Loneliness can be distressing and deeply painful. I know. I have experienced it often.
We all experience loneliness at times in our lives. People we care about come and go. Even our most treasured relationships can fail, leaving a black hole inside. Sometimes, there is nobody around at all – or at least it feels like it.
Oftentimes, loneliness is loss. There were times when I was close to certain people, but then they were no longer there, whether through loss of friendship, love, or death. It was a loss, and I felt it deeply.
Loneliness is not just a matter of being alone, though. It is not simply being bored or dissatisfied with a solitary life. When I am lonely, I feel like I am damaged, rejected, and abandoned. I desperately want someone to tell me or show me that they want to be around me.
At times like that, the question keeps coming back: “What is the matter with me?” When I am lonely, I doubt my own worth and wonder why I am so alone.
Inevitability of time and change
Change is inevitable. Every minute is at least a small change from the previous one.
It is not only the forward march of time that causes change. We always have a choice to direct change in our lives. When we feel lonely, however, we lose that sense of being capable of self-direction. We lose hope of feeling better or connecting with other people, and then we either give up or act like we are paralyzed.
The key to getting out of loneliness is to move into solitude – that state of being alone but feeling content, maybe even happy. Thomas Dumm explains in Loneliness as a Way of Life: “The worst aspect of loneliness is that it ends the possibility of meaningful experience by translating the inner dialogue of solitude into a monologue of desolation.”
We can have that “dialogue of solitude” by essentially keeping ourselves company. To be good company, though, is to be fully present in that moment to the other.
As Dumm says, “In solitude, we are each of us by our self, but not yet alone, because we are more or less happily occupied with our self, beside our self in a positive way. … To move from loneliness to solitude is to recover the world we have lost.”
There will be many times when the option of ending our loneliness by being with other people who love us is simply not available. And while getting out and meeting people is a very positive step of self-direction, being around people who might not know us well does not always solve the loneliness dilemma; it can sometimes make us feel even lonelier.
The world of self
The world we have lost is not the world of others: it is really the world of our own self. To recover that world, we need to experience our self as we live, breathe, do, create, dance, write, etc. Doing anything, right now, in this instant or this day helps us to recognize that we are still here and perfectly capable of acting in the world. Focusing and being aware of who we are and what we are doing will help us to “recover the world we have lost” and achieve the more joyful state of solitude.
The reason just “doing” and “being” have such an impact is that we are much more in control over our destiny and feelings than when we are depressed or feeling unwanted. Simply becoming aware of the many ways that we can act and be, even without anyone else around, can help us feel better about our capacity to direct our life. Any person who has that ability is a person who deserves respect and love and who can eventually meet more people and enter into fulfilling relationships again.
Reconnecting with your self
So how else can you and I feel better – at least until the mood passes or until we can again fill our lives with relationships and fulfilling connections?
Here is how I have survived those dark periods of loneliness in the past: I somehow reconnected with my own sense of self-worth, a value that did not depend on the relationships I was mourning or missing.
Remember, the pain of loneliness is not entirely in being alone. Many people spend solitary lives and are quite happy. Think of monks, or of many elderly persons who happily find ways to stay busy in their homes. The pain of loneliness, rather, comes from a core doubt about our own worth. It is a sense that we do not want to be alone with our damaged selves, and that being alone is somehow evidence that we are, in fact, not worthy of relationships.
I have found that one change I can make when feeling lonely is to focus my thoughts on the things I know give me a sense of worth – things that are clear even without the approval of the people I am missing. Even if I am wracked with guilt or shame at being rejected and abandoned, there are many good things about me that I can list. I take the time to write them down. Those good things show that I am not entirely defined by other people.
Getting out of depression
Admittedly, this is hard to do in those moments when I only want to feel bad and resentful. Depression is dangerous because it makes me unrealistically pessimistic and unclear about the good things in life. At those times it is not good to keep thinking over and over again about things that make me feel worse.
At some point, though, the pain of loneliness becomes more than I can or want to deal with. Refocusing my thoughts on listing the good things about myself gets me out of the trap of yearning for validation from people who are unavailable.
Now it is just me talking to myself. I keep company with myself, immerse my thoughts in a task, and give my ego a much-needed boost by realizing that I am truly valuable, and that other people will see that in me someday.
I do not have to be perfect for other people to like me. I look around at all the people I see when I leave my apartment; they are not even close to perfect, but they have friends and family that like them. If I have some value (which I certainly do), and if I give people a chance to interact with me (easily done), I am going to find new people to relate to.
In the meantime, I know that I have value even if others have missed it.
Things may not turn around right away. People are terrible at seeing the good in others. We are all so self-absorbed and selfish. We do not know what we are missing when we abandon a relationship. If I am mourning a relationship or feeling rejected and unwanted, I remind myself that others’ judgment of me is usually unfair and wrong.
Read your Bible and pray
God loves you – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are not at all alone, but truly filled with the grace of God Who created you. Speak to God in prayer.
Or you may wish to begin with Romans 8:31 and read forward, then read it over and over again. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” As you read this, stand tall and speak it out loud. Defy anyone to separate you from the Lord!
Loneliness ends. The fact that you cannot see how it will end does not change the even larger fact that it will not, cannot, last forever. You are not built to feel lonely forever. You are built to be a positive actor in the world. You were built that way from the moment God created you.
You will be doing yourself a big favor by hanging in there and giving loneliness a chance to fade away.
You will be giving yourself – a wonderful and lovable self – the gift of joy.