Loneliness is a perfectly normal emotion in the range of our human experience, yet it is one of the most dreaded of all feelings. In the United States, 42.6 million adults over the age of 45 suffers from chronic loneliness.
This staggering number reflects some greater truths about our society, how our priorities are shifting, and the ways in which our disconnection from one another is damaging.
The shifts in technology that allow us to connect passively through texts and social media, to attend meetings via technology and even work and shop at home, also serves to disconnect us in some basic human ways.
Now more than ever, we need to be mindful of our involvement with others and find ways to genuinely connect.
Being alone and being lonely are not one in the same.
Sometimes we can feel lonely in a crowd of people, and sometimes being alone is just what we need to sort through our thoughts and feelings. It’s all about what sort of mood one is experiencing beneath the surface of any given situation. There are different types of loneliness that can have many meanings, and what will work for one type, may not work for another.
Common loneliness that most people experience is far different than monophobia, which is the more acute version in which one pathologically fears being alone and avoids it at all costs. Most of us experience occasional periods of loneliness.
Perhaps there has been less social involvement for a period of time, or there have been logistical changes that have resulted in less contact with loved ones. Sometimes loneliness chooses us, it seems, to do some deeper work and self reflection, which is a purposeful sort of existential loneliness that can lead to greater self awareness and introspection.
During these periods of self growth, it is important to honor your inner need for time alone, even if you feel you “should” have company or be more social. It is important to recognize the difference between a period of self reflection and social isolation borne out of depression.
They can look very similar but come from different emotional places. Listen for the underlying thoughts and that is where you will be able to distinguish between the two; depressed isolation can often produce thoughts such as “no one wants to see me.”
The need for alone time for personal growth usually produces healthier thoughts, such as “I need to be alone right now to sort things out.” The end result is the same, but the thoughts driving each scenario are worlds apart.
There are times when we just need to be around other people and feel connected.
We are social beings at our core, even though some people are more inclined toward extroversion than others.
Finding the balance between time alone and time with others is often challenging. Everyone has their own level of need when it comes to socialization and it is important to find the right combination for your own personality style and wellness.
Introverts require more time alone to recharge and reconnect with self, whereas extroverts need more connection with others to feel their best. Ambiverts are more evenly balanced with both introvert and extrovert tendencies, and most people fall into this middle-ground. Learning what your needs are and accepting your personal version of what works best is key to finding balance in your relationship with others and self.
How To Avoid Loneliness And Disconnection:
- Examine the ways in which your time is spent. In the average week, about how many hours do you spend alone? In group settings (such as a workplace, church or community activity)? Engaging in personal conversation with others? Try to move toward a more balanced division of your time.
- Start the conversation. Sometimes people are reluctant to talk about feeling lonely, in spite of the fact that it is such a common feeling. Take a chance and allow for some vulnerability; reach out to friends and family and express your desire to connect with them. You may find others are grateful that you opened the door for them to express their own feelings of disconnection or loneliness.
- Seek meaningful ways to connect. What are you passionate about? Finding interest groups in your area is a great way to connect with like-minded people. Maybe it’s time to learn a new hobby or skill, and interest groups or adult education courses can be fun places to learn something and meet new people.
- Volunteer. Sometimes disconnection or loneliness stems from a deeper place within that longs for meaning and purpose. Volunteer work can often fill that void and develop a sense of connection to something larger than oneself.
- Explore your thoughts about yourself and others. This will help identify the source of loneliness and disconnection. Ask yourself, “why do I feel lonely” and make a plan to support your need for connection. Learning what is at the core of your feelings can be life changing.
Not all types of loneliness are created equal. Maybe you’re not sure if you actually do feel lonely, or wonder if your feelings run deeper than you realize. There are ways to determine how lonely you feel, including taking an online questionnaire, writing about your feelings or talking to a counselor.
If you find yourself becoming self critical about feelings of loneliness, remember you are in good company; there are literally millions of others feeling the same way at any given moment.
Try to challenge yourself to step out of your usual routine and make time for the things that nurture you, whether that means more time with others or time exploring your relationship with self.
“The hardest walk is walking alone, but it’s also the walk that makes you the strongest.”
“Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.” -Paul Tillich
“Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.” -Gretchen Rubin