Lonely at the Top: The Unexpected Aloneness that Comes with Healing

As I sit down to write this, I understand that it might not sit well with everyone. So many people are struggling to heal, to just feel okay. I understand why it might be off-putting to hear a “healed” person complain about how hard it is. Before we begin, I want you to know that those feelings, if you have them, are valid. It’s okay to skip this one if you need to.

For those of you who stayed, maybe you have an inkling of what I’m about to talk about. This one is for you.

I never really considered that it might feel more lonely when I reached a place of healing and wholeness. Shouldn’t I feel less lonely than ever? More connected, more present? I pictured finding my healing as my grand finale, crossing the finish line and having all my loved ones there to celebrate and embrace me at the end. In my shiny new healed state, all my relationships would be better, more fulfilling. Happier.

And while I do have much to be thankful for—so many wonderful loved ones around me—I don’t feel any less lonely than I did before my healing journey began.

When I was broken and unhealed, I was lonely. I was anxious, depressed, and mildly reclusive. I could be selfish, obstinate, and even toxic at times. I had a few people who rallied around me during that time (chief among them my incredible husband Charlie), and I was so grateful for them. If I’m honest with myself, they would have probably been there for me even more if I had asked for more help. But, when you’re toxic and wounded, asking for help feels impossible. You’d rather just be alone.

It took me over two years of intense therapy and work on my own to finally reach the place I am now. I feel truly healed; my soul is at peace. The natural result of my healing is seeing the goodness I’ve worked so hard to cultivate in myself come pouring outward onto the people I love.

I am considerate, open-hearted, able to be honest and vulnerable. I’m not perfect, but I am a good parter, a good parent, a good friend. I take care of my people because I have the emotional energy to do so.

But sometimes, that tendency toward caretaking leads to loneliness.

When you are healed, you attract people who aren’t. They feel drawn to your stability, your groundedness. It feels really good to take care of them because you were them not all that long ago. You remember what it feels like to be lost and broken, and to wish you had someone to guide you through it. So, you give. You listen. You try to be a source of enrichment for them, trying not to bring too much of your struggles to their table because they have enough on their plate. They learn to lean on you, to rely on you. And that feels good.

That said, it can also feel incredibly isolating. The worst part is that it’s no one’s fault. Your loved ones who still need healing don’t have the wisdom, the experience, the emotional clarity to show up for you the way you can show up for them. So, when you need guidance, or a listening ear, or someone to put a hand on your back and gently push you forward when you’re out of strength, you find yourself woefully alone.

Your loved ones have become so used to you being the beacon of strength and healing that even if they could give you the support you need, they just don’t think of it. They’re accustomed to being taken care of by you; that’s the default. They aren’t able to recognize that the care and support should flow both ways. That’s not to say they are bad people or that they won’t become the kind of people you need once they’ve competed their healing. It just means that, at least for now, it might feel like a one-way street.

So, what do you do in this season of healing that still feels lonely?

For me, it’s first about finding people who are where you are on their healing journey and can give you what you need. I’ve been really fortunate to have my husband, who did his healing at the same time I did, be that person for me. I am thankful to have him to lean on. But, I also need to seek friends who can be that for me, too.

I think it’s also about making peace with the season you’re in. It’s about having compassion and grace for the people who are still working on their healing, understanding that they will get there eventually. Perhaps, if you have loved ones who are safe, you can begin teaching them how to show up for you. This can be hard, since unhealed people sometimes respond to being asked to give their time, energy, or attention to other people with annoyance or frustration. But if your loved ones who are still healing are willing to listen, you can begin teaching them — through modeling the correct behaviors, and through telling them where they are showing up to the relationship selfishly or inconsiderately — how to be the kind of person who can be there for others. They might not be able to do it just yet, but perhaps once they have healed, they will.

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am grateful for my healing—even when it makes me feel lonely or isolated at times. I recognize that not everyone gets the opportunity to heal, and that I am one of the lucky ones. I hope if you are experiencing the loneliness in the healing, that you will take time to appreciate how far you’ve come.

I hope you’ll recognize that it’s “lonely at the top” because so few people get to reach the heights you have. There is peace in that. Hold it close.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.


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