Let’s make it clear: loneliness is very different from solitude. We are born alone, we live alone, and so we die alone. And that’s OK. Being alone is perfectly enjoyable, it’s the me-time all introverts need to recharge and recover from the state of being overwhelmed by too much stimulation. I absolutely love spending time alone.
The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely,
Loneliness is the pain of isolation. The sorrow of not being understood. The suffering of being rejected and unwanted, the feeling of inadequacy. The torture of being in a crowded space with hosts of noisy and overly enthusiastic humans, or the torment of sharing an apartment with someone unbearable.
Why Do We Feel Lonely?
As social animals, humans are hard-wired for connection. Living in a group and communication is what makes us thrive as a species. Without others, we aren’t likely to survive, which is why being ostracized poses a threat to our existence. Just as hunger means that we need to eat, the feeling of loneliness tells us that we need to connect with others. The problem starts when one doesn’t acknowledge it.
Nowadays, over 25% of households in the US are single-person households. We live in our comfortable, safe flats with all the commodities and plenty of space for ourselves, but no one to hug us when we’re in emotional distress. We spend most of our free time online, making virtual friends, or distracting ourselves from loneliness playing games, instead of nurturing our relationships. We work too much to have more money to spend on things, while completely neglecting the value of quality time spend together with our loved ones. Our communication tools are more efficient than ever, and yet we’re too busy to keep in touch with those who matter. And that is silently killing us.
Loneliness is more deadly than obesity, air pollution, and high alcohol consumption. A recent study published in Psychological Science showed that social isolation increased one’s likelihood of death by 26%, even though the subjects did not necessary admit feeling lonely. Apparently, chronic loneliness leads to higher blood pressure, vulnerability to infections, and a higher chance that one will develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The reason may be that loneliness triggers an increase in cortisol production and inflammation, ruining your sleep and cognitive abilities.
In his TEDx Talk, John T. Cacioppo, the author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, explains the effects of perceived social isolation on humans and the importance of feeling connected.
Well, my conclusion is that if I don’t want to kick the bucket prematurely, it’s preferable to start acting and working on my connection with human beings. As a true INFP that I am, what I like to do first is to analyze the problem to the root to find out why I feel what I feel, and later, what I can do about it. And so, I came up with six reasons why I feel lonely, and some plan to get rid of loneliness. I hope you will find useful the advice that I have given myself.
#1. I feel lonely because I struggle expressing my thoughts and feelings.
Not having the patience to put my thoughts into words and find the right arguments to logically defend my opinion or explain the complexity of my emotions, I often end up not saying what I wanted to say. It’s the kind of silence that most people find rather uncomfortable. No wonder that I don’t ever feel understood.
Solution: I can write about these things on my blog, hoping that strangers will understand. Writing helps me process and let go of difficult emotions, organize my thoughts and thus develop my extroverted thinking function.
#2. I feel lonely because I abhor small talk and despise party chit chat.
Honestly, there is nothing more draining than shallow and meaningless interaction with other humans. I know what you’re gonna say – to get to a deeper level, one needs to get through the small talk phase first. But I have no patience for that, and it’s probably quite obvious to my newly made acquaintances. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if we could just skip small talk and, instead, talk about the purpose of one’s life and our deepest fears and desires?
Solution: As I have plenty of opportunities to meet new people from all over the world and make friends with them, I decided to make a social experiment. Screw small talk! Now, when I start feeling that someone may be the kind of person that I am searching for, I ask them open questions that touch the essence of life. Let’s see what happens.
#3. I feel lonely because I am picky about who I spend my time with and whom I open to.
I need someone who instead of judging me, would show me compassion and validate my feelings. My happiness and sorrows are to be shared only with a small, carefully selected group of individuals who actually care and want to listen. Needless to say, in an extroverted world, those folks are pretty hard to find.
Solution: Stick to this small group of people, nurturing your friendship. Give them your time and attention. It’s the quality, not the quantity that matters.
#4. I feel lonely because I have difficulty trusting humans.
Too many times my honesty has been used against me. Thus, I tend to keep humans at an emotional distance to avoid getting hurt yet another time. Which doesn’t make connecting with them any easier, as you imagine.
Solution: Keep taking risks because social isolation leads to more distrust. I know you’re afraid, but what choice do we have? Make a list of positive examples to remind yourself that humans can be trusted. This will help overcome negative thinking patterns. Thoughts are powerful!
Read more about taming your depressing thoughts in this post.
#5. I feel lonely because I feel undeserving of people’s attention.
The only person that I’ve ever felt truly important to passed away. Others are too busy living their own lives to even bother. Would anyone care if I disappeared? Yep, I probably have a self-worth issue.
Solution: Work on self-love, self-compassion, and vulnerability. I definitely need to get back to meditation, a practice which I have recently neglected.
#6. I feel lonely because the few people that can fill the void live far, far away.
And even though I can’t stop thinking about them, I suck at keeping in touch, doesn’t matter if it is via phone, email, or social media. Because no matter how much effort we make, words and emojis will never substitute the physical closeness of two kindred spirits.
Solution: Make some extra effort to keep in touch with those who are worth it. I love to travel, and I’ve recently realized that it’s not anymore about visiting places to cross them off my bucket lists, but rather about spending some time with the people I love. My best travel memories have to do with the friends I made, not with the places, really.
Do you feel lonely? What are you doing about it? I’ll be glad to read your stories and solutions. It feels a little less lonely when you share your loneliness with others. And, after all, sharing is caring.