Not to worry. We all feel lonely sometimes.
According to Thesaurus.com, there are 33 synonyms for lonely; 8 for not lonely including unlonely*, which, regardless of its being a real word, is not used often. Imagine in conversation saying to an acquaintance or friend, “My social calendar is full. I am unlonely.” Doesn’t usually happen.
But “I am lonely” does. A lot. Perhaps acknowledged more often in a therapist’s office or inside a person’s head than in casual conversation, an admission to being lonely in our extroverted culture can evoke responses such as, “How can you not have any friends?” implying a deficiency on your part. Or “Go out and make some friends” as if friends were clay or cookie dough. This advice usually comes from the more gregarious among us. Despite the intent to help, the just do it attitude sounds like “Just go build a space shuttle.” For some of us, making friends is a foreign concept that begins with fear and lack of experience.
Rather than say “I don’t know how to do this,” though, many people who are lonely tend to refrain from admitting that they are lonely. By not being able or willing to express such vulnerability, lonely people perpetuate the sense of not connecting by avoiding social activities. This avoidance leads to even more isolation, which leads to more longing and loneliness.
Loneliness doesn’t just happen in isolation though. Loneliness crosses all psycho-social-economic-relationship boundaries. People feel lonely in relationships as well as without relationships.
Introverts and loneliness
Despite the introvert’s interest in her/his inner world and the need to spend time alone to recharge, introverts like people and do not always want to be alone. Perhaps one of the introvert’s challenges comes from inexperience with conversation and chit-chat. Many introverts feel uninspired by small talk or superficial topics such as the weather or last night’s ball game or sit-com. That’s not to say that introverts don’t like to talk. Get an introvert started on a topic she or he feels comfortable talking about and get ready to listen. The introvert’s challenge is to get enough time alone to recharge and enough time with others to feel connected.
Extroverts and loneliness
Extroverts, while seemingly connected and gregarious on the outside, can feel a sense of dissatisfaction or something not quite right with the level of intimacy in relationships. You’ve read about comedians who are angry or sad “inside” while making people laugh on the outside. Or the life of the party who self-medicates because something just doesn’t feel right even though people surround her or him most of the time.
…proximity, as city dwellers know, does not necessarily mean intimacy. Access to other people is not by itself enough to dispel the gloom of internal isolation. Loneliness can be most acute in a crowd. (Laing, O., April 1, 2015. The Guardian).
The extrovert’s challenge is to get comfortable enough being alone to develop a relationship with self while satisfying the need for social stimulation. Extroverts need more stimulation than introverts do.
And what about those 500 friends on Facebook or LinkedIn? Researchers study the effects of social media on loneliness. There seems to be little agreement on a relationship between the two. Some of the obvious drawbacks to staying in touch via social media exclusively are no face-to-face interactions: even Skype does not deliver the real deal; transitory communication: here today, gone tomorrow; an illusion of reality: everyone has a social media face that may not be entirely representative; and expectations that responses will come immediately. On the plus side: what other time in history have we been able to connect any time, any day, all day, every day? Social media and e-reality as one author calls it, is a mixed experience.
What to do if you are lonely
Lonely is defined as wanting to connect with others but either having no one to connect with, not knowing how to connect, or not feeling satisfied with the level of connection you have. Unfortunately, many of us don’t learn how to develop friendships and fumble along in social interactions the best we can.
Admit to feeling lonely
This advice is easier to read than to do. Any change takes time and probably the support and help of a therapist or close ally. First, admit you’re lonely. This is always the first step in any change. Admit to yourself how you honestly feel. I AM LONELY! You can even shout it out. Maybe not in public, but certainly in your home or a therapist’s office.
Release judgement about feeling lonely
Put aside any judgement about feeling lonely or wanting more social connection than you have. Feeling lonely does not mean there’s something wrong with you or that people don’t like you. Does anyone even know enough about you to like you? Regardless of others, you probably have some critical self-talk that needs adjustment. You might think that you’ll always be lonely or alone. You might feel responsible for feeling lonely. Challenging these thoughts can serve you more than accepting them.
Lonely in context
We are not islands, although it may seem that way sometimes. Each of us is alone. Whether we face that in a crowd in the middle of a bright, sunny day or at home in the dark before falling asleep at night. Ultimately, each of us will have to face this existential dilemma. And because each of us is alone, we all seek connection with others. You are alone and you are not alone in your loneliness!
Join a group that interests you and show up every week. Even when you feel uncomfortable. You don’t have to say more than your name. You don’t even have to say that. Maybe hello to a couple of people. The more you show up, the more likely others will feel comfortable with you and you with them. Introverts need time for this process. Introverts like to observe first and jump in after taking in information about the group. Extroverts jump right in, but may not share much about themselves. Self-absorbed people…no need to elaborate…it’s all about ME! And while lonely people could use a bit more of that look-at-me quality; the self-absorbed would do better socially with a little less of it.
This may take some work, especially if you are uncomfortable in the social sphere. Smiling lets others know that you are safe, open to a few words or a return smile.
Again, this is not easy. It is not simple. Just a few words to let you know that if you feel lonely, you are not alone. And if you want to do something about that, there are people who can help.
*Of the other antonyms for lonely–populated, sociable, befriended, close, frequented, inhabited, and loved–only a few could be considered the opposite of lonely. Even sociable and befriended do not fit. A person can be sociable, can have friends, can be in an intimate relationship and still feel lonely. Maybe feeling loved is the opposite of feeling lonely.
lonely. (n.d.). Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition. Retrieved September 21, 2015, from Thesaurus.com website: http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/lonely