Maybe you don’t know why you’re lonely, and you’re not even very comfortable talking about it. And that’s why in this article I’m talking about it openly so that you can better understand why you feel how you feel.
Loneliness is a subject we don’t often discuss much, even with our friends, because there’s often shame attached to it. It might feel like it’s your fault; you’re a failure, a loser, you’re not enough, not normal, not like other people, there’s something wrong with you. But it’s so common and it’s reaching epidemic proportions. It’s affecting our health and wellbeing, and society too, and we need to bring it out into the open so that we can begin to tackle it. But we pretend it isn’t happening, cover it up, distract ourselves from it, disguise it – anything to avoid admitting to ourselves and to others that we’re suffering from it, that we’re lonely.
1 in 20 adults often feel lonely
It makes people to feel sad, empty, alone, and unwanted. People who are lonely often crave human contact, but the ironic thing is that chronic loneliness changes the landscape of the brain, affecting the way you think and your outlook on life and this state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people and can lead to even more social isolation and depression.
Loneliness isn’t necessarily about being alone. Instead, it’s about feeling alone and isolated. You can feel lonely by yourself, in a relationship or surrounded by people. Whereas solitude is being alone but being comfortable and even thriving because of it.
If ever you’ve felt lonely, and I’d be very surprised if you haven’t, then you’ll know that you feel loneliness in your body. In fact, the part of the brain that experiences loneliness is the same part that experiences physical pain.
Emotional and physical pain activate the same areas of the brain
When you think of it, isolation is used as torture. It’s a punishment, children are sent to their rooms to be alone when they’re naughty – no wonder we react so strongly to it.
Fear of loneliness and being alone is primitive. Years ago, safety was a priority. We evolved in tribes, to be part of a pack. We’re not lone wolves, no matter how romantic or macho that sounds. Human beings need to connect with other human beings. It’s how we know we exist, where we feel safe and feel we belong.
There are many reasons for loneliness. One I come across frequently in my practice is a fear of rejection, or not letting people in because you’re afraid they’ll hurt you. Maybe you say to yourself…
“I’m alone and I don’t like it, but I recognise alone, it’s safer”
Because we’re wired to recreate what we know, even if that feels awful. Maybe you feel inadequate in relationships, maybe you feel alone, even when you are with friends, family or with a partner; you don’t talk, don’t connect.
This brain washing yourself to be lonely – telling yourself that it’s safer to be alone – because the last time you were so hurt, your relationship didn’t work, people don’t like you – is too easy to do. Be careful about how you’re talking to yourself and notice if you’re perpetuating any unhelpful stories. When your friend dumped you, you were bullied or you broke up with a partner, were you saying things to yourself along the lines of…
‘I’m never going through that again; It nearly killed me last time; I was so hurt; I thought I was going to die; I thought my heart had been ripped out; it broke my heart …’?
Then you listen to all the songs that go something like ‘Love hurts; I’ll never fall in love again’, songs about broken hearts and pain. No wonder your brain doesn’t want to take the risk again! It’s desperately trying to stop you feeling hurt again.
Ending a relationship can result in us feeling very lonely, even if it’s your decision and the best thing for you, such as an abusive or toxic relationship because it still involves loss. There may be times when you feel intensely lonely for the loss of a partner or friend, the loss of a dream, the loss of an illusion of everything being ok, the loss of the time invested in that relationship. And this loss can make you lonely because you and you alone have to deal with the tsunami of emotions that can come with grieving, loss or change of any kind.
But the breakup with a friend or partner isn’t the only reason to be lonely of course. There are other reasons too.
The intense feelings of loneliness that comes with bereavement can be shocking as you realise you’re alone, no one else can do your grieving for you, it’s something you have to go through.
Or maybe your confidence has taken a dive and you’re not sure if people even want to spend time with you, or you worry that you’ve nothing to offer. Shyness and a feeling of not being good enough may hold you back from reaching out to people and making new friends or deepening the relationships you do have. You’re afraid that if you showed your authentic self, your real self, that you would be found wanting, people wouldn’t really like you, you may not be good enough. So, you hide away, because it’s safer that way; that way no one can judge you as not being good enough or reject you.
Being part of a big family or social group doesn’t always help as you may feel you don’t really fit in with them because you’ve changed, or you never really did feel like you belonged with them. You can feel lonely simply because you’re not connected with people who ‘get’ you, who understand what you’re about.
If you’ve been lonely for a while or you feel lonely at least once a week, then please do something about it. We know how bad loneliness is for our health. Loneliness accompanied by depression has a health risk factor the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and effects both our physical and mental health.
Be brave. Know that a broken heart is a stronger heart. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, we can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. A stronger, more resilient, more beautiful heart.
Set an intention to do something about being lonely. We all need to be part of something. Something meaningful, to us. This can be something as simple as joining an online choir, volunteering for a charity, getting involved in your Church group. Try to see the opportunities that are out there. It can be hard, but get creative and don’t be afraid to try something you haven’t tried before. What’s the worst that can happen – you don’t like it and it’s a couple of hours wasted?
Social media is great, but we need real life connections as well. Scientist studied loneliness in the 18-30 ages group and found that there was no difference in the levels of loneliness of those using social media and those not – as long as there was interaction in real life.
Seek out micro connections
The level of connection is important. There’s the superficial connections; you know the conversation you have when you are getting your morning coffee, with work colleagues is where we have the greatest number of connections. Don’t underestimate how important these micro-connections are. Chat to the person serving your coffee, pass the time of day with neighbours, interact whenever you can. We know this can help with feelings of loneliness and make us feel more connected to the world. You may not be confident doing this yet but the more you do it the easier it becomes. Yes, you’ll get the occasional cold shoulder but don’t let that put you off. In my experience you’ll get more positive responses than not.
Then there are acquaintances, people you can meet up with, have fun with but you are not revealing yourself fully to them.
The deepest level of connections are the people that know all your dirty, dark secrets, your failings, your flaws but they accept you. You may not have many of these, and that’s fine but you need some. About 3 or 4 is good. Because it’s not the quantity of social interactions, it’s the quality that’s important so don’t get hung up on the numbers.
I know that trusting people and showing our real selves, reaching out to make friends, forming deep relationships or trusting a new partner needs you to be brave and vulnerable. It needs you to use all the courage you have. But in order to live a rich life you need to take a risk and learn to trust – yourself and them.
It is a brave thing to show yourself to someone, to say…
Look here I am, I’m not perfect but this is me”. And allow them to be the same.
Some people really struggle with this and I’ve worked with people in the past who have either never had it or have lost this confidence – and maybe this is you. This might be because of your past experiences, your childhood or a trauma that left you scared – so it was safer to retreat inside. So, you have low self-esteem and a feeling that you’ll never be good enough to be accepted by others, that you’re flawed.
But don’t let your past define your future. It doesn’t have to. Just because you haven’t been able to have good relationships in the past doesn’t mean it has to be this way forever. You can learn, you can change, people do this all the time. I know this is true because I’ve work with people who have overcome appalling childhoods or past events and experiences and moved forward from them.
Building good relationships is a skill you can learn. And it’s worth putting the work in because good quality relationships and friends help us to be more resilient, happier. Friends don’t cure loneliness, but they do help us to weather the storm.
In spending time with friends, we fill up our lives with great conversation, heartfelt caring and support and laugh out loud fun. When we fall on hard times, friends are there to put things in perspective and help us. When we have success, they’re happy for us. With down-to-earth, positive people in our life we’ll be more mindful of gratitude and doing nice things for others. We don’t just live when we have healthy friendships, we thrive.
So, if you are feeling lonely don’t feel ashamed to admit it. You are not alone, you’re one of millions. Don’t let it define your life, keep you small, stop you from going out there, being yourself and building honest, authentic, meaningful relationships and living a full and happy life.
If you suffer from social anxiety, past trauma, depression or lack confidence then why not contact me to find out how I can help you to shift your mindset to a more positive, open one. One where you can grow, thrive and create or strengthen existing relationships, to move on and live the fulfilled life you were meant to live. And if you enjoyed this and found it helpful why not listen to my Happier with Hazel Podcast, subscribe to my You Tube channel or connect with me here on LinkedIn?
If you are ready to make changes in your life then message me to find out how I can help you to overcome whatever is holding you back from living the life you deserve.