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Guest Post – There’s a reason it’s lonely at the top

Published: March 4, 2011 | Last Updated: May 27, 2016 By | 4 Replies Continue Reading

By Shasta Nelson

We often assume that loneliness or a sense of social disconnection is for those people. We picture some angry, hurt, unfriendly, socially awkward and un-lovable woman sitting in a dark house, with the curtains closed, alone. Maybe a dozen cats.

We usually don’t picture ourselves since we know how friendly and fun we are, how much we have to offer someone (we mistakenly equate loneliness with likability). And we certainly don’t picture the beautiful, networked, popular, powerful and inspiring women that we admire as the lonely ones. And yet that doesn’t make it true.

It’s Lonely at the Top

One of the most poignant lines in the Oscar-winning movie, The King’s Speech, came from Colin Firth, playing King George VI, when he muttered “I wouldn’t know” in response to his speech therapists nonchalant statement “That’s what friends are for.”

As king, everyone is forced to be friendly and adoring and respectful to him, but that doesn’t mean he feels known, supported, liked or seen for who he is beyond his title.

On an obviously much smaller scale, many of us know what it feels like to be looked up to, but not seen. Some of it is the fault of those who simply want to be near the popular and powerful for what it does for them: making them feel more important, giving them greater access and using the friendship to their own gains.

But some of it is also the fault of those who are the adored. The desire to reveal the best image, to stay liked, to be a role model puts an inane amount of pressure to not really share honestly, be seen with our faults, or risk getting hurt.

There’s a reason they say it’s lonely at the top. Whether the person at the top starts to feel too amazing to connect with those beneath them, or those beneath them begin to treat the top as though they are on a pedestal; a painful dynamic seems to isolate those who excel in other areas. In my work as a life coach and pastor, I have seen first-hand the loneliness of those who are too beautiful, too talented, too powerful, too famous and too wealthy.

Befriending the Women at the Top

Since so many of my readers are business owners, amazing mothers, inspirational speakers, authors and change-makers, I want to remind you that even if difficult and awkward, you can create friendships around you that truly matter. Some of your best friends may be women who can keep you grounded and remind you that they love you beyond the image everyone else sees.

And I want to challenge those of you who dismiss potential friends because they intimidate you (too beautiful, too successful, too much money) to give yourself the gift of getting to know them without jealousy. Jealousy shows up in two forms- we either devalue the other in order to make ourselves feel better about what we don’t have or we ogle over them making them feel guilty for what they do have.)

The numbers of loneliness are staggering. And it’s not because we have a world filled with little old ladies sitting in dark houses. It’s because we’re intimidated by each other, scared of being used, fearful of feeling inadequate next to others. As we love ourselves, holding our value and worth securely, we will be able to receive that from others.

In the movie The King’s Speech, Lionel Logue, the speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush, lacked credentials, fame, a posh office, success in his own acting ambitions and a home that was sufficient for hosting royalty. What he had was the ability to both believe more in the King than the King did himself, while also creating an equal relationship, insisting on calling him Bertie and setting ground rules that he chose.

Rush’s character held his own, believing in his own worth and what he could offer (even in the midst of vast inequality). He also never lost sight of how human the King really was, seeing him with his imperfections and wounds. He saw him-his amazingness and his insecurities.

Isn’t that what we all crave?

And the final line of The King’s Speech came onto a black screen before the credits rolled, attesting that it can work: “Bertie and Lionel remained friends through out their entire life.”

About Shasta: Shasta Nelson, M.Div. is a life coach and CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com – the only online community that matches new friends offline by connecting women to other local women seeking friendship in 35 cities across the U.S. Shasta blogs about women’s friendship at Shasta’s Friendship Blog.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Irene says:

    Thanks for posting such a helpful comment.

    My best,


  2. ranjith says:

    Yes, we need to realise the potential in friendships. Friends can mean anything from timepass to a greater part of our life.

  3. Kris says:

    This great post came at the perfect time!

    I have long been struggling with the unexplained loss of a 30 year friendship, and several people recently have suggested that it may have been due to my own success. When I first met this friend many years ago, she was the popular one, and I was the shy, nerdy one. It could be that the dynamics of our friendship got established and then frozen, such that she was always the one on the pedestal and I was always the adoring fan.

    Many years later, I have been fortunate to have achieved my goals in just about every area: I have been successful and fulfilled in several careers, my husband is accomplished, affluent, and well known in the media, our son has been a success in college and professionally thus far, the list goes on. My friend has not been unsuccessful, but the roles we had as adolescents certainly have not played out in our adult lives.

    I have always continued to love and respect my friend, but several years ago, after moving to a different state, she stopped communicating with me altogether. When I attempted to reconnect, she would not return my communications, making it clear that she had no interest in any kind of contact. I was crushed—it is a wound that perhaps will never fully heal.

    Despite the fact that I never judge a friend by their outward success, and do not feel that I “rub my succcess in people’s noses”, perhaps a friendship cannot resonate for someone any more if they feel too outpaced by the other. This breaks my heart, but it may just be a human truth that is a fact of life.

    I try so hard to communicate my genuine love and admiration for my friends, no matter what their outward, material success may be. I try to downplay my family’s affluence, and even my son’s achievements. I admire the grace of friends who continue to cheer for my success, as I cheer for theirs. But it must be very hard for some of my friends, who have experienced painful disappointments in areas where I have not. And even though I have had some private wounds, others who cannot see those painful private experiences may believe I have not received enough darkness along with light in my life. I have. But they do not know it.

    Thank you for this post. There is no way to solve this problem, except to be aware that it is one of the many difficult issues of friendship. We can try to prevent rifts caused by it, but it is not always possible. We cannot, in the end, blame our friends or ourselves that sometimes a friendship no longer resonates for one of the two parties.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Why do we hurt the ones we love the most??..
    So that we can ask for forgiveness…
    And then somebody asked me what if we don’t get that forgiveness…
    then what kind of friendship is that?

    We were a group of three. One boy and two girls. I shared a very good n close relationship wid the boy and slowly and gradually he became close to being my brother. But then suddenly he fell in love with a girl. Who was none other then the third girl. I supported them but whenever i looked at them together i realize that she is not going to be with him forever and that shes just going to break his heart and i couldn’t stand it. Plus everybody told me the exact same thing. I became so negative in the following months that i ruined my relationship with him and the girl. Now after 5-6 months i realized my mistake and asked for forgiveness. I told them i got very negative and was easily influenced at the time. I have learnt my lesson. I know things can never get back to the way they were but all i wanted and asked for was a chance to start afresh or if not that then to part ways nicely.
    But he messaged saying that my presence affects his relationship with her?
    And he doesn’t want that.
    Was i asking too much?? isn’t self-realization enough?? isn’t once acceptance to being at fault enough??
    And if his relationship is being affected then the base of that relationship is weak. Its affecting because he’s letting this affect them as a couple.
    I’d like to know what i can do now??

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