The following article on loneliness first appeared on my Red Dandelion website in 2013. It feels timely to share this slightly edited version, because it feels like more people are struggling with loneliness than ever before. Or perhaps people are being more open about how they feel. If this is the case, then this is a step in the right direction. More than anything, I know we need to talk about loneliness to find solutions for ourselves and for family, friends and colleagues so that loneliness is eased.
Sometimes I am nagged into writing articles. My conscious mind had rebelled against writing about loneliness, suggesting lighter, happier topics. My intuition however, keeps ‘tuning into’ to the topic. I keep hearing songs about being lonely and last week a client shared with me how lonely she felt, and although I had known, I was still touched by the depth of her pain.
The tipping point to write this article came last night. Reading a book on relationships, a passage leapt out at me. It talked about how we are so afraid of admitting that we need people, that it leads to a great deal of loneliness. And so here I am, writing this—trusting my intuition that it will be helpful to some of you. I notice some resistance in me too, for I also need to address the loneliness I sometimes feel.
Being alone vs being lonely
You can be alone and not feel lonely. You can also be surrounded by people yet still feel a great loneliness. My dictionary defines lonely as, ‘Sad because one has no friends or company’. But you can have good friends and still, at times, feel lonely too. I think that loneliness is more about the amount of time you spend connected to people you like or love being with. For example, having good relationships with your family and friends, but not spending enough time with them (according to your own needs) can lead to loneliness. There is another side to this too; a side not so often considered, which comes from not fully knowing nor loving yourself so you can be happy in the times when you are alone.
Reconnecting to yourself
There is a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer called, The Invitation. I love it for it invites you to live life to the full. The poem ends:
I want to know if you can be alone
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.
I came across this poem many years ago. Then I didn’t have any empty moments in my life. Even when relaxing, the radio or TV were always on—always some noise in background in my life. Looking back I think the idea of just being silent, totally by myself was scary. It was much easier to distract myself, or be distracted. It has taken me many years to reach the point where I can say, yes, I like my own company and genuinely enjoy the quiet moments spent by myself in nature or in meditation.
Is your life so busy and full of noise too? What might it be like to be silent for a while? Try switching off the TV and radio just to sit still and just ‘be’. It can be tough – so be gentle with yourself if you find you can’t sit still. This is a form of meditation—but don’t get hung up on the word. Just allow yourself some time to be quiet. Notice when you do how busy and loud your thoughts are. Don’t fight them, instead just invite them to drift away until later. This practice is very healing and also revealing for this is how you begin to really know yourself.
If you are feeling lonely, you might wonder why I would suggest this exercise? Won’t it make you feel lonelier? Perhaps for just a short while, it may, but it is still worthwhile. My experience has shown me that it is in the quiet stillness that you get to know the real you—see what the real you (your soul) needs. When you come to know and truly like yourself, then even when you are alone, the wretched sadness that can be part of loneliness is not there anymore because you are comfortable in your own company. From this place it is much easier to be open and genuine with the people you wish to build a deeper connection to, for it no longer comes from desperation.
Connecting to others
Oriah Mountain Dreamer also wrote a book based on her poem. She wrote about loneliness too.
‘For years I thought the loneliness, the longing for the others, was a weakness, a sign that I had not learned how to be with myself. And there have indeed been times when I have wanted to be with someone simply to cover the ache of not being able to find my own company. But I have come to accept that no matter how much I like my own company, I still long to sit close to and at times merge completely with another in deep intimacy.’
I think she hits the nail on the head regarding loneliness being seen as a weakness. No one wants to be thought of as Johnny-no-mates. To most people admitting that you are lonely sounds pathetic. Much cooler to say you enjoy your independence, like your own space – even if it means hiding the truth about how much you don’t like being alone!
The truth is we need people. We need community. We need to share our lives with others. We were not designed to live in isolation. Yet independence and self-sufficiency are touted in our culture as desirable traits. Needing others in our lives is an essential part of leading a healthy life, not as it is too often seen, as being needy. Needs are just needs—things we need to be healthy and well. We need air, food, water and shelter to survive. We also need the love and care of others. Loneliness is a symptom of not receiving enough love / friendship / companionship that you need to feel loved and cared for.
Are you a victim of loneliness?
My grandparents and great-grandparents mostly lived within a few miles of one another. Back then, most people lived close-by to some if not to lots of family. But families have become scattered. Children leave to go to university and often don’t come back to their home town. We move because of job opportunities. Families shatter with divorce and the loss of loved ones. And friends, who perhaps took o the role of an absent family member may also move on. All of these life changes can lead to feeling lonely. Society, until fairly recently, expected people to carry on regardless. It was not cool to admit to loneliness. Wallowing in sadness was frowned upon. With such cultural norms, it’s so easy to feel unwanted, unloved and uncared for and feel there is no escape from feeling lonely.
I see loneliness as an emotional message that is there to highlight a disconnection from your soul and to others. To begin healing this emotion means becoming aware of it’s root cause so it can begin to put it right.
Letting go of loneliness in 6 Steps
Tackling loneliness begins by identifying how your loneliness shows up and then taking positive actions to begin to heal and let go of loneliness.
Reconnect to who you are
Do you feel disconnected from yourself? If yes, consider being silent for a while to listen to your inner wisdom. Choose a place to sit quietly. Close your eyes. Take 5 or 6 really deep breaths. Now sit still. Your mind will undoubtedly race – but stick with it for 15–20 minutes. What did you notice in between the busy thoughts? Did you begin to get a sense of what was important and what needs to be released? The more you practice this, the more you will hear/get/see what needs to change.
Begin loving yourself
Do you love who you are? If you are shaking your head, please don’t beat yourself up over this one! Rather be curious. What don’t you like? Who would you like to be? What can you do, today, to begin to change this? Try writing about what you are feeling. I’m a great fan of journaling: there is something about writing with a pen that allows you to connect to your inner wisdom – your soul. Give it go! No one has to see what you have written – it could be very revealing.
Alone time vs time with others
We all have a preference for time with others vs time alone. Are you in balance? Are you spending enough time with family, loved ones and friends for you to be happy? What is the right amount for you? If it needs to change—what step can you take to have more or less time with others? It’s possible to have a full and lonely life – recognising that you might be distracting yourself with busy-ness is already a step forward. Nothing can change without an awareness of what’s really happening in your life.
Searching for a soul mate
Do you ache to be with someone? If you are divorced or single, loneliness can come from aching to have a partner to fill this hole. No one person should be expected to fill this hole of loneliness for you – if you expect this, it puts too much pressure on a relationship. If you are searching for a new partner on Internet Dating websites, please be aware of how addictive they can become. They are set up to continually send you ‘New Matches’ messages, which ignites hope but can lead to a lot of wasted time. If you are caught-up in this, take control of how your dating site communicates with you (the reputable ones have preference options for when you receive emails or text messages) and decide how much time you wish to spend looking for, and responding to people with whom you could create a good relationship.
Meeting with family and friends
Are you close to family members? Who are your close friends—those who really get you? How often do you see them? Are you waiting for them to call you—to arrange something for you to join? Could you be the instigator instead? Could you invite them around for an evening, go for a coffee or go somewhere that you will both (all) enjoy? They too might be lonely—just hoping that one of their friends will call them. Be brave, reach out to them.
Are you really a Johnny-no-mates? If due to life’s circumstances you feel you have no friends in your locality, then it is really important that you step into being responsible for changing this. Is there a group you could join? Is there a day/evening class for your favourite hobby or activity, or something new you would like to try? What about communities that may appeal to you—like church, social clubs or societies? If there isn’t one that covers your passion, could you create one and invite people to join you? The first time you go to a new class, club, or society you only have to do two things: say ‘hello’ to someone you meet and smile. It’s all it takes to begin making new friends.