Lonely No More
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If you’re an average person, you’ve probably been lonely from time to time. It’s a normal emotion. Experts report that 20% of Americans feel lonely at any one time. One in five do not have a friend with whom they could discuss a personal problem.
Loneliness is an emotion. You may experience it as a feeling of emptiness or isolation. It’s a discrepancy between the level of closeness you want and your actual level. People, of course, differ how much affiliation they desire.
Researchers have identified two different types of loneliness. State loneliness is the result of current, transitory circumstances. When the situation changes, the loneliness will dissipate. Trait loneliness is an ongoing sense of isolation, regardless of what the circumstance is.
Being alone and being lonely are not the same thing. Many people spend a great deal of time alone without feeling lonely. Most experts agree that it is healthy to have some private time for oneself.
Lonely people report many sources of their loneliness: a lost relationship (by death or breakup), feeling different from others, low self-esteem, lack of social skills, destructive experiences of abuse or rejection, children leaving home, retirement ending workplace friendships, and many others.
Societal changes have contributed to loneliness. Increasing single lifestyle choices during young adulthood and advances in modern medicine in later life create more years of vulnerability to loneliness. Mobility, work requirements, the high value placed on privacy, and other factors add to isolation.
If your response to lonely feelings is solitary crying, oversleeping, watching excessive television, drinking or doing drugs, overeating, withdrawing and fantasizing better times without doing anything about it – then you can count on more loneliness.
Withdrawing and avoiding others is one way to protect yourself from possible rejection or negative feedback from others. But, it won’t ease your loneliness.
How you talk to yourself about the loneliness makes a big difference. If you tell yourself that your loneliness is all your own fault and that it won’t ever get better, you are making it worse.
Recognize your feelings for what they are and accept them. Then: 1) develop yourself and 2) develop your relationships.
1) Here are some suggestions to develop yourself:
• Improve your interpersonal skills. Take a course or read a book. Learn how to
ask open-ended questions, to be truly interested in others, to listen attentively, to
make yourself the kind of person that others enjoy being with.
• Do a self-inventory. What changes in lifestyle, appearance, behavior patterns,
attitudes, etc. will raise your self-esteem and make you more attractive to others?
• Create a positive environment. Surround yourself with positive people and an
• If you have the time and space for a pet, get one.
• Practice positive, helpful self-talk. Remind yourself that you have good
qualities, that you have had friends, and that loneliness is in your control. Ask
yourself what you can do about it.
2) Try these actions to develop your relationships:
• Make a list of old friends and acquaintances. Contact them by phone, e-mail,
letter, or personal visit. Not everyone will respond positively, but some will.
Then, stay in touch.
• Volunteer. Go where you are wanted and needed: church, hospitals, daycare,
preschools, nursing homes, Meals on Wheels, Big Brothers/Sisters, etc.
• Get involved in hobbies or interests that you have enjoyed or think you might
like. Join classes or groups that bring you into contact with others who have the
• Nurture at least one primary relationship. Then develop a larger network of
Develop an action plan. Write down the steps you will take to change things and deadlines for those actions. Don’t wait for your feelings to get you going. Get going and positive feelings will come.
If your loneliness is severe or persistent, make sure it isn’t medical. Depression and anxiety can contribute to loneliness. See your physician or other health care professional. If you have suicidal thoughts, call for help right now! It’s OK, even essential, to get help when you are stuck.
© Glen Rediehs, Ph.D.