- Mental Health»
Dealing with Feelings of Loneliness
Are you lonely?
We all experience loneliness at some point in our lives. The feelings of emptiness often lead to depression with its hopelessness and helplessness. Fortunately, not all loneliness leads downward. Sometimes, it is simply a longing for something we don't understand, like homesickness, or missing someone we love that has gone away.
Loneliness can be a catalyst for change in our lives. It leads to introspection and self-examination. When we realize that companionship is not an option at the present time, we may seek for other ways to find fulfillment. The more we understand loneliness and where it comes from, the better we are in a position to resolve its unpleasantness.
The following paragraphs discuss how loneliness can be 1) a symptom of other, deeper issues; 2) a sign that things are amiss in our relationships with others; 3) a circumstance we are experiencing; and 4) how ultimately, loneliness is a choice we make.
Loneliness is a symptom of deeper issues
Research has shown that loneliness begins when we are very young. Children who are socially isolated, either due to their family circumstances, society's expectations, or because they are lacking in the ability to readily make friends with others, have difficulty forming lasting relationships.
Some experience loneliness due to issues such as learning disabilities, speech impairments, and emotional disorders. They become the target of bullying, being seen as different, not responding the same as peers or classmates in social situations.
Many are singled out in the academic setting as their needs require help beyond that given in the regular education classroom. In order for them to learn adequately, they are given services in alternative environments, reinforcing feelings of loneliness and isolation. Unless conscientious adults in their world make an effort to include them in activities and groups with other students, the feelings follow them through their school career and into adulthood.
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If we battle with depression, rage, anxiety, guilt, and other negative self esteems, we often find ourselves feeling lonely (see Fighting Dragons). The default thought patterns that form the basis of these issues leave us assuming that others do not care, are overly judgmental, or are seeking to harm us. We feel that we are not good enough, smart enough, or talented enough to have friends or be with others.
Fortunately, the ability to make and keep friends is a life skill that can be learned and developed, no matter our past history. Reciprocal communication, listening, turn taking, and personal assertiveness enable us to be adept in social situations. The effort needed to learn and maintain friendships requires going outside of our comfort zone. It means examining our core beliefs about ourselves that get in the way of our ability to reach out to others.
Loneliness is a sign
Loneliness is a sign that something isn't right in our relationships with others. In her book Running on Empty, Jonice Webb, PhD, addresses the issue of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She notes that those who are left without emotional nurturing as children enter adulthood without the skills needed to be successful in intimate relationships. Their partners and children often have feelings of loneliness, as they, too, become victims of the lack of emotional support.
The difficulty with loneliness is that we do not necessarily have to be alone to feel it. We may be with others, but if our emotional needs are not being met, we feel empty and alone. We may find that our efforts to show love to others are not fruitful because we do not feel loved ourselves. This may lead to relationship discord, as without emotional support, our ability to look to the needs of others lacks guidance and purpose.
In order to alleviate feelings of loneliness, it is necessary for us to learn how to communicate our needs, desires, and feelings. We can start by simply saying "I feel ...because...." One example is "I feel embarrassed because I was pulled over by the police after running a red light on the way home today." We can share our feelings as we tell about the events that happened during the day.
Our efforts to work on communication skills strengthens our marriages and our relationships with our children. Loneliness in our own homes is alleviated as we help each other understand our need for emotional support. It is okay to say, "I need a hug" or "I need a kiss" when we are with those that we love. Our efforts to cross the barriers of our loneliness will bring important dividends.
I walked passed the door of your room today. My heart felt the pain of your impending departure. Tears came to my eyes. Oh, I’m so sentimental! I looked at your pictures, the memorabilia scattered on the floor, and memories flooded my mind. Why do I feel so empty?
I will never forget the first time I held you in my arms, you were so round and pink and new. The feelings of joy I felt knew no end! I hovered over your siblings as they awkwardly tried to hold you. I was so afraid for your safety then. What will I do while you are gone?
I remember the day you brought bundles of dandelions in from the yard. Your nose was yellow from smelling the sweet fragrance. You were so sad that they wilted even after we placed them in water! I tried to help you understand, but you cried. Who will comfort you when you are away from me?
I see that you saved some of your early school papers. I think back on the time we walked to school together. Then one day, you told me you could go alone. It was hard for me. There was an empty spot in my heart then, too. We both knew that one day you would go.
How can I expect it otherwise? Why is it that mothers feel empty when their children leave, even though that is the very thing they have worked and prayed for all of their child’s life? Maybe it is because they do not ever stop being mothers.
I think of the poem you wrote. It was so sweet and precious, and you were so proud! You brought it to me all wrapped in homemade wrapping, a gift for Mother’s Day. I always cry when I read it. Yes, I will cry when you send me letters, and I will cry when you come home. Why? Because for just a moment, the emptiness is filled, and so is my joy in you!
Loneliness is a circumstance
Sometimes, the circumstances of our lives leave us bereft of family members that used to be our comrades. Accident, death, divorce, and moving cause us to leave spouse, children, or friends behind. The feelings we experience as change is forced upon us can be overwhelming.
It is easy to blame ourselves for what has happened, or blame those that are no longer with us. Grief is possible even when our loss may not be from the death of a loved one. The pain is so great that we seek for ways to make it disappear. We go on spending sprees, change our hair and clothing, or even try to drown our feelings with drinking. Unfortunately, addictive behaviors do not resolve the underlying emotional pain.
The pain of loneliness is the pain of absence. We feel abandoned and rejected, perhaps even loathed and spurned, unworthy to experience life's sweetest gift. Our vulnerability leaves us exposed to those who may take advantage of us in our weakened state.
Loneliness may be the result of the natural events of our lives, such as our children growing up and moving on, forming relationships and establishing lives of their own. We encourage them in their endeavors, but miss them when they are no longer with us. The emptiness we feel becomes especially keen when they are far away and unable to see us as often as we like.
Modern technology enables us to use more than just phone calling. We can video conference, direct text, and access each other through social networking. Regular communication, the sharing of experiences and feelings, and showing love and concern help to bridge the gaps that we feel when loved ones are far away.
Loneliness is a choice
In the end, no matter what the source of our loneliness, it is our choice to remain so. We have the option to seek out those who are worse off than we. There are many in our circle of influence that are suffering with pain and loneliness. Even in our weakness, we can help meet their needs, and by so doing, provide ourselves with solace and grace.
Our Savior's apostles deserted Him. The Father withdrew from Him. He was rejected and spurned by those who grew up by His side. In spite of all this, while suffering on the cross, He forgave those who tortured Him, provided for the care of His beloved mother, and assured the thief next to Him, that he would indeed be with Him in the realms above.
As we turn to our Savior for comfort and peace, we can rest assured that He knows how we feel. He has suffered beyond anything we can comprehend. We do not have to live life a victim of our circumstances or our past, bitter and alone. We can move beyond these things and have the happiness and peace that we desire.
All around us, there are people who do not have loved ones or friends close by and can use our companionship. Programs such as adopting grandparents or grandchildren are available. Big brother or big sister programs allow us to influence youth who may be bereft of loved ones. We can find those in our religious congregation or neighborhood who may be in circumstances similar to ours, and get together for social activities. We provide a valuable service to others as we fill the void in our own lives, for our emotional health!
©2014 by Denise W. Anderson, all rights reserved. This hub is an Emotional Survival Resource. For more information on Emotional Survival, see www.denisewa.com.
*Poem "Empty" by Denise W. Anderson.