Loneliness comes in a variety of shapes and sizes – yet there is always one thing in common: it’s incredibly painful.
I used to feel intensely lonely while I was married. But loneliness can have a variety of origins – feeling unloved, losing a partner through divorce or bereavement, or losing social connections, for example after retirement. Sometimes people who live alone feel lonely.
Many more are afraid of being alone with themselves; they can’t bear silence and fill every moment with noise. And then there’s the loneliness induced by feelings of worthlessness; these can lead to a genuine feeling that other people are not interested, which in turns mean that people can put up barriers to protect themselves and isolate themselves in the process.
Look up from loneliness
Often, when I walk down the street, I see people glued to their smartphone. Watch Gary Turk’s video ‘Look up’. At the time of writing 39,742,762 people had clicked on it. It has clearly touched a chord. Will it make a difference? Who knows?
The video brilliantly illustrates the dangers of shutting yourself off from the world. It’s not just about missing potential opportunities for friendship or even romance; it’s also about how easy it is to forget how to interact with others. No Facebook ‘friend’ will ever be there for you when you need somebody to hold your hand or to put their arms around you.
Wearing a mask
And then there’s the self-induced loneliness – my particular brand. One of the masks I often wore was the one where I projected an independent and strong persona. More than anything I didn’t want people to perceive me as needy. In the end, it turned out to be an approach that backfired because I ended up keeping people at arm’s length, creating my own loneliness without realising I was doing it.
What’s to be done?
I’ve been wondering what suggestions to make to those of you who suffer the loneliness of bereavement, a cold marriage or feelings of worthlessness, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no easy answers – other than ‘give it time’.
Bereavement and unwanted divorce, demand that you grieve as long and as deeply as you need. We often feel reluctant to show our feelings because we don’t want to make others uncomfortable. If that’s you, then try to find a place where you can cry to your heart’s content – even the loo will do in an emergency! That’s where I used to go to hide and give in to silent sobs – or when I walked to work very early in the dark and empty mornings. Crying heals and not just in the long term but it also helps immediately by temporarily releasing the pressure in your body.
A cold marriage is a terribly painful place to be, as I know all too well. I have no easy words of comfort for this kind of loneliness or for when you feel overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness – other than to say that you don’t have to deal with this all on your own; there IS help – coaching, counselling or even reading something that opens your mind to new ways of looking at something and then trying out different ways to deal with some things.
Start by getting to know, like and trust yourself (yes, you can learn this!). It’s the best way I know to get you to a stage when you can look critically at:
(a) how you allow yourself to be treated (for example, unkindly, carelessly, thoughtlessly or being taken for granted),
(b) how you treat yourself (for example, beating yourself up, being incredibly self-critical, playing small and having few of your needs and wants met.)
If you believe that there’s nothing you can do, you’re WRONG! If this is you,
Make it happen
As for loneliness induced by social isolation, there are a number of things you can do.
Start by trying to figure out what you might enjoy doing. You might like to take a course, learn something new and meet new people. Go on the internet and key in ‘Floodlight’ – it’s a listing of all kinds of local courses. Or, if you’re over 50, check out u3a (University of the Third Age) and add your particular geographical area. There are all kinds of groups – entertainment, information, even personal development – I run a group locally called ‘The Life Enhancing Group’. If you don’t know what might interest you, experiment!
If this doesn’t appeal, try reconnecting with people you lost touch with. You might start with an email or letter or even a phone call. When I do that I put as a subject: ‘Blast from the past!’ Sometimes I say, ‘you probably don’t remember me but we met…’ and take it from there.
There’s something else I want you to know: you’re desperately needed!
There are lonely people who are old and housebound, people who are elderly and in hospital without anybody visiting them for whatever reason. Then there are single mothers who struggle on their own with little money to spend. Become a ‘befriender’. If that seems like a possibility for you then contact Age UK, for example. It’s is a great place to start.