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The Real Reasons behind Loneliness

Updated on July 8, 2015
TessSchlesinger profile image

Tessa Schlesinger developed an interest in human behaviour and ethics while studying anthropology at the University of South Africa in 1975.

Common cause of loneliness

Recently while googling the reason for loneliness, I was quite amazed to see that nobody had really touched on the core of why people were lonely. There were two schools of thought; the first was that people simply didn’t have any people in their lives because they were lacking in social skills (or something) like that, or the second was that they didn’t have any sort of connection to themselves and, therefore, they couldn’t develop a connection to others. I believe both these ‘reasons’ to be less than helpful and would like to propose my own understanding of what loneliness is.


My friend, Carrin, my daughter, and myself... somewhere in Surrey in the UK
My friend, Carrin, my daughter, and myself... somewhere in Surrey in the UK

A sense of connection

More than two decades ago, I was sitting next to a river in Johannesburg, South Africa, when something shifted in my consciousness. In a moment, I was hearing the birds sing, the grass move, the river flow, insects cheep, and the trees whisper. I could sense, in a very real way, the connection of all of Mother Nature to each other, including my own connection to it.

In the first few moments of it happening, I thought that if I moved, it would go away, and that I had slipped into some sort of alternative consciousness, or that I was imagining it. Still, it was a wonderful experience, so I sat perfectly still for a few minutes, for fear of this experience of seeing, hearing, and feeling Mother Nature in this highly intense way would disappear. But it didn’t. So I moved, and it still didn’t go away. I marvelled at the connectivity of all of life. It was truly connected. The bird was aware of the bee, and the bees was aware of the worm. The worm was aware of the river, and the river was aware of the tree. I spent an hour there, examining the river, the grass blades, the crickets, the worms, the bees, the leaves, the flowers, the soil, and more, until I knew I could delay no more. So I got up and walked. Within the first few steps, whatever it was, that connection with Mother Nature disappeared.

No, I was not high or inebriated or anything else. I have never been drunk in my life, never taken a drug, or attempted any form of altered consciousness (except that I had used HPP technology in order to wipe away distressful experiences from my unconscious mind years earlier).

Since that time, I have always had a deep sense of connection to Mother Nature, although that particular experience has never repeated itself. Rather I know at a very deep level that I am connected to all of life and the knowledge has given me some comfort.

My sister toasting her birthday with friends... Wearing a top hat when nobody else does makes you different! Just learn to carry it off. :)
My sister toasting her birthday with friends... Wearing a top hat when nobody else does makes you different! Just learn to carry it off. :)

The disconnect between self and others

Of course, I’m not asking anyone to repeat the above experience (I wouldn’t know how, and it has never happened to me since). I do want to use it, though, as an example of connectivity, and I would suggest that loneliness has to do with a lack of connectivity to others and to the world in general. That would explain why one would continue to feel lonely in a crowd or lonely when one was speaking to people one has known for one’s entire life. It is not the absence of people, but the absence of connectivity to those people.

Why some connect and some don't

There is only one single reason that people can connect, and that is similarity or sameness. Like draws like. Birds of a feather flock together. Say, for instance, you are madly interested in the process of how bees make honey. You have learnt every single thing about how bees make honey and you have become something of an expert on the subject.

You meet loads of people but, somehow, none of them are able to speak to you about the thing that interests you most. You have no interest in their latest mobile phone or the date they went on the previous Wednesday. You want to talk about bees, and, um, well, they have no interest in bees.

There is no connection.

Then, one day, you meet someone who knows as much about bees as you do. In a moment, you are both sprouting off. You are excited, and so is he. In no time at all, you are connected. Each time one of you learns something new about bees, you excitedly tell each other. Bees are king! Or should I say queen. Over a period of time you learn about other things in each other’s lives, but it is, essentially, the honey of the bees that keeps you connected.

Now let’s take scenario number three. You know an awful lot about bees and you meet someone who is interested in in the topic but who also knows substantially less than you do. Initially there is a connection but as time goes, the connection becomes less and less. The reason? You are doing all the giving of information while the other person is doing the receiving. He’s getting something out of it, but you’re not.

Sisters are good friends. My sister and myself.
Sisters are good friends. My sister and myself.

People are different

It goes without saying that there are millions of different things in the world that we can be interested in, and that while some interests are quite popular and most people share them, others are extremely rare and it’s really difficult to find someone else with that interest. It’s also true that there are many different kinds of values, morals, ethics, standards, etc. So in a world where diversity rules and where it is increasing all the time, finding two peas to fit the same pod is not as easy as it used to be.

Bearing in mind that connectivity only really takes place when there are strong areas of similarity, it can be difficult to find people in this day and age when we are not sharing the same reality as others.

It is, therefore, no accident that people who are lonely, tend not to have the same interests, values, goals, standards, or anything else as those in their immediate vicinity.

Probably one of the most vital aspect of making friends is having skills and interests which you can use to relate to others with the same interests.

People with high connectivity

People who tend to have a high level of connectivity to others tend to either have the same kind of interests that most people have, or they have such a wide variety of interests that there is always someone in the crowd who shares the same interest. They are also adept at finding the pathway to connection with others.

If you don't connect easily with others, what do you think the likely reason is...

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Finding the pathway to connection

Small talk is a way of finding out what you have in common with others. People who are highly adept at connecting with others understand this process. When the person tells them something that doesn’t interest them, they move away from the topic. When the person triggers an interest, they explore the topic further. The moment there is a ‘disconnect,’ they move on to something else, always exploring more and more until something is found that is mutually interesting. People who are lonely, quite often, don’t understand this process.

So a conversation might go something like this.

Him: Hi, I’m Tarzan.

Her: Me, Jane.

Him: Nice day, today.

Her: Yes, it’s warm.

Him. Things are growing nicely.

Her. Yes, I noticed that the geraniums were blooming.

Him: Indeed. The bees did a nice job of pollinating this spring.

Her: I didn’t notice.

Tarzan immediately knows she has no interest in bees. Jane, of course, doesn’t even realize that she has closed one door. However, Tarzan has more than one string to his bow, so he continues.

Him: Did you notice that the gorillas were out and about?

Her: Yes, I did actually. There’s a particularly intelligent male that I always notice.

Him: Yes, that would be Godzilla. Nice fellow.

Her: That’s right. He’s become quite a talking point, hasn’t he. I was particularly interested in that he didn’t appear to be afraid of humans, and I was wondering if he had any human contact…

Now there’s something rather interesting happening here. The moment Tarzan hits on something that Jane is interested in, Jane begins to volunteer information and becomes something more than just a passive recipient of information. This is the turning point where connectivity begins to be established.

It is also what a skilled conversationalist looks for. A skilled conversationalist will subtly lead the conversation and keep switching topics until a mutually satisfying topic is reached.

The little boy was the result of a 'mixed' relationshp and the father rejected him. My sister raised thunder and lightening and she took on the role of grandmother to him, providing, educating. Today he is a  young man. They have a great relationship
The little boy was the result of a 'mixed' relationshp and the father rejected him. My sister raised thunder and lightening and she took on the role of grandmother to him, providing, educating. Today he is a young man. They have a great relationship

Degrees of connection

The degree of connection is dependent on how many interests, values, morals, standards, etc., they have in common, as well as the degree of interest in those things.

When someone is only interested in one thing, his or her ability to connect to others becomes increasingly less likely. When that person has a different morality or culture to others in his circles, connectivity is also less likely.

Those with high degrees of connectivity to others either share very basic interests to quite a deep level – who starred in what in the movies, what this celebrity said to the other, which smartphone is trending, and how to make more money – or they have many different interests, are multi-cultural, and as a result of that, they can connect to a wider variety of people.

The value of personal growth

There is, therefore, a lot of value in learning new things and developing new interests. Those who develop a wide variety of skills, interests, understandings, etc. are more adept at connecting. But it goes deeper than that.

Understanding how others function and what causes them to say and do things is essential in being able to communicate in such a way that connectivity is triggered. If one does not recognize ‘no’ signals, one is bound to overstep them. So a conversation could go something like this.

Him: Nice day today.

Her: Particularly after the storm last night.

Him: Yes, well today is a good day and that is all that matters.

Her: The storm was really quite deadly. It brought down a tree and killed an old couple plus, I hear, some dog or other got killed.

Him: That’s right. Would you excuse me please.

In this case, the lady did not recognize the subtle signal that he gave her. He did not want to speak about the storm the previous evening, and the way he indicated his unwillingness was to move away from the topic.

One of the ways I personally experience this (quite frequently) is when I am speaking to a male.

Him: Hi, I’m Tom.

Me: I’m Tessa. Nice to meet you.

Him: You’re very pretty.

Me: Thank you. So how do you know Anna?

Him: From the office. Great body you’ve got there.

Me: Thank you. So are most of the people you’ve invited from the office?

Him: No, just Anna. The outfit you’re wearing is very flattering.

Me: So tell me about some of the people out there so that I can know something about them before going to speak to them.

Him: Nobody very interesting. You’re the most interesting person here. So where’s your husband.

Me: I don’t have a husband. Well, I might find some of them interesting. Want to give me a quick run down?

Him: Let’s discuss each other instead. We can meet for coffee or (changes tone and in a joking way) you could stay for breakfast tomorrow morning.

Me: Would you excuse me, please. I’ve just remembered something.

Do you see the disconnect? The guy consistently ignores the fact that I am continually changing the topic to one that is impersonal. He is not only rude and insensitive; it is bound to alienate and make others think “What a jerk!”

There are a multitude of misunderstandings in the above scenarios, and I wish to cover them.

Social skills; human skills

To some extent we learn social skills in our homes and in our early lives. Americans like to call it being’ socialized.’ Personally, I have some serious issues with the concept of being socialized and I will explain that now.

I first want to share an anecdote from the days when Queen Victoria met Louis of South Africa just after the war between 1899 and 1902.

Seated at Buckingham Palace at some great banquet, he didn’t realize that the finger bowl was to wash his hands after eating with them. So when he was thirsty, he picked up the bowl and drank from it. There was a gasp from those around him and others just stared. Queen Victoria picked up her finger bowl and started drinking from it. That’s manners (avoidance of embarrassing someone else) as a result of human skill. Social skill would mean that one didn’t pick up the finger bowl to drink. Human skill would be to understand the big picture and quietly fix it!

The problem with ‘socializing’ people is that they learn social skills but have no concept of human skill, and the result is a lot of alienated people with excellent social skills who feel very alone. While social skills will enable one to negotiate pitfalls along the path, it won’t help one connect in any real way to others. It is human skill that is required for that.

Learning to accept no

There's always going to be someone who doesn't like us. That's okay. There are going to be people we don't like either. Also, there are going to be people we like and want to connect with and they aren't interested.

I find that some people can't handle this. They accuse others of thinking themselves better. That may or may not be true. Firstly, they may have many more skills than us and simply want to connect with someone on their level. We have to accept that. We, in turn, may not want to connect with someone who has less to offer than we have.

Part of adulthood is being okay with people saying, 'No thank you. Not interested.'

Having fun with daughters on crazy nights out build relationships!
Having fun with daughters on crazy nights out build relationships!
Moi and my daughter in San Francisco
Moi and my daughter in San Francisco

Fixing the problem

I have met a lot of lonely people in my life. The first thing that always strikes me is that they are either inappropriate or that they are limited in some way. There are two sorts of lonely people, but the resolution to resolving the loneliness is the same.

The first sort of lonely person has been lonely throughout life; the second sort was not lonely earlier on, but olle lost friends, a loved one, etc. and didn’t have any other solid connections besides those dear ones, so when there were gone, s/he was stuck.

The psychology of being human

Understanding where others are coming from is vital to being able to connect to them. The more different one is from the norm, the more difficult it becomes to understand where someone else is. In this case, it is vital to go and do some courses in psychology at your local college. We all need a quick way to understand where others are, and if we haven’t sufficient knowledge to do it, it means we are limited in knowing how to read the signals of others.

For myself, I use several methods. One of the easiest ways (for me) is using the Myers Briggs criteria. Is someone an introvert or an extrovert? Are they a thinker or a feeler? Do they use their senses or their intuition to gather information? And do they like things to be cut and dried or can they live with open ended forever after?

Of course, in order to be able to do that, I have to know something about those methods, how they are measured, and I do. I have found that the more I learned about how human beings function, the more I understand them. I also happen to disagree with the idea that if one understands oneself, one will automatically understand others. That is simply not true. If one is a psychopath, one might well understand oneself; it doesn’t give any ability to understand others.

So, to my mind, the very first thing to do when one is lonely, is to begin to learn how other human beings function. I do NOT advocate self-help books because those books are written by get-rich-quick authors who say what people want to hear, i.e. people want to be comforted. These books give the kind of ‘advice’ that don’t fix the real issues. I would most certainly give books like ‘How to win friends and influence people’ a wide berth.

Here are some books I would start with:

The Games People Play by Eric Berne

I’m Okay, You’re Okay by Thomas A Harris

Sometimes we are stuck because we expect there to be some grand meaning of life and for the stars to burst in a dizzy shower of euphoria. Doesn't happen. I personally don't believe that there is any meaning to life. I believe we must make meaning. I would recommend Victor's Frankls 'Man's search for meaning' and, possibly, 'When bad things happen to good people' by Harold S Kushner.

As we learn more and more about human beings, in our day to day connections with others, we begin to understand where they are coming from, and in doing so, we become more appropriate and relevant in connecting with them.

Being socialized by your parents

Being socialized by your parents means that you were exposed to other kids at a young age and you learnt how to interact with them by learning the social mores. As a result, when you disagreed with someone, you learnt to lie and say, “Oh, I love that, too!” After all, the most important thing, you were led to believe, is to get along with everybody and make everybody feel good. That’s all very well, but when the focus is on doing the thing that gets you accepted, the focus on being connected is lost.

In order to connect with others, you have to go quite a bit deeper. You have to focus on the core self (not the social self) of the person you are conversing with. And you do that by truly listening to what the other person is saying.

Relationships don't always work.
Relationships don't always work.
My ex-husband, myself, and my daughter. It didn't work because we were so very different. We had absolutely nothing in common.
My ex-husband, myself, and my daughter. It didn't work because we were so very different. We had absolutely nothing in common.
My late father and mother. Once they were in love, but it faded. The thing that drove them apart was their very different needs and interests.
My late father and mother. Once they were in love, but it faded. The thing that drove them apart was their very different needs and interests.

Steps for connecting with others.

  1. Learn who you are and learn who others are. This is a vital step. Without this knowledge, it’s more luck than anything else if you ever connect with someone. Take charge. Learn what makes people function.
  2. Be at ease with who you are. Generally people who lack self-confidence have never accepted themselves – warts and all. It doesn’t matter if one has warts. We all do. Laugh at them. Decorate them. My method is to expose them. Once I’ve exposed them, they seem to lose their importance.
  3. Have something to offer others. That means becoming an interesting person. Watching TV all day doesn’t make you interesting. Learning glasswork, how to play tennis, or anything, in fact, where at the end of it, you will have new skill. The more skills, interests, and hobbies you have, the greater will be the number of people you can form a core connection with.
  4. Go out and about. I dare you! There is so much to do in this world. Pack a bag. Get on a plane. Stay in a hostel (forget hotels). Try couch-surfing. Go to a convention. Join a dance class or a martial arts class. Do it alone! That way when you see someone else who is alone you can approach them… Join Google Plus and organise a HIRL. Talk to others on Hangout.
  5. Make same gender friends. They’re the best because they lasts forever. Somehow we expect less from our same gender friends and they seem to give us more.
  6. Learn patience. I can give you a 100% guarantee that you will not meet someone who is a friend immediately. I make, maybe one core friends a year and maybe three core friends in a good year. That’s it. The more rare one is, the more difficult it’s to find someone who shares the same values, ethics, interests, belief systems, etc. So, be patient. The process works.


Submit a Comment
  • MichalWrotter profile image


    3 years ago from Czech Republic

    I get very lonely. I know most is my fault. I live by working all the time. I do not socialize much and when I have time I rather write or stay at home. Your article is full of great ideas. I would love to apply. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Charito1962 profile image

    Charito Maranan-Montecillo 

    3 years ago from Manila, Philippines

    Hi, Ms. Tess. You've done well expounding on this topic! In my opinion, lonely people should strive to overcome their insecurities. Some seem content with living in their "fantasy world". Others perhaps may have undergone some trauma which prompts them to withdraw from the world. (I find this alarming, as it can lead to suicide!)

    I think the best way for us to help lonely people is to reach out to them. Perhaps they just need someone to open up to, or cheer them up. I guess we just have to give them "a gentle push" to connect with others.

  • TessSchlesinger profile imageAUTHOR

    Tessa Schlesinger 

    3 years ago from South Africa

    Cynetbrown, I believe that. I think the more people one meets, the more likely one is to meet someone with whom one clicks! :)

  • cygnetbrown profile image

    Cygnet Brown 

    3 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

    It seems that some people you know forever but never really get to know, but then there are others who you meet one time and it is as if you have known them forever. I think that the best way to get to know people is to get out there and meet people if one person doesn't fit, find someone else who does fit you as a friend.

  • Barbara Kay profile image

    Barbara Badder 

    3 years ago from USA

    I found this interesting. Since we may be making a move in the near future, some of the ideas may be especially helpful.

  • profile image

    Julie K Henderson 

    3 years ago

    This is an excellent hub. I agree that it is important to accept and know yourself in order to best connect with others. Voted up.

  • TessSchlesinger profile imageAUTHOR

    Tessa Schlesinger 

    3 years ago from South Africa

    Denise, so it comes down to a lack of connection. Connecting on a superficial level doesn't work for any of us. It takes time for people to become concerned for us. Most people are too busy these days so it makes it even more difficult to find time to develop the kind of conections that feed us. I personally don't believe in people talking about themselves. I believe in people taking about things that interest them.

  • denise.w.anderson profile image

    Denise W Anderson 

    3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

    Meeting people has never been a problem for me. I can walk into a crowded room and carry on a conversation with anyone. I know how to get people talking about themselves. The problem for me is finding someone that I can have a reciprocal conversation with, who is as concerned for me as a person as I am for them. Every once in a great while, I will find someone, but they are usually so busy that we don't have much time to spend together. To me, that equals loneliness.


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