, and how these events can trigger the desire to collect objects; primarily in an attempt to come to terms with said traumatic experience. I wanted to touch this week on another aspect that holds significant prominence in why an individual would begin collecting objects: loneliness.

Within the book The Lonely City: Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone by Olivia Laing, Laing dives into the feeling of loneliness and its role in how we react to our surroundings.

“When people enter into an experience of loneliness, they trigger what psychologists call hyper-vigilance for social threat, a phenomenon Weiss first postulated back in the 1970s. In this state, which is entered into unknowingly, the individual tends to experience the world in increasingly negative terms, and to both expect and remember instances of rudeness, rejection and abrasion, giving them greater weight and prominence than other, more benign or friendly interactions. This creates, of course, a vicious circle, in which the lonely person grows increasingly more isolated, suspicious and withdrawn. And because the hyper-vigilance hasn’t been consciously perceived, it’s by no means easy to recognize, let alone correct, the bias.”

It is at this moment of hyper-vigilance, this repetitious circle of discontent, where I personally feel the act of collecting can arise, and become a metaphorical pressure release valve for the individual coping with loneliness. Think about moments of our lives where the feeling of loneliness comes to the surface; such as when a loved one passes away, when we move to a new city, when we experience a difficult breakup. Each of these scenarios, aka the subject, carries with it an attempt to reconcile with the discomfort and detachment, aka the predicate. When a pet passes away, we go out and purchase a new one. When we move to a new city, we acquire items that remind us of our previous home. When we experience a difficult breakup, we purchase items in an attempt to glaze over the discomfort of loss, i.e. clothes, food, entertainment.

Loneliness triggers an action, some of which mend the broken pieces, while others further perpetuate a state of being broken. This is why collecting can become so unbelievably addictive when placed within the realm of loneliness. Collecting things creates a temporary high, a thrill, an aversion to the underlying crumbling structure of oneself. When we collect, we feel lifted, for we have acquired something that we previously did not have. This feeling, of course, never sustains for longer than a brief moment, and the crippling hands of loneliness drag us back into the hole. So what do we do? We venture forth for that high once more; all the while we neglect the real issue at hand; loneliness. Whether it is through drugs, stamps, coins, cars, sex, whatever it may be; when one succumbs to loneliness, collecting can sometimes become the drug of choice. An attempt to reach that high again and again. An attempt to fill the void.

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