I was talking with a friend the other day and the conversation turned to how lonely she feels now that her children are gone. The last stay-at-home son just got married and she and her husband have the whole house to themselves. She has a lot of friends—I know that as a fact—and she’s married to a man she says she loves very much. So what’s the problem? She’s lonely.
I’ve been sitting with this for a few days—my term for mulling it over—and I’ll share some of my thoughts with you. Loneliness is not something I often feel so I would love some of your input.
It’s interesting how some people are lonely while surrounded by people—not just people but people who care. They still feel isolated and alone. Others can live alone, knowing few others and yet never feel the pang of loneliness. So it doesn’t actually hinge on the absence or presence of others. It’s an emotion, but it can also be an attitude.
I have no numbers on this, but my guess is that most people who are truly lonely aren’t comfortable in their own skin. Their self-esteem is most likely in need of a boost. Their self-identity may be a little fuzzy as it is with my friend who has identified herself all these years as somebody’s mother and now her identity is grown and gone. She’s not quite sure who she any more or why she matters. (A classic empty-nest syndrome picture). When you don’t know who you are and/or don’t like yourself much it’s hard to reach out to others. It’s also difficult to accept the friendship of others. It’s that “If-they-really-knew-me-then-they’d …” kind of thing that keeps others away.
Loneliness is a subject of interest for the philosophers (e.g., the existentialists), sociologists, psychologists/psychiatrists and musicians in particular. Listen, for example, to the Beetles song “All the Lonely People” below.
Many people have brief interludes of loneliness now and then and most have a solution: call a friend, get a good book, turn on the TV, go to a movie, take a walk, get busy with anything interesting until the feeling passes.
But some are enmeshed in what is termed “chronic loneliness.” This is a serious condition that generally requires professional help. It is a feeling of isolation and rootlessness that is not influenced by the presence of other people. It is a state of mind, often accompanied by serious depression, social isolation, alcoholism, and other serious forms of coping behavior. If you are experiencing this kind of loneliness, run—don’t walk—to find a counselor/psychologist/psychiatrist who can help you find solutions.
If it is a feeling that “bugs” you more than just now and then, there are some things you can do:
- Be sure you are healthy. Physical ill health can bring the spirits down as well.
- Be mindful of your thinking. Negativity will bring you down in many ways including feeling lonely.
- Work on discovering who you really are. Do you have a self-definition? Have you looked at and considered it lately? Is it still relevant?
- If you don’t do so already, start eating a balanced diet and get some exercise. (Hmm. Let’s see. You might even find someone to exercise with).
- Make a list of things you enjoy. When loneliness hits, do one of them.
- Volunteer. Volunteer. Volunteer. This is the best remedy for loneliness I know of. Do something for someone else. This boosts your self-esteem, gives you something to do, and makes you feel needed all at the same time. And don’t give me that “I can’t do anything. If you can walk, talk and breathe there is a place for you to volunteer).
- Make yourself proactive in meeting other people. Even going to the grocery store and giving someone a big friendly smile can help lift your own feelings of loneliness.
That’s enough to get you a start. And, by the way, put on some happy music (no more Eleanor Rigby).