Unknown. Unwanted. Unseen. Unheard. Untouched. Undesired. Unchosen. Unwanted. Unneeded. LONELY!
“It doesn’t matter if I am in a dark room all alone, or in a crowd of strangers, or even in the company of people who are supposed to love me….loneliness is there. I feel empty. Completely drained. I long for relationship, for connection; yet I have no energy to put into any relationships. All day long I paste on a smile and pretend to be happy so no one will know that I am dying inside.”
According to Elizabeth Bernstein’s article in the Wall Street Journal, Alone or Lonely, the rate of loneliness in the U.S. has doubled over the past thirty years. At the present time about 40% of Americans report being lonely.
Currently loneliness is an epidemic, and quickly becoming health crises. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people. (https://newrepublic.com/article/113176/science-loneliness-how-isolation-can-kill-you)
So, exactly what is loneliness? Loneliness is a feeling of social disconnectedness in which a person wishes that he or she had better social relationships. It is also defined as being isolated or unfrequented by friends. Based on this definition it is clear that a person doesn’t need to be alone to feel lonely. One can also feel lonely while still desiring and needing time of solitude. The difference is this: loneliness feels draining, distracting and upsetting; while solitude feels restorative, creative and peaceful.
Types of Loneliness. There are many types of loneliness that are generated from a variety of unique situations, experiences, and thoughts.
- I don’t have a romantic partner.
- Others don’t have time for me.
- I just want someone around when I am home.
- I want someone to do things with.
- There is no one who really knows me.
- I’m in a new situation/job/location/school and don’t really know anyone.
- I’m different from everyone else. I can’t find anyone who shares my beliefs, values, or interests.
- I don’t know anyone I can really trust.
As you can see from the list about it is much more than simply having a romantic attachment. Many people need BOTH a social circle of friends and an intimate attachment to one specific person.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE POTENTIAL INDICATORS:
Physical response: Depression. Crying. Numbness. Lack of pleasure. Lack of interest. Decreased immunity. Inflammation. Decreased pain tolerance. Increased risk for disease. Poor sleep. Increased engagement in dangerous or illicit behaviors. Isolation. Feeling empty.
Thoughts about self: I am unwanted. I am all alone. I am empty. I am unworthy. There is something wrong with me. I am not enough.
Thoughts about God: God doesn’t care. God made me this way.
Our action/tendency/response: Ironically, when we are lonely our tendency is to isolate, withdraw and hide.
Communication: Loneliness says: I cannot make friends. No one wants to be with me. I am not worthy of others time.
Loneliness indicates a need to connect with others on a more personal or intimate level. It will involve risk. It may feel uncomfortable, but is needed. Loneliness is killing us! We were never designed to do life alone. So it is vital to your health that you make and maintain some close connections with others. Sadly, people who are lonely crave human contact and intimacy, but their state of mind makes it difficult to connect with others. So, in order to get this need met you will have to battle your instincts and thoughts and press into relationships.
So what can I do?
Practice small talk with people you encounter throughout your day. I admit I was never a huge fan of small talk. That is until I moved into an area where I knew no one. I longed for those deeper connections and long conversations, but there was no one with whom I could have those conversations. In the absence of those deep connections I quickly learned to LOVE the people who were willing to take the risk and work to engage me in small talk.
If you are a self identified introvert and not currently a fan of small talk let me tickle your intellect with this reminder…LONELINESS IS KILLING OUR SOCIETY! Your attempts at small talk, no matter how awkward, might be the avenue that helps another human being feel connection and warmth. In addition, it may be the door way through which you have to pass to make that one friend you desire to have. It is a skill you can develop to use which will help you grow as a person while making the world a friendlier place to live.
So since it is a skill, here are a few tips and suggestions:
- Eye contact-Moderate eye contact: Somewhere between total avoidance and a death stare.
- Smile-One that comes naturally or where you gently lift the corners of your mouth with your facial muscles: Wide forced smiles with all your teeth showing look creepy.
- Handshakes-Somewhere in the middle of a wet fish and a bone crushing death grip.
- Proximity-About an adult arm length away. If an infant child can stick her fingers in your mouth YOU ARE TOO CLOSE!
- Volume: Medium inside voice. If you are too quite, they will ask what you said and thus prolong the torture of having to engage in the small talk.
Small Talk Progression and Topics:
- Start with a pleasant greeting and acknowledgement (Ex. “Hi” “It’s good to see you.” “I’m glad you could come.” “What is your name?”
- Discuss the weather
- Give a compliment
- Share an observation about the surrounding environment or situation
- Ask an open ended questions: “Where are you from?” “What brought you here?” “How’s your day going?”, “How do you like or what do you think about (XYZ) so far?” etc.
- End with a good-bye and eye contact: “Bye”, “Stay safe”, “Take care”, “Nice meeting you”, “Have a blessed day.”
You don’t need to carry on a long conversation. You are just working on talking for a couple of seconds…maybe it will lead to a friendship down the road, or maybe you will just be a bright spot in someone’s day helping them feel a little less lonely.
Invest in nurturing others. Another way to grow your community and help alliveate loneliness is to care for other people or animals. Help out at an animal shelter, serve with people to promote a cause, take care of an elderly person or child. This will foster altruistic feelings in you, will help someone else, and will help fill some of the emptiness.
Proximity and repetition are fundamental when establishing relationships. It has been proven that as long as you are mutually kind you will become friends with the people you see most often. So, one way to increase your friendship circle is to be kind and put yourself in situations where you will see the same people over and over again; join a class or committee, go to the same store or hairdresser, attend a church, join a gym, go the same park or venue often, etc.
Time. Relationships take time to form. You will have to have at least 6-8 conversations with a person before they begin to consider you a friend. From there you will be able to decide if this is a person you want to develop a deeper level of connection with versus someone you would like to keep as an acquaintance.
Real Life Relationships (RLR). If there is one thing that social media has taught us is that it is that social media is not a substitute for having real life friends. Having many friends on social media who hardly know you is NOT a protective factor against loneliness. If I have 700 Facebook friends and Instagram followers, but no one who interacts with me regularly in a close and intimate way, then chances are I will still feel incredibly lonely. The only way to combat loneliness is to engage in real life relationships. There are 3 keys to developing RLR:
- 1.) Take the risk of being vulnerable, sharing my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
- 2.) Invest my most valuable resource (time). All RLR will take time to develop.
- 3.) Learn to be trustworthy with other people’s secrets, faults, and failures. To have a good friend, you must practice being a good friend.
Quality versus Quantity. When combating loneliness it is important to develop a few high quality relationships. These are the people who you will invest your life in and those who you will allow to invest in you. It is not important to have many friends, just a few select friends that you will allow to know the real you, the messy you, the you that you don’t show to everyone else.
(For more on this topic see Developing Your Tribe: (https://confidenthope.blog/2018/04/10/developing-your-tribe/ )
Dealing with LONELINESS? Here is your challenge:
1.) Identify which type or types of loneliness are you currently suffering from?
2.) Reflect on if there was ever a time you were not suffering from this type of loneliness. What did it look like? How were you involved in the relationship?
3.) Identify one way in which you could begin to counter act they type of loneliness you are experiencing.
4.) Challenge yourself to engage in that activity at least once this week.
5.) Document and reflect on how it went and how you felt.
6.) Challenge yourself to combat loneliness for others by reaching out to them at least once this week.
7.) Make an effort to get to know the people in the community you are a part of: where you live, where you work, where you shop, and where you play.
We were never designed to live in isolation. God created us for relationship. We are created in the very image of God who himself is a model of relationship in the attribute of the trinity. We serve one God, who is triune in nature. Meaning he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All acting in accordance and unity together. We as humans are created in that very same relational manner. In fact, in Genesis it talks about this very topic. After each thing that God created he commented “and it was good.” However, after he created man He said “it is not good for man to be alone.” At that point he created Eve. Right from the beginning in paradise it was necessary for people to have relationship! All through out scripture it talks about the dangers of being alone and the commands to engage in relationships; along with the principles for living successfully in those relationships.
Loneliness can feel like a slow death. Some of the saddest moments in scripture are when individuals felt alone or abandoned. I believe that is why God reminds us so often that He will NEVER leave us nor forsake us. While you may experience moments or seasons of loneliness, it is never His will that you do life alone. Those moments are to serve as reminders of our need for community. God will meet that need for intimacy through other people as we reach out and risk being known and knowing others.
I feel so alone. I long for community. I long for close friends that I can laugh with and share with and do things with. I miss having someone to call my own. I can feel the ache for companionship deep inside me. Yet I have to confess there is also a part of me that doesn’t want to risk being hurt again. I don’t want to invest all the time and energy into someone else just to be let down and beaten up. I don’t want to go through all the small talk, all the getting to know you phases……but I do want the closeness, the familiarity, the comfortableness. Will I ever have the energy to build those types of relationships again? Will anyone even want to build that kind of relationship with me? Sometimes I just feel like all the good friends and partners are already taken.
Do you even care that I feel lonely? That I long for companionship? That I miss the warmth of being loved and cared for? Is that even something that I can pray for? I know that you love me, but sometimes I just long for love that comes in human form.
I am asking that you please bring people into my life. Allow me the chance to love others. Give me courage to share who I am and to seek out the treasures of who they are. Show me how to love and how to connect. You are the perfect example of relationship and love. Help me to live and love as you have called me to do. Help disspel my loneliness as I give my love to others. It is a mystery how giving love away could actually fill me up….but I trust that you do actually work in those mysterious ways.
In Jesus Name-Amen
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families,he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. (Psalm 68:5-6)
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. (Psalm 25:16)
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)