Alone, unnoticed, misunderstood… Maybe it’s because you’ve lost someone you love, you’ve suffered a heartbreak, a disappointment, maybe you feel abandoned by your partner even if you have formed a family with that person. My point here is, loneliness is difficult to explain but we will agree that it is a feeling of sadness that disconnects you from a lot of the things that mattered before. This feeling of pain blocks us from seeing beyond the sadness, and it makes it even more difficult when you would like to share this feeling with someone who could understand you, but there is no one. You see, it really doesn’t matter how many Instagram or Facebook friends you have. Although nowadays we are more “Connected” than ever, we are also more isolated than ever. You might have 5,000 followers on Instagram and not a single person to call to let out any issues you might be having.
So what do we do? First thing is to understand what loneliness really is and also learn how to cope with it.
What is loneliness?
Technically, loneliness results from being without company during a set period of time either by choice or because of life circumstances. However, the emotion or feeling of loneliness goes beyond this, “feeling” lonely has nothing to do with our circumstances or environments but how we feel about all of that, and when it lasts a long period of time it can get extremely overwhelming, detrimental and even dangerous.
But why is are we so afraid of this emotion? Shouldn’t we feel happy and comfortable with just ourselves?
Although I encourage people to work on being comfortable with alone time, the reality is that the human species needs to feel connected, we have to, it’s a biological need that we have in our evolution and there is a reason for it: surviving and reproducing. This is why unconsciously we reject the idea of being alone.
The Relationship between Loneliness and Happiness
Do you remember your childhood and the number of friends you had? If you think about it, friends were really one of the most important things we valued when we were kids, but as we started growing up and became adults, we began putting friendships in the background because of family and work. The problem with this is that we forget that our social relations and the quality of these relations will directly impact how happy we are, it really comes that to that; not money, status, or fame, if you feel lonely you will feel unhappy because they are directly connected, and I am not referring to texting or social networks, I mean having a positive and healthy face to face relationship with someone.
And although everyone puts hundreds of smiling selfies on social media, we have all felt lonely at one point in our lives, all of us! you might think you’re the only one, when in fact even a popular and social person I spoke with once after a few drinks opened up and told me that even though she had a bunch on friends and is extremely outgoing, she felt lonely, she did not feel she had a genuine person to talk to that would really care and understand her. This goes to show you that you can be very close to many people and yet feel extremely away at the same time.
What can you do that will help positively accept being alone and connect with people.
1. Identify the root of your emotions
A big mistake I see people doing is looking for solutions without first understanding what the underlying issue is; in other words, understanding the “Why?” do I feel lonely? But be careful of not confusing what I call the “Topic” with the “Issue”, what do I mean by this? When you say, “I feel lonely because I don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend” this is not entirely accurate because this is not really the root of your feelings of loneliness, that’s what I would call the “topic”. The “Issue” is: why does NOT having a boyfriend/girlfriend make you feel lonely? Maybe you have limiting beliefs or preexisting beliefs about how things should be in life, or maybe you feel not worthy of connection/love, you must go to the root of your feeling. To find the “Issue” just ask yourself “Why?” more than once. At times we evade being truly honest with ourselves because the answer might hurt us, but this real “Issue” will be the answer to finding a healthier path.
2. Acknowledge your emotions. Don’t fight your thought, accept them and then process the feeling.
Now that you accept how you feel, you need to process this feeling in a healthy way. First of all, when you interpret thoughts such as, “I do not have any friends”, “Nobody cares”, as something negative or terrible, guess how you’re going to feel? Yes, depressed, lonely! So the first thing you need to do is accept any thought that might come to you, not as a threat, but just a thought that you accept. The faster you just accept them and view them in a more positive way as a growth and learning opportunity, the faster they will leave and the sooner you start doing this, the easier it will be for you to recognize and process how you feel.
3. Share, share, share… How you feel….
It not enough to accept and process, when you share how you feel, you alleviate your feeling of loneliness. But don’t do this through text messages, do it face to face! Find someone you feel comfortable talking with or who has supported you in the past and have the courage to call him/her, even if you haven’t spoken in a while, just do it. I remember the words of one of my favorite Psychology teachers as he said, “99% of the negative things we are afraid will happen, never do” at times we make the mistake of not reaching out because we are afraid this person might pity us or laugh at us, when in reality, I assure you this person would empathize. Remember everyone has felt lonely at some point in their life.
4. Do something!
So you already found the “Issue”, accepted the thought and feeling and shared it with someone, now what? Do something! Get up, be proactive in your life. I find many people that with the intention of feeling better, start reading a bunch self-help books over and over again, and believe me I love reading and improving myself with as much information as possible, but not to the extent that it will prevent me from going out to the world and connecting with others, or trying new activities. Think of your self-esteem as a diamond you have in your house that at times might get a bit dirty, you might want to stay at your house the whole day cleaning it because it is dirty (In this case reading a bunch of self-help books) but since all you do it clean it, you do not make any time to go out, and have real opportunities to make connections.
You have to choose: go out and live your life even though your diamond might be a little dirty or stay the whole day in your house cleaning the diamond.
At times we make the mistake of looking for perfection in order to feel capable of something, but what we don’t realize is that when we spend too much looking for perfection we are in fact not doing anything. So ask yourself, “Do I need the perfect self-esteem to not feel alone?” or, “Should I not worry so much about having perfect self-esteem and just start doing something?”
What are examples of things you could do?
-Exercise: Never underestimate the power of exercise over your mood. Exercising releases endorphins that make you feel good! It might not be the perfect solution for your loneliness but it will relieve your symptoms, you will feel better emotionally, and with your own image.
-Connect with people: Get out of your comfort zone and open up to meeting new people! Here’s an idea: try Meetup, it’s a website where you can find events, and groups in all sorts of things, from bicycling to book clubs…
-Help others: did you know that when we help people, the same area of our brain is activated as when we have sex or eat chocolate? Giving and helping rather than only thinking about you will drastically make you feel better, happier, satisfied, even if it’s something small, it’s not a matter of how much you are giving, but it’s the act of giving and helping.
-Adopt a dog: surprised? having a dog forces you to get up and move! To create a routine, and take him out which also helps you meet new people that also have dogs so take advantage of it and initiate conversations with other people that might have that in common with you, and coming back to giving and helping, the act of taking care of your dog will make you feel better!
5. Learn to be alone
It is very important to learn to be alone once in a while. The reality is at some point in your life you will feel ignored and misunderstood. Don’t reject loneliness, accept the fact that you are not going to be happy all the time. You will sometimes feel sad and it’s important to process this feeling but never allow the feeling to stay for too long because we run the risk of falling into a depression. How do we do this? Learn to be proactive and do something about your circumstances without resisting the feeling, accept the feeling, share it and let it go, if you do this the feeling will eventually leave. Learn to live with loneliness at times but get up, create a routine, connect with people, learn something new, do exercise! By doing this you will learn that your feeling of loneliness is as big or as small as you allow it to be.