“I’m Better Off By Myself”

Here’s the next post in my “Art as Therapy” series . . .
Myth #4: I’m Better off by Myself (my rendition)

“I’m better off by myself” was a common refrain as a child. It was my defense when my siblings excluded me. But I’ve come to see that it is not only untrue, it is unhealthy if taken to an extreme. Don’t get me wrong: It’s very important to know how to enjoy oneself alone, but belonging is what happens in community.





Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn,
‘The Night Watch’




“You’re in a crowd of hundreds… looking at the picture of a crowd of people. But there’s a difference. Your crowd is anonymous… Ideally, you’d like to be alone, while in the picture, their comradeship is bringing a glow to a dark, rainy [day].

The Night Watch – which is perhaps the most revered picture in [Holland]– speaks [to] the appeal of joining in; they are going to do something that is hardly appealing in itself –patrolling the streets on a foul [night] – but how readily we would join them if we could. Companionship is so much more important than ease and comfort.

It is a…poignant message: for here we are in this room, in a crowd, yet without a collective purpose. They in the picture are what we should be, and what, in times of honesty, we wish we could be; a band of brothers [and sisters], a true team, people who will bring out the best in one another.

Strange though it might sound, this picture is about loneliness, for it tells us what we are missing when we feel lonely.  And getting to know what our loneliness is about is the first step to lessening its pangs.”

I suspect we all suffer from loneliness at times. It’s an aching feeling, like an empty stomach, prompting downcast eyes, or the biting of a lip.  Yet, loneliness is how we discover our need for others.

The loneliness I felt as a child drove my desire for community as an adult.  In my twenties, I joined a therapy group and found additional community as a teacher in a school and on an agricultural/environmental organization. In my thirties and forties I made friends among the parent communities of my sons’ schools. In the last decade I worked with my siblings to move through our differences and regrets from the past. This led to even more meaningful gatherings with friends. While I still make time for myself every day, to write, read or walk and talk with a friend, I no longer need to feel alone in a crowd. Belonging to myself is the first step to belonging anywhere.

What kind of community, (or communities) do you belong to?
What does “belonging” mean to you?

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2 Responses to “I’m Better Off By Myself”

  1. Tonja Ali says:

    Dear Eileen,
    I identify very much with the feeling of loneliness as a child – mostly because my dreams took me to places my immediate family and community couldn’t relate. Being in a crowd of people yet feeling so alone can be somewhat disturbing. Even today my dreams are still taking me to far places to meet and connect with different people. Over the years it has causes me to see that I’m apart of a much wider community that transcends race, social status, gender, etc. It’s called HUMANITY.

    Sometimes this calling has kept me distant from my immediate family. I think I too have used it to shield myself from being rejected for having BIG DREAMS. But I’ve spent the last few days at our family home in Chicago playing soft ball and soccer with my son, niece and sister. I think for the first time since we were children, my sister and I went for a walk together. I’ve had the best time re-connecting at the heart level and REALLY feeling connected. I’m beginning to realize that I can have both communities or multiple communities within the larger community.

    And sure enough my dinner was interrupted last night by an international call from a friend who is in South Korea – connecting to Asia through Hip Hop. Because I have worked inside America’s Hip Hop community for the last decade – his call and invitation for my husband and I to join him was yet another calling for me to connect with the larger community. I look forward to seeing first hand, the impact of what started as an American subculture and has now burst into a global community. The Arts have a way of connecting people who would otherwise not feel connected.

    Last week in New York I had the distinct pleasure of taking nearly 40 high school students from Bill & Melinda Gates’ “Get Schooled” Foundation to see their first Broadway musical! There was so much excitement among the students, because it was a musical based around the music of one of their Hip Hop icons. After the show I surprised them with a photo opp with the stars of the show. They were overjoyed at the opportunity! With tears in her eyes, one teacher thanked me after she witnessed one of her students, who rarely speaks, clapping and singing throughout the musical. Words are not adequate to express the sense of community or connection I felt and still feel to those young people; because they will never forget their first Broadway musical!
    To sum it up, I believe there are many communities that we all will belong to over the course of our lives, but to me, the GREATEST IS HUMANITY.

  2. Elaine Naddaff says:

    Hi Eileen, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. All of the men in the painting look “together”, a far cry from being lonely in my opinion. However, the one female that I can spot looks lonely and perhaps, even desperate. Could these determined men live without the female in their midst? Who is she, so highlighted in gold and woven into the background. Who does she belong to? I think she belongs to the richest man in the painting!

    Remembering feelings from one’s childhood is remarkable. You were/ are strong minded. As the oldest of five children, I remember being the “big sister”, not the mother that often characterizes the oldest child. I liked my day, then and have recreated certain aspects of it on purpose because I am reminded of a happy time. This “game” puts me to rest… My parents were far more comfortable than I am. They had loads of special friends and family–so special. There was a graciousness about it all, even when the end descended. There was meaning; they brought meaning into my life; meaning was fulfilling…

    “Belonging” is too rough a word for me to contemplate. I am so far away from being able to enjoy the sentiment. And, I do not try to “belong”. I try to enjoy my day every day. I do have a family gathering to attend, soon and it will bring me feelings of meaning and specialness.

    My emotional world is different from the one Dan described in his book, “Emotional Intelligence”. I am not complicated. My knitting is…

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