You feel so lonely.
You are home on a Friday night without any plans. Or you’re sitting in a restaurant with a group of friends, and yet you still feel lonely.
Or you’re sitting on the subway, on your way to work, and the feeling of loneliness sneaks into that space, too. Or you’re perusing social media, looking at photos of glistening faces, of glistening lives. And the ache of loneliness surges. Or you think you’re the only one who gets panicked at the grocery store, the only one who still mourns a loved one’s loss 30 years later, the only one who doesn’t speak to their family, the only one who feels lost.
Vancouver-based therapist Julia Kristina, MA, RCC, defines loneliness as “a deep feeling of disconnection from anyone or everyone important to us. It’s like this feeling of being weird, broken, unlovable or totally misunderstood.”
It might be a fleeting feeling or one that keeps returning.
Kristina’s clients feel the loneliest when they think they’re alone in their thoughts, when they think, It’s just me. I’m the only who struggles like this. I’m the only one who has these thoughts. I’m the only one who has this secret.
“Loneliness can set in for any of us when we think no one will ever truly understand or accept us just as we are,” said Kristina, also a researcher and online course creator.
But here’s the thing: We often don’t reveal ourselves to others. Maybe we’re scared of opening up because we were previously rejected. Maybe we wear all sorts of masks because we fear we’re not good enough. (And, of course, “when we try to be someone we’re not, we make it impossible for others to love us for who we are,” Kristina said.)
When we’re feeling lonely, most of us isolate ourselves even further. “It’s almost like we’re saying: ‘Disconnected? I’ll show you disconnected!’ And then we withdraw even more as a kind of ‘screw you’ to the people around us who we wish we felt more loved and accepted by,” Kristina said.
In other words, “when we are aching most for closeness, we push people away.”
Instead, resist this urge. And don’t wait for someone to reach out to you. Kristina suggested reaching out to someone you think might need your connection and support. Call them. Get together. Ask them how they’re doing. Really doing. “The more honest and real conversations we have with the people around us, the more genuinely connected we feel.”
Seek all kinds of connections. New York City individual and couples therapist Jennifer L. Silvershein, LMSW, recommends clients create a list of activities for reconnecting to others and to themselves.
For instance, your list might include: making eye contact with another person on the street; writing letters to loved ones; meditating; fostering a pet; and making a beautiful lunch for yourself, she said. It might include volunteering at a local non-profit organization. “Helping others assists us at helping ourselves,” she said.
Charging Our Batteries
Silvershein also suggests clients think of themselves as a battery. She asks them to think about what charges their battery. This might be spending time with friends, reading, visiting museums, taking a photography class. She then asks them to consider what drains their battery. This might be procrastinating on a project, calling an ex, drinking wine.
“I then ask my clients to begin increasing the activities and behaviors that ‘charge their battery’ and typically after implementing these behaviors, clients begin to feel more in control of their life and more positive.”
Feelings and Facts
Lastly, it’s important to remind yourself that feelings of loneliness are not fact. These feelings are not a sign that you are unlovable or wrong or a loser. Your brain may be telling you these very things. “Our brains like to do this in the heat of an emotion—blow things way out of proportion and use one upsetting event as a rule moving forward,” Kristina said. But feelings of loneliness do not translate into truths about your lovability, she said.
Loneliness is painful and uncomfortable. But it is also a valuable sign. It is a sign that something is off. It is a sign that you feel disconnected from others or disconnected from yourself.
And it is also an opportunity. It is an opportunity to reach out. It is an opportunity to build authentic connections; with others and with ourselves. Instead of withdrawing or isolating, honor this sign. Act on this opportunity.