Many years ago, when I was a young adolescent, an adult in my life said that she dreamed about a great chasm, a chasm so deep that she couldn’t see to the bottom of it, with sheer rock cliffs on either side. She was alone on one side of the chasm, looking to the other side. On that other side, people were talking to one another, laughing and appearing to have a good time. She felt totally excluded and felt that there was no way to get to the other side of the chasm.
This vision has stayed with me through my life. There have been many times when I felt like I was on one side of a chasm looking across to a place where everyone else was having a good time. For me it was a very clear description of loneliness.
My studies, and my years of work in the mental health field, have convinced me that loneliness is a key factor in all kinds of mental and emotional distress. In addition, I have found that the incidence of loneliness in this country, and perhaps in the world, is at pandemic proportions. The value of meaningful interpersonal connection in our society is often minimized.
The frenetic pace of modern society and the need to be very financially successful to “just get by ” seems to have eclipsed the importance of having good people in our lives who affirm and support us. Many of us have little or no contact with family members or neighbors. Our work situations may increase our loneliness. Some people say they have forgotten how to connect with others, or perhaps they never learned. I feel so strongly about this topic that I wrote a book about it, The Loneliness Workbook (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2000). This column will help you to think about loneliness in your life and give you some ideas on how to relieve it.
What Is Loneliness?
There are many descriptions of loneliness. They often contain words that describe feelings like despair, emptiness, hopeless and longing. Which one of the following descriptions of loneliness feels right to you?
- A feeling of having no common bond with the people around you
- Feeling disconnected from others
- Feeling sad because there is no one else available to be with you
- Feeling uncomfortable being by yourself
- Feeling that there is no one in your life who really cares about you
- Being without friends or a companion
- Feeling like you don’t have anyone who wants to be with you
- Feeling abandoned
- Being unable to connect with anyone on either a physical or emotional level
- Feeling left out
- Being alone and not comfortable being with yourself
You may want to write your own definition of what loneliness means to you.
What Would It Feel Like If You Were Not Lonely?
To begin changing any situation or circumstance in your life that is troubling to you, it helps to envision what your life would be like if you accomplished this change. For instance, a woman with a disability who felt lonely and disconnected from others said, “If I had several friends, we could call each other and chat. I could share with them how I ‘really feel,’ about the sadness of having a disability, about the excitement of developing a new career, and about my separation from my family. They could stop by and visit with me. Perhaps they could even take me out from time to time.”
Not feeling lonely may mean that you have a sense of balance in your life between being with others and being alone, and that you feel loved and cared about. This connection is so strong that, even when you are by yourself, you feel bonded to someone, that others are there and will be there in spirit if not in person for you always. You have true friends and close family and the security of having someone there for you when you need them.