The Counselling Centre
Loneliness is a feeling of emptiness or hollowness inside you. You feel isolated or separated from the world, cut off from those you would like to have contact with. There are different kinds of loneliness and different degrees of loneliness. You might experience loneliness as a vague feeling that something is not right, a kind of minor emptiness. Or you might feel loneliness as a very intense deprivation and deep pain. One type of loneliness might be related to missing a specific individual because they have died or because they are so far away. Another type might involve feeling alone and out of contact with people because you are actually physically isolated from people. You might even feel emotionally isolated when you are surrounded by people but are having difficulty reaching out to them.
Loneliness is different than just being alone.
It needs to be emphasized here that loneliness is not the same as being alone. A person will always have time when they chose to be alone. Rather, loneliness is the feeling of being alone and feeling sad about it. And, of course, all of us feel lonely some of the time. It is only when we seem trapped in our loneliness that it becomes a real problem.
How do we contribute to our own sense of loneliness?
Loneliness is a passive state. That is, it is maintained by our passively letting it continue and doing nothing to change it. We hope it will go away, eventually, and we do nothing but let it envelop us. Strangely, there are times when we might even embrace the feeling. Yet, embracing loneliness and sinking down into the feelings associated with it usually leads to a sense of depression and helplessness, which, in turn, leads to an even more passive state and more depression.
Finding ways to change these feelings of loneliness:
1) Recognize the lonely feelings and express them.
To stop feeling lonely, we first must accept that we are feeling lonely. Sometimes admitting that to ourselves is difficult. We then have to express those feelings of loneliness in some way. We might find ourselves writing in a diary, writing an imaginary letter to a friend or relative, drawing or painting a picture, making up a song, or doing anything else that lets us begin to express the feelings we have inside us—including talking with other people! Expressing our feelings might lead us to discover that we feel a number of things which might be connected to our feelings of loneliness, including sadness, anger, and frustration. We might be able to begin to see where these feelings are coming from—what they are connected to in our lives. As we begin to see the connections we will be more able to begin to make changes.
2) Become more active.
The big change, of course, is to stop being passive and become more active. If we’re missing someone, such as parents, family, or friends, we can telephone, write, e-mail or visit them. Talking to an understanding friend can often help change our moods as well. If we don’t have an understanding friend, talking with a pastor, teacher or counsellor might be a place to start. If we are lonely because we are missing someone who has died, being able to express our grief at their loss and beginning to remember our happier moments with them and knowing that those memories can always be with us, can move us away from the lonely feelings. This can also apply to losses of significant friendships or lovers.
3) Get involved in activities or clubs.
Getting involved in some sort of activity or club can accomplish several things. It can take our minds off of feeling lonely as we get involved in the enjoyable activity. It can actually change our mood directly in this way. It can give us opportunities to meet people with similar interests and practice our people-meeting skills. It can provide some structure in our lives so that we have things to look forward to. It can remind us of how good we might have felt in the past doing similar things. Sometimes these effects can come very quickly and sometimes they may come more slowly. We might really need to push ourselves to go to meetings or talk to people or attend several activities before we begin to feel comfortable with what we are doing and begin to see progress. Perhaps something to avoid is to attempt to join a club or organization or to develop a new interest just because we think it will make us a better or more interesting person. A better strategy might be to get involved in something because we know we’ve enjoyed it in the past or because we think it might be fun. That way we’re more likely to find ourselves enjoying what we’re doing and being with people who genuinely enjoy the same things. We may also find out that some people like us for the way we already are. An added bonus is that we might also begin to realize that we could choose to engage in some of those activities or interests entirely on our own without feeling lonely.
Everyone feels lonely from time to time. Using some of the suggestions above will most likely help you cope better with those feelings. If you find that you are having difficulty dealing with feelings of loneliness on your own, you may want to seek out the help of a mental health professional in your community.
Material adapted from University of Florida Counselling Centre
The Counselling Centre offers individual and couples counselling to help with these issues. For more information, call The Counselling Centre at 902-420-5615 or drop by our office on the 4th floor of the Student Centre.