Loneliness is tough. Just imagining that no one needs or wants you; that you are useless; that your life doesn’t matter and your death will go unnoticed can be devastating. And yet, social isolation is spreading across all generations, including the Millennials.
Babies that don’t get enough attention develop slower and have higher mortality rate. Youth suffer from bullying because it precludes them from forming friendships. Young mothers often feel excluded because of their new role in life. Veterans returning from war zones feel isolated by their battlefield experiences few — and sometimes, none — of their loved ones or friends can relate to. Criminals are put in a solitary confinement to amplify the severity of their punishment. Major life changes (from moving to a divorce) leave us feeling lonely. The elderly suffer when they feel isolated, irrelevant or forgotten.
National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine cites “depression, suicidality, reduced positive emotions, poor sleep quality and general health, as well as physiological changes (e.g., increased cortisol awakening response and pro-inflammatory gene expression). Additionally, loneliness was associated with depression, low life satisfaction, and low resilience — particularly in men. It has therefore been considered a major source of psychological stress, especially when combined with depression.”
Other health risks such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are also associated with loneliness.
Is it crazy to feel lonely? No! Human beings are social. We all long for a sense of belonging, connection, support, recognition and feedback. There are many qualities and experiences that don’t exist in a solitary life: identity, honor, warmth, solidarity and validation become reality only in social interactions.
We feel lonely:
• due to significant life changes
• when we aren’t seen, heard or acknowledged
• when we’re not remembered or included
• when we are confronted by issues / events / challenges that we believe are isolating
How to OWN your loneliness? Admit to yourself that you are lonely and miss being / interacting with people! Admit that it bothers you. Admit that you need people. (We all do!) Answer the question: why do I feel lonely? Once you have the answer, you’ll be able to do something about it!
If you are a part of a busy household and are treated like a piece of furniture everyone is so used to that they can no longer see, hear or appreciate you, call attention to yourself and your needs. State your needs and expectations clearly and ask for them to be met. If that fails, stop doing the things everyone takes for granted and propose new ground rules that accommodate your needs. If all fails, leave for a while. (It will give your crew a chance to miss you and you the time to think whether your household serves you well.) In most cases, the people who took you for granted will take notice that life with you is way better than life without you.
If you’re being forgotten and not included: have you been forgetting others? Have you failed to include them? Have you been staying in touch? Either way, reach out with a simple: “How are you? What’s new?” The answers will give you a clue. (The standstill may be temporary or you have outgrown your group.)
Do you find yourself isolated because of a new location, new job, relationship breakup or some other change? Find either people in a similar situation as yours or join a cause dear to you. If the cause is close to your heart, people attracted to it are likely to have something in common with you. It may not be the perfect community, but a good beginning for starting your own.
Are you feeling lonely because of an issue, event or challenge you can’t — or don’t want to — share with your family or friends? Yes, there are such situations and you might be right not sharing it with those close to you. But, always remember that as human beings we don’t have entirely unique experiences. There are not only other people but whole groups that are dealing with the exact same situation as yours, right now. Reach out to them; talk to them and if possible, meet with them: listen and share. Will it make your situation better? Not necessarily. But it will make you more resilient and better prepared to handle whatever fate threw your way. People make us stronger.
Outlived your friends and have no one left? Even in this situation you are not alone. There are others in the very same position. Find them. Connect with them. Speak with them. Can’t be done? Consider cross-generational connections, sometimes wisdom skips a generation or two… There are people waiting for you to participate, teach, learn and share.
Being alone by choice is a beautiful thing: an opportunity for a little “me time”; for catching up with things that need doing; for doing the thing you were dying to do for a while but had no time to. Being lonely is a different animal entirely; it is self-destructive. (Even if you’d like to be a martyr, martyrdom is no martyrdom without an audience.)
In the “primitive” past — before cities took over, before advances in communication and transportation took place — we were all a part of a community. Today, many of us have replaced live interactions with TV viewing or indirect interactions Online. That’s not the same. No screen can replace the human touch.
Do you want to continue feeling lonely, self-righteous and place blame on others? Or would you rather rejoin the living and feel a part of a community, again?
Admitting to being or feeling lonely can be humbling. Yes, taking the first step involves a degree of exposure and carries some risk of judgment but… vulnerability is appealing! What makes us swoon over a baby, puppy or kitten? Not their strength, beauty or invincibility. They are vulnerable. We believe they need us! They don’t have to beg to be included: we are compelled to hug them.
Ego can be dangerous. It often stops us from being vulnerable. The fact is very few of us are important or fascinating enough to invite scrutiny. Leave your ego at home.
“Standing outside, looking in” is a choice. Try knocking on the door, instead. Don’t assume that no one will open.
“Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact.” Martha Beck
Get to work: build your community! Good relationships are nurturing. Mutually rewarding relationships make life worth living. Own your loneliness and reclaim your life!
No matter how broken you are, no matter how old you are, you can ALWAYS add value to someone else’s life and if you do that you’ll be cherished, warts and all.
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Originally published at medium.com