loneliness cathy terranova

Recently I was talking to a close friend about loneliness. I had shared with her how isolated and alone I’ve been feeling when she wondered aloud how it should be obvious to the people around me, but it doesn’t seem to be. The answer to that made me land on a hard truth.
When people who care about you know that you are lonely their responses generally fall into two camps:
1. They take it personally. Like their company is somehow not good enough. How can you be lonely when they are right there and hearing you be vulnerable enough to tell them?
2. They feel guilty. Like somehow you would be less lonely if they had more time to give you.

Neither one is really true. But I know for me, I have felt both of those things when someone has told me how lonely they are. Those feelings contribute to me not telling others that I am lonely, because I don’t want them to feel not good enough or responsible for “fixing” my situation.

My friend had been beating herself up earlier in the conversation saying that she wished she could be uplifting but that all she could think about was how hard it must be for me to be so alone right now in the midst of all I’m dealing with. I told her that those words were all I really needed to hear. I needed someone to admit that it sucks and sit with me in the suck.

Loneliness can blindside people because there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the emotion. It can come from being alone, sure. But loneliness can more often than not come when we have friends and family or even a significant other in our lives. Feeling alone in a crowd is something that most everyone experiences. Usually simply being around people doesn’t fix the problem if it is rooted in something deep.

From my experience, loneliness comes less from being physically alone and more from an intense desire for connection. It can manifest as part of grieving the loss of connection as well.
Imagine that your heart has many arms and hands. It holds onto friends, family members, and significant others one to each hand. Something lets go. Now, the hand is empty. Your heart notices the loss and grasps to fill it, but there is nothing left to hold. You have not let go of the other relationships, but your heart still grieves. A deep ache for the loss makes you lose sight of all the other connections. Your heart cries out for what is missing instead of clenching tighter to what it has.

Loss should encourage us to double down on the meaningful relationships we all have. But instead, in our hurt and woundedness, the loss becomes all we see and feel.

It is easy for people to look at us and say,
“So many of your hands are full, why are you so upset about one empty hand?

Would you tell a woman who has lost a child,
“So many of your children are alive. Why are you so upset about one?

In our grief we lose sight of many things. Loneliness can overtake us not because we are really alone, but because all we see and feel is absence. There is no cure except for grieving.

Giving validation to your loneliness begins with admitting that you are missing a close connection. Grieve the loss of the person. Remember that it is okay to feel loneliness. It is just your heart telling you something is wrong, something is missing.
Find ways to deepen the connections you have with the people you love.
Create opportunities for new connections. Join a meetup group, see an old friend or someone you’ve lost touch with, find an organization you appreciate and volunteer even if just for an hour.
Talk with a therapist about your loss and your feelings of loneliness.
Work through the grief by journaling your feelings.
Remember that it is okay if you don’t “feel better” right away. Eventually you will feel less alone.

It can be easy when the loss is romantic to jump into a new relationship. Remember that you are not really filling that empty hand that way. New connections don’t heal the loss of old ones. It can make the transition feel better on the surface, but it just redirects your focus. It doesn’t make the pain go away forever and when you experience loss again, it will be worse because you have left so much unresolved.

One of the deadliest consequences of loneliness is isolation. In times where we feel alone, we can cut ourselves off from others. I wish I understood why, but I know that I do it myself. When I lose a deep personal relationship, I pull away from all the others for fear that they will leave me too or that there is something in me that is unlovable and I will lose everyone if anyone else sees whatever flaw pushed the other person away.
When we isolate it can lead to episodes of depression, extreme anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide.

Loneliness is just like any other emotion, it exists to remind us to take action because something is wrong. It can feel consuming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Loneliness can also be hard to understand when we are not sure why we are feeling it. If you feel lonely and you don’t know why, perhaps make an effort to strengthen your relationships with loved ones and share your feelings with them. It could be that you have not been taking care of yourself and your need for connection and relationship. Use the tools that you have to address the feelings and see if there is something more serious going on.
Loneliness can trigger feelings of hopelessness as well. It really is one of those situations where, “If the feeling persists, consult a doctor”.
A therapist can help you navigate your feelings, grieve in a healthy way, practice positive coping skills, and encourage you to avoid isolating yourself from friends and family.

We need to remember that when others say they are feeling lonely to not take it personally. The most we can do is remind them that we love them and show it by seeking out time to spend with them. Encourage them to explore their feelings and find the cause. Find ways to help them not isolate and even foster new connections. Invite them to meet new people or go to events with you. Remind them that it’s okay to not be okay and that you are there for them even when they feel sad or alone. Talk with them about your own experiences with loneliness and what triggered it. You can’t heal the lonely person but you can offer support.

Loneliness affects everyone, so there is no shame in saying that you are feeling alone. Talking about it will help.

Read more about loneliness here and here.

Photo Credit: silvia di.natale

loneliness, lonely