Loneliness is a complex emotion. At its most basic, it’s defined as a feeling of sadness due to a lack of friends or company.
There’s a distinct difference between seeking solitude and feeling loneliness. Solitude is a noun – it’s something we seek to find Loneliness is an adjective – it’s something that describes how we feel.
Often, when we think about people who are lonely, we visualise them sat by themselves at a party, in the supermarket buying meals for one, or on park benches feeding birds whilst they watch the world go by in isolation.
There’s a stigma surrounding loneliness – one that doesn’t exist when we think about solitude. Solitude is often related to peace and quiet, time to ourself, or tranquil holidays to remote locations. On the other hand, loneliness is connected to sad people, introverts, ‘loners,’ or people who don’t fit in. However, loneliness can arise from a change in circumstances – such as moving where you live or friends moving away, having a baby. You can also have feelings of loneliness even when you have friends and close family – sometimes it’s a feeling that’s there regardless.
As humans, we have an intrinsic need to connect to others and share a common identity. It’s how we evolved from the stone age and it’s how our society adapts, learns and co-exists in (relative) harmony.
Its very easy for loneliness to fuel itself into a worse and worse place. For example:
- When someone is seen as an outlier to this status-quo – voluntarily or otherwise – they often regarded as ‘‘odd’ and treated as such. This can make it harder for lonely individuals to find common ground with people and form lasting friendships. This then leads to a lonely person dealing with loneliness alone and strengthening the emotion.
- Feelings of isolation typically get attached to shame and embarrassment and a feeling of not being likeable This then gives greater power to the feelings of loneliness.
That said, loneliness isn’t a condition someone brings on themselves. The reason someone feels lonely is . Its entirely dependent on that person’s circumstances. It’s important to know that overcoming loneliness and finding ways to form friendships is possible.
Loneliness and personality types
Extroverts – can extroverts get lonely given they love the company of others?
Its said that you are an extrovert if you are energized by spending time with other people. So it’s no surprise that extroverts socialise more. Essentially, this is due to how outgoing and eager they are to connect with fellow humans when compared to introverts.
That said, this doesn’t mean that extroverts are less likely to suffer from loneliness. On the contrary, they often feel the effects of loneliness more severely when faced with more time than they’d like by themselves – especially when it isn’t voluntary.
Furthermore, loneliness isn’t a feeling that automatically disappears with company. In fact, extroverts can feel lonely even when they’re surrounded by lots of people. The amount of company itself is not the key to preventing loneliness. It’s our connections with those people that matter. The feeling of being seen, heard and valued is what plays an important role in how lonely – or otherwise – we feel. Feeling connected, feeling wanted and feeling you have someone to call on help resolve the pangs of loneliness.
Introverts – do introverts ever feel lonely given they love solitude?
Solitude-seeking introverts – by their nature – are more prone to loneliness. In part, this is due to their ‘reticent’ characterisation. By definition, introverts are ‘shy, quiet, and prefer to spend their time alone than with other people’ but that does not mean that they do not want connection and to be liked. Introverts find it harder than extroverts to reach out to others – especially strangers – or to make conversation unless they feel very comfortable with their company.That’s not to say they don’t enjoy other people’s company. It also doesn’t mean they don’t get lonely and miss having someone to talk to. It’s a common misconception that introverts only love spending time by themselves. We all crave human companionship: some crave it more than others, while others crave it in different ways.
How do I talk to strangers?
Those who form connections easily are less lonely. On the contrary, those who are more prone to loneliness struggle to make friends – it’s a vicious cycle. One question people often ask themselves is where do I friends and when I do find a potential friend how do I start up a conversation. Perhaps then, this is why a common question typed into various search engines is: How do I talk to strangers?
Dealing with loneliness by striking up a conversation with another person can strike fear into the hearts of most introverts. On the other hand, extroverts are quick to find common ground with almost anyone they meet. This ease and affinity can either happen naturally (via disposition or otherwise) or through hard work. This inherent desire – one that seems so easy for some and so hard for others – is so common that Google and Bing have hundreds of results pages dedicated to answering this one basic question. Put another way, it’s asking, how do I feel less alone in the world[MF2] [MF3] ?
Will I fit in?
One of the other questions people ask when considering meeting new people is will I fit in. One of the biggest obstacles to happiness is fear. We fear being rejected. We fear being misunderstood. We fear not being good enough. We fear not being interesting enough and having nothing to offer. And we fear being fearful, because putting ourselves out there is scary. And although these are intrusive and unhelpful thoughts, they can be crippling and anxiety inducing.
Brené Brown, a famous professor and lecturer on courage, vulnerability and shame wrote an interesting loneliness quote: “Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.”
When we spend our lives adapting our identity to fit in with the status quo through fear of loneliness, we do ourselves a disservice. When we lose our identity, we not only become strangers to ourselves, we remain strangers to everyone we meet, even if we’ve known them a long time. It denies us our chance to fully connect, and in return, the lie we live becomes the catalyst for our loneliness as we are preventing ourself from truly connecting. As we’ve already discussed, its truly connecting to others that is the real cure for loneliness.
To be seen, heard and valued, we must be our most vulnerable and truest selves. We cannot live a lie, nor be accepted as an autonomous individual, if we expect others to understand the inauthentic picture that we’ve painted for them.
We all feel a little less lonely when we are a little more understood. Being lonely isn’t an incurable condition. By putting our TRUE self out there, accepting our reticence, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we can build connections, overcome loneliness and live our lives authentically.
The events leading to your loneliness are unique to you, but combating loneliness is possible regardless of your personality type. We’ve listed a few suggestions for ways to find connections with people and thereby start to combat the feeling of loneliness:
- Join classes for an existing or new hobby
- Join an interest group such as writing, horticulture or pottery
- Volunteer for online or local charities
- Undertake an exercise class or sports group. E.g., running, netball, cycling or climbing
- Sign up for a phone buddy system (especially useful for elderly people)
- Create your own neighbourhood group
- Join your local church or parent group
- Volunteer to help in a school or hospital
- Consider buying a pet such as a dog or cat
Go on a daily dog walk at the same time and along the same route. That way, you’ll start to see the same people and strike up a conversation. Think about joining a Facebook group to see your local dog walking events Sign up for local schemes designed to tackle loneliness in the UK
For further information on how to combat loneliness, visit our loneliness help section on the Be Female website for alternative sources of support.