Loneliness is one of the most difficult feelings a person can have. It’s such a strong emotion, in fact, that it can have serious repercussions a person’s life, health, and outlook on things. People who feel lonely are more likely to experience depression and face other physical and mental health issues and that can have a significant impact on their day-to-day lives.
Loneliness however, isn’t necessarily caused by being alone. There is a misperception for many that loneliness is caused by the absence of others in their lives, particularly a partner. While this can be true it often isn’t the case. Many people who feel lonely are married, have families, lots of people they consider friends, and successful jobs. Yet even being surrounded by all of those people it’s still possible to feel a crushing loneliness that can leave a person feeling isolated, disconnected and empty.
People who have friends, go to parties, or are in a relationship may not recognize that the sadness or emptiness they are feeling is actually loneliness. It doesn’t make sense – they are never actually alone, so how could they possibly be lonely?
The truth is that loneliness has much more to do with the quality of your relationships than the quantity of people in your life. It’s not physical proximity to other human beings and discussing things like the weather that makes us feel connected, it’s trust, depth and knowing someone cares enough to really hear you when you talk, and value and understand you. In other words, it’s feeling close and connected to someone.
So what can you do if you are feeling lonely? There isn’t a quick fix, or a one-size-fits all, but there are ways to start changing your circumstances. Any or all of the suggestions listed below can help build the connections that will begin to push loneliness away.
Change your opinion of yourself.
One thing we tend to do when feeling lonely is to start looking inward and wondering why we are feeling this way. What many of us will determine is that there is something within us that is the problem. Everyone has a mean voice in their head, but when you are lonely, that is often the voice that is the loudest. People who are lonely are often very critical of themselves, feeling like they are so different or truly unlikable that no one would want to be close to them if they knew what they were really like. This is a destructive thought process, and it is also a completely incorrect assumption. If you are feeling lonely, especially while surrounded by people, identify a couple of the positives things about yourself and try to find comfort in them. The more you appreciate your own attributes the more you will be able to understand and accept that other people appreciate them too.
Find common ground.
We are all human and every one of us has felt lonely at one point or another. In fact, there isn’t an emotion that you will experience that someone else hasn’t felt before, too. In fact, everyone you know has probably experienced every emotion you have ever felt at some point in their lives. When you understand that, also try to understand that we all, for the most part, want the same things from our friends and loved ones. We want to feel valued, heard, loved and connected. Next time you are with a friend and feel only the distance between you, try reaching out and sharing a recent experience you had. Making a connection with another person will immediately make you feel a part of something and start to push back the loneliness. Don’t expect a soul connection overnight though. It takes time to build the trust required to really open up to someone else. This goes for both you and anyone you are getting to know.
Give of yourself.
One of the quickest ways to build connections, self-confidence, and feel part of something is through volunteering. There is no right or wrong place to offer your time, anywhere that needs help will likely be happy to have you. The act of giving back to others or to a cause you believe in not only promotes your own good feelings, but also brings you around people who share a common interest thereby giving you an immediate place to start the get-to-know you process. You will already share a common interest with the people you are volunteering with and thus have an easier time breaking the ice. Volunteering with those who have little will also make you more aware of and more grateful for the things that you have in your life. There are innumerable places that you can volunteer. Some possibilities could be a food bank, abuse shelter, or Habitat for Humanity.
Talk to people.
This seems simple but it actually isn’t, not the kind of talking that helps get rid of loneliness. Many of the best talkers are actually very lonely people. This is because most conversation at parties, work, or in daily life is fairly superficial. Take the very common greeting of “How are you?” We almost never answer this question honestly because it’s not a genuine question. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be. Asking someone how they are and really wanting (and getting) the answer takes practice and patience. The next time you have a moment for conversation with a friend try asking them how they are – and meaning it. You may have to use follow-up questions and be specific, but just showing a genuine interest will start to create a connection. It’ll let that person know that you actually care even if they’re not ready to share very much. And it’s likely they will respond in kind at some point and show a genuine interest in you. But again, it can take time.
Loneliness is a serious and devastating feeling - and we’ve all been there. One of the most difficult parts of loneliness is that when feeling truly lonely we often forget that and can make things worse through our own behavior. And we can become unable to recognize that there are people in our lives who can and want to help if they only knew. This isolation that we create for ourselves by being so myopic can lead to dangerous consequences and, in extreme cases, even harming ourselves.
If you are feeling alone do your best not to give into it. Try to get out of your head and look around for someone you enjoy. Then try out some of the suggestions listed above. It only takes making a connection with one person to begin to push those feelings of loneliness and isolation away.
Author: Dr. Kurt Smith, Psy.D., LMFT, LPCC, AFCDr is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching and writes a blog about the issues facing men (and the women who love them). As an expert in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today, he regularly appears on The Huffington Post, Good Men Project and PsychCentral. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their lives and relationships better. Check out his weekly tips on Facebook or Twitter.