How to Cope When You're Feeling Lonely
"The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”
Thomas Wolfe “God’s Lonely Man”.
Loneliness is a central and inevitable fact of being alive. While common to all of us, it comes in many guises. At times quiet, at others deafening. At times cutting to the very core of our being, at others the simple longing to be in the presence of another.
The Loneliness of Being Human
On the surface this feels like a confused mingling of anxieties…about our achievements…about how we compare to others…about getting older…about making decisions. Underneath there is a glimpse of the existential realities, that we alone are responsible for our choices, for creating our lives, and that no one can really fully understand what its like to be us.
The Loneliness of Loss
This is the loneliness brought about through separation.
It can result in a profound sense of longing, isolation and powerlessness. When hour after hour you long for another person to share your thoughts and fears with…and there isn’t anyone there.
The Loneliness of Technology
Technology allows us to connect like we have never been able to before. It can bring people together in ways that can certainly mitigate loneliness. But the sting is that unless we are really talking honestly we remain on a superficial footing with each other. Near by but miles apart. This is what psychologist Sherry Turkle calls being ‘alone together’.
But can we hope for more than being alone together? I think so. Here’s how…
1. Break the Silence.
And in doing this you will hear the only reassurance that you will ever need – that other people feel it too.
2. Work with It Not Against It
Loneliness is an opportunity to reengage with some fundamental questions. If you can bear to sit with loneliness for a little bit longer, a bit more often, you will give yourself the chance to see ways forward that are meaningful to you and not the consequence of trying to escape feeling lonely.
3. Look for Similarities in Others, Not Differences
We spend too much time noticing the differences rather than the similarities between us. We all crave to be unique and to stand out from the crowd, but what we crave more is social warmth and acceptance. This comes from what we have in common.
4. Make Yourself Contact Someone
Call, text, tweet, write… It might be the last thing you feel like doing. Do it anyway. The effect will be immediate.
5. Reach Out to Others Who Might be Struggling
If you know someone who seems lonely be it through isolation, depression or bereavement, practice being a good friend. Try and imagine what you need when you feel lonely…a call once a week, a date in the diary however far in advance, a text.
6. Smile – Even When You Don’t Want To
Try smiling at someone as you walk along, when you get a smile back you will feel instantly better. A shared smile is both connecting and uplifting. It is an internationally recognised symbol of friendship.
Wise people have written about the nature of the human condition. You will feel immediately calmer about feeling lonely when you hear it articulated as a universal experience and struggle. A good start would be Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Read books, blogs, poetry, it’s all there.
At different times in our lives we move along the spectrum between loneliness and connection. Try not to feel ashamed or afraid of being lonely. We can’t hope to get rid of this powerful and human feeling. But by sharing our inner lives we can hope to understand loneliness and connect with each other in spite of it.
Image by: Lilivanili