lonliness

Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible form of poverty. – Mother Theresa

In a world of 24 hour access to each other, it may be surprising to learn that many people suffer from the pain of loneliness. Loneliness is hard to identify, often misunderstood and can be shamed. It’s a quiet epidemic that silences the voices of the afflicted and leads to settling for lukewarm relationships and neglecting dreams in an effort to play it safe, minimizing vulnerability.

Loneliness is one of the most challenging emotions to experience. Unlike other emotions which come and go in waves, loneliness lingers like a thick fog and can be experienced as a dull ache or it can throb like a fresh wound. Perceived as dangerous to the nervous system, loneliness is a frequent visitor that can take your breath away, causing you to feel like the tools you use to best function as an adult are far out of reach.

Simply put, loneliness hurts emotionally and physically.

A lonely individual rumbles with the fears triggered by loneliness and is at increased risk of making bad choices in relationships and in how they care for their body. Many can feel ashamed for feeling lonely, especially when comparative suffering (comparing your suffering to the suffering of others) arises. This shame is possibly a result of an inaccurate understanding of loneliness, for it’s often mistakenly seen in others as being distant, awkward, selfish, or insensitive.

… loneliness is a frequent visitor that can take your breath away, causing you to feel like the tools you use to best function as an adult are far out of reach.

There is an important distinction between experiencing loneliness and simply being alone. Loneliness is an experience of isolation due to lack of connection — a lack of being seen and understood. Everyone needs varying degrees of connection with other people to help keep loneliness at bay. When your unique need for social connection is not met, loneliness arises. These social needs are determined by your individual genetics, temperament, environmental and social experiences. Applying a prescription for loneliness broadly may not only be ineffective, but could actually be harmful when attempts to move away from a state of loneliness are unsuccessful.

In their book, “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection,” John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick discuss their discoveries researching loneliness and found that people who experience loneliness fit a broad spectrum of people.

They:

– Are no more or less physically attractive than deemed “normal.”

– Do not differ, on average, in terms of height, weight, age, education and intelligence.

– Can be just as socially adept as anyone.

These findings show how loneliness does not discriminate while it profoundly distorts your lens on what is true about both you and your world. Cacioppo and Patrick further found that, over time and if left unaddressed, loneliness impacts a person’s capacity for empathy and self-compassion; its pain is all-consuming — shutting down the ability to see a situation from someone else’s perspective.

loneliness

Addressing Loneliness = Understanding Loneliness 

Whatever our own individual sensitivity, our well-being suffers when our particular need for connection has not been met. – Cacioppo & Patrick

Chronic feelings of loneliness and alienation, along with unmet social connection needs, will increase stress. This kind of chronic stress impacts physical, relational and mental health. Since loneliness is part of the human experience, trying to never feel it and/or thinking you are a failure because you feel this emotion will only add to the pain of loneliness. Loneliness does not need to be justified, so it is important to re-evaluate the voices speaking into your life if that is a message you are regularly receiving.

You can do this by:

– Developing an accurate understanding of loneliness. Reflect on the above stated differences between being alone and loneliness.

– Take the UCLA Loneliness inventory to assess where your loneliness baseline is.

– Get curious about your and your loved ones’ unique needs for social connection – which vary person to person. Respecting your unique needs for social connection instead of comparing yourself to others will help you get relief quicker when loneliness arises.

– Be honest about your beliefs around feeling negative emotions like loneliness. Practice breathing slow, deep breaths when this pain creeps in, reaching out to your trusted support system and remembering the lies of loneliness are wrong: you are not alone and loneliness is a common struggle that is part of being human.

– Respect the pain, even if you hate it. Practice giving yourself permission to struggle. If this is hard to do on your own, reach out and get help from a therapist or join a support group.

– Get clear on your expectations and biases around loneliness. Assess your protective and critical self-talk and get curious about what these protective parts want to protect you from and what they want you to know about them.

There is nothing like the experience of loneliness to help you realign where you are putting your worth and your value. Benching loneliness takes some deep soul character strength, faith and fortitude. It is a life-long practice in building emotional resilience. Mastery is not the goal, simply practice.

Compassion, curiosity and understanding can help take the edges off the pain when darkness surfaces. And never forget: we are in this human journey together.

Images via Sara Forrest

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13 comments

  1. I enjoy interacting with people, but prefer to be alone. I am an artist, am more creative when alone; have more time to ponder and soak in God and His magnificence and seeing creation and studying it from both scientific and Biblical views – variations of colors, the sheer magnitude of the many biological, botanical, living breathing things which display the awesomeness of the Creator require solitude and being “alone”. I think loneliness sometimes may also come from a lack of appreciation and love for the unique creature that each of us is and sometimes because of that “lack” of value for oneself, the attempts at trying to be “completed by another human being…leads to those voids or the feelings of loneliness. I have never in my life been lonely…I bring to relationships with no expectations, then draw on God for my replenishing… yes it’s nice, no super to share love…exhilarating…but when it’s IN you, how can one be lonely…I’ve felt loss and the pain of grief…but not loneliness…my best to those who have…Jesus is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. ?

  2. Loneliness is a word that we often retreat from, due to embarrassment and fear. It’s really refreshing to see it addressed in such an honest and proactive way. Great post. 🙂

  3. KC – Thank you for reading and sharing a bit of your story. Moving to a new city far away is exciting but also has its sacrifices – especially leaving a known community. While it is normal to struggle with loneliness, it is still hard. and takes patience and self-kindness in the process of growing a new support system. All the best on your new adventures and new community!

  4. Currently dealing with this right now, so I’m so happy you wrote about it. I moved from my home and family in Hawaii all the way to DC, and I’ve been here for a year and haven’t made friends or anything and it’s quite lonely here. I struggled with trying to decipher if it was loneliness or being alone, and you really helped me define that distinction! I hope I can get out of this little rut I seem to be in!

    1. Jasmine – Wow – that is quite the move! So grateful to read this article was a support to you. I hope this next year is fruitful in building a new community. Take care of you in the meantime!

  5. This is really wonderful! Thank you for showing that this affects a broad group of people. I recently moved to another city where I know no one. While I am pursuing community it feels like a slow and awkward process, friends aren’t made overnight and sometimes its discouraging and very lonely. But we are all in this together!

    http://www.recovering-hope.blogspot.com

    1. Hannah, yes! We are all in this together. Finding the right community takes time and intention. – and a lot of patience! Way to dare to move to a new city! All the best and cheers to new adventures and new friends. 🙂

  6. Thank you for posting this article! I’m currently living in a city 2,000 miles away from home. While I have made some friendships with people out here, I haven’t found a support system yet and this makes me feel lonely. It’s good to hear that it’s a normal thing people go through, but what triggers it differs from person to person. I’ve never thought of it like that before. I don’t think you know how grateful I am for this article. Thank you

    1. KC – Thank you for reading and sharing a bit of your story. Moving to a new city far away is exciting but also has its sacrifices – especially leaving a known community. While it is normal to struggle with loneliness, it is still hard. and takes patience and self-kindness in the process of growing a new support system. All the best on your new adventures and new community!

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