Dealing With Loneliness
Loneliness is a universal human emotion and it can be experienced by people of different ages in many different situations. These situations require varying solutions – a child with no school friends has very different needs to a recently bereaved widower, for example.
What is similar, however, is the devastation that loneliness can cause. People who are lonely can feel unloved – and this can have a very damaging effect on self-esteem and quality of life.
Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone of course. Being lonely is a negative emotion, overwhelming and draining; choosing solitude on the other hand, can be restorative and calming. Perhaps the difference is in knowing that people genuinely care. When you know this, you can choose to take some alone time – it’s a free choice, made in the knowledge that you have options. When you’re lonely and feel unloved, you feel that there are no options at all. That feeling can be devastating. As human beings, we need meaningful contact and genuine bonds, strong relationships which make us feel that we are important to others.
An article by Psychology Today identifies 7 types of loneliness:
- New situation loneliness. This can be rectified if you are willing to pro-actively engage with new people, but it’s not always easy.
- “I’m different” loneliness. You may feel different from others in relation to a way which is significant to you, perhaps your sexuality, your interests, your religious beliefs. Perhaps you feel that these differences are setting you apart or even that you wrongly assume that people won’t want to engage with you.
- No sweetheart loneliness. You might have lots of friends but feel the desire for a closer, more intimate connection.
- No pet loneliness. Animals are brilliant at providing unconditional love and affection and some people really feel the loss of not having this type of relationship.
- No time for me loneliness. Perhaps you feel that, although you have lots of acquaintances, none of them want to make the leap to becoming firmer friends. Maybe your current friends have moved into a different life phase to you, whereby the dynamics of your friendship have changed.
- Untrustworthy friends loneliness. In this situation, you have ‘friends’ but don’t really trust them or feel that they are really there for you.
- Quiet-presence loneliness. True friends don’t need conversation – feeling comfortable means that you can sit comfortably without having to say a word.
Whichever situation you identify with, and there are lots of variations within each category, loneliness is undoubtedly a major issue for many people. Social media is a double-edged sword here. While for many young people in particular, for example, it can provide friendship and support, it can also mean that face to face friendship is limited.
What can we do about loneliness?
- Firstly, we need to acknowledge that friendship is a two-way street. If you are new to an area, for example, be pro-active in offering the hand of friendship to others. To attract friendship, you need to be a good friend yourself.
- It sounds obvious, but go out of your way to make those connections. Join a Book Group, a keep fit class or ask a colleague to go for a coffee or lunch. It’s not easy to be the one to make the first move but other people are probably just as shy as you are – don’t assume otherwise.
- Take care of your physical needs. Sleep well, eat well, nurture yourself – in effect, be a good friend to yourself. All of these things keep you physically and mentally healthy and boost your sense of self-worth. In turn, they ensure that you are open to friendship when it comes along – because you are worth it and that shines out of you!
- Work on becoming more self-aware. Acknowledge that you are missing certain things in your life and work out what your part is in alleviating that. If you are missing a pet, for example, then that can be relatively easy to sort out. If, however, your living arrangements prevent you from doing that, explore the idea of pet sitting or walking dogs for others.
Lastly, be open and honest – don’t be lonely because you are too embarrassed to admit it.