We all have those certain days where we experience loneliness, and I don’t simply mean the feeling that comes as a result of by being single or alone. There can be the feeling of loneliness in a crowd, at a party, in the office or even in bed with your partner. Other people are not a guaranteed shield against the raw emotional pain that loneliness creates.
One of the human fundamental needs is the need to belong, to be loved and accepted as the person you are. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a feeling of being alienated from others, and therefore not feeling understood or connected. It often comes from the perceived difference between the social life we actually have and the social life we feel that we should have. That is why we often feel especially lonely when we compare our current lives against some ideal that we’ve set up for ourselves. It may be comparing ourselves to that one friend who seems to have it all, to those Facebook or Instagram pictures where everyone seems to have not only already found the love of their life, twice, but also seems crazily popular, or it might simply be the social ideal we come across in movies or television. Whatever it is that creates the feeling of loneliness in us, it starts and ends in our own mind.
Psychological research has shown that loneliness changes our perceptions, making us believe the people around us care much less about us than they actually do, and it also makes us view our existing relationships more negatively. As a result, lonely people value new social interactions as less satisfying and also see long-term relationships as less meaningful and important than they would if they weren’t lonely.
As such, loneliness is a concept made up in our mind, trapped there by ruminating thoughts like ‘I’m so alone’ or ’nobody loves me’. Sounds familiar? In fact, it’s human to feel lonely from time to time, and it is important to realise that there is a way out. Next time you feel lonely you should ask yourself ‘is it 100 % true that I’m alone, that I have NO ONE who cares about me and loves me?’ Of course, the answer to this question is ‘no’. There are a lot of people we interact with on a daily basis who care about us, but whose support we simply don’t recognise or value at that particular moment of loneliness. So instead of wanting the support of that special someone, look around and be aware of all the people who support you with little actions every day that might otherwise slip under your radar and go unnoticed.
Loneliness might evolve out of different situations; when we leave for university, find a new job, lose a partner in a break-up, move to a new town or country, or simply out of the feeling of being rejected by our loved ones. Loneliness out of rejection is a really tricky one because we have the tendency to isolate ourselves as a result. At times like this when you feel so miserable, you may find yourself wondering why nobody is reaching out to you. As a result, we think these people don’t really care about us or love us. When sometimes we just need to reach out to others first, even in difficult times, as they simply might not know that you are lonely or need some support. Don’t isolate yourself and wait for someone to call you while the miserable feeling of loneliness gets worse and worse by the minute. If you feel disconnected and lonely, go through your email address book, phone and social media contacts, and make a list of people you haven’t seen or spoken to for a while, people you’ve been close to in the past. Reach out to them and suggest getting together and catching up. Yes, it might feel scary to do so, and yes, you might worry about it being awkward or uncomfortable, but in the end you have nothing to loose and so much to gain. Those people might just be waiting for a sign from you.
Another way to beat the loneliness blues is by embracing your own company. Where did the myth even come from that being on your own means you’re desperately pining for someone else to complete you? It’s important to realize that just because you are alone, doesn’t mean you must be lonely. Until you can learn to enjoy your own company, you may constantly find yourself lonely or you may get into/stay in relationships that are based on the fear of ending up alone. The need to be surrounded by others all the time might therefore be a sign that you’re placing your happiness in the hands of others. Whereas it’s simply you and you alone who is in charge of your own happiness, and that’s why being alone shouldn’t bother you. It should give you the time to work on being an even happier person.
Instead of letting our mind choose the feeling of loneliness whilst being on our own, we should mindfully choose a feeling of solitude. If being alone is a source of suffering for you, see if you can make a list of all the sweet things that can come from solitude. It could be that you have a hobby that no one else likes or you just want to spend some time having fun without being judged by others. I for example, absolutely love my ‘me-time’ to simply do whatever I feel like doing without considering anyone else’s feelings, judgments, and desires. What would be on your list? On the top of my list of things I like to do whilst being alone is to meditate, to read a good book, to sing in the shower, to turn up the stereo, dancing all negative emotions away, to go shopping without someone else looking at their watch in boredom, to paint without the awkward feeling of people looking over my shoulder in curiosity and so on. Whatever the reason, almost everyone craves being alone at times, and even if you don’t crave it, just remember it’s healthy to do it and an opportunity for you to switch from a feeling of loneliness to a feeling of solitude.
“Language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”- Paul Tillich
Loneliness is painful, but once you realise the perceptual changes it causes and the psychological trap it creates, you will be able to gather your courage, create that change of mind, and plan your escape. Freedom and happiness will come once you do.