I remember the loneliness all too well.
Over 11 years ago I felt so empty inside, a deep emotional pain that wouldn’t leave, and the constant negative thoughts that made me think that no one cared about me. It doesn’t help that loneliness has a certain stigma about it, much like Depression.
The common view is,
It’s all in your head, just go meet some new people, that will fix everything.
I actually heard and read that from some people and all it did was make me feel even more isolated. I hope this article sheds some light on what loneliness actually is and some practical things you can do to help with your own loneliness.
So what exactly is loneliness?
The best definition of loneliness that I could find is, “Feelings of loneliness are not synonymous with being alone but instead involve feelings of isolation, feelings of disconnectedness, and feelings of not belonging. These feelings in turn are thought to reflect the discrepancy between one’s desired and one’s actual relationships (Peplau and Perlman, 1982).
To put it more simply, loneliness is when our desired social intimacy levels are different then our perceived social intimacy levels.
Dictionaries define the word ‘lonely’ as
Affected with a depressing feeling of being alone.
This description may seem like common sense, but a mistake that we often make is confusing loneliness with being alone. Despite their similar roots, there are some huge distinctions that we must consider when identifying our own feelings. In his article “The Difference Between Loneliness and Being Alone”, Samuel Leighton Dore says,
Aloneness is finding freedom in this very same isolation; it’s the strange state of bliss that comes with being truly, honestly, unapologetically content in your own company.
He actually assigns a positive connotation to the word ‘alone’, because there is nothing inherently wrong with being alone. Everyone needs personal time to recharge, to rest, to simply be themselves without the presence of others. This kind of solitude is a good feeling, not a malevolent one.
Loneliness, on the other hand, entails craving the presence of others and feeling disappointed when our expectations are not met. We are not merely lonely because we are alone, but because we are not content with being alone. We rely on other people to fill some kind of void within us, but we are never quite satisfied. Instead of being satisfied in ourselves and in God, we desire the approval of others, and when we don’t receive it, we sink into withdrawal.
Remember how I mentioned I was lonely over 11 years ago? Well, surprisingly that was one of the most socially active times in my life.
So…why did I feel lonely then?
My perceived definition of social intimacy was (feeling of connectedness) based on whether I had a girl in my life. It didn’t matter how many male friends I had, as long as I didn’t have a “Girlfriend” in my life, I actually felt lonely.
As long as there is a discrepancy between your desired and actual relationships, you will be subject to loneliness.
Now, if your following me you’re probably thinking,
That’s great, all I have to do is change either my interpretation of what I define as my desired social intimacy or try my best to meet the need of my already defined desired social intimacy.
In the most basic sense, it is that straightforward. However, its not as easy as it appears.
You see, how you arrived at the conclusion of your desired relationships is influenced a lot by your past. This is why although loneliness is actually a state of mind, our beliefs and expectations about relationships have been molded and solidified over the years with our experiences. It’s not like a light switch you can just turn on and off.
Why Are We So Lonely?
It can be difficult to identify one sole cause behind our feelings of loneliness; sometimes we aren’t even sure why we are lonely. The roots of loneliness, it seems, lie both in our culture and within ourselves. Our culture is one that values and celebrates the concept of independence; we like to think of ourselves as strong, authoritative individuals who don’t need to rely on anyone else. As a result, we tend to segment ourselves from the world around us. We pretend to be social and outgoing, but shut out other people from who we really are, for fear that we will become too dependent on them – a side of effect of pride. This, in turn, causes us to become competitive.
We want to be the best at everything; we always want to be a step above of the people around us, so we avoiding forming real relationships with them. Because it is difficult to ‘get ahead’ in life if you trouble yourself with the needs of others – or so our society tells us.
The truth is that when we separate ourselves like this, we only hurt ourselves. No matter what our pride may tell us, we do need each other. We were never meant to be cold, emotionless robots who care only about popularity and power. Our capacity for kindness and vulnerability is exactly what makes us human, and denying that fact is one of the biggest causes of loneliness.
Is There a Cure?
Simply put, loneliness will always be something that we, as humans, have to face. It is a feeling that is common to each and every person on this planet, and God allows it to exist for a reason. In a sense, loneliness has a way of reminding us that we were made for an intimate, personal relationship with God. He has placed a deep longing within us that only He can satisfy.
When we try to fill that hole with other people or even with ourselves, we will only drive ourselves into a pit of sadness and disillusionment. God uses loneliness to point us back to the importance of walking with Him and staying connected to His Church. But though some good can come of loneliness, loneliness is not good.
What can you do to help with your loneliness?
1. Don’t look externally to heal your loneliness.
This might sound counterintuitive but let me explain why I think this is helpful.
One of the first things we do when we feel lonely is to look for things outside of ourselves. Common examples: buying things, entertaining ourselves through television, and in general just staying busy.
The big problem with that?
External things don’t fix internal problems.
When is the last time you went to a quiet place and just sat there, totally quiet, looking within yourself to hear your thoughts and Gods?
I sometimes think that God purposely uses loneliness to give us that yearning to come back to Him.
Focus on your own spiritual life and delight in who God made you to be. This will help you to develop an independent strength that isn’t at the expense of other people. Instead of dwelling on social situations, do what you like to do, and rediscover your identity in Christ.
2. Change the way you think about things.
There is no question that people with loneliness have a tendency to become fixated on negative social information.
This also includes self-fulfilling prophecies. Here are some common thoughts,
“No one cares about me.” “I’m so alone and I’ll never be good for anyone.” “I guess God wants me to be single the rest of my life.”
These type of thoughts usually always lead to behaviors that validate them. You have to change your thinking and the first step to doing this is recognizing when you’re having one of these negative thoughts to begin with.
3. Improve the quality of your relationships, not quantity.
God really wants us to be in fellowship with other believers but that means more than shaking hands on sunday when the Pastor says so.
According to Gotquestions.org, the Greek word for fellowship is, “Koinonia” which occurs 20 times in the Bible.
The deeper meaning of that word can be found in Philippians 2:1-2 which talks about being,”Like minded, one purpose, having the same love, compassion, and tenderness toward each other.”
Its important that you explore more opportunities to meet new people. Most importantly though, try and get to know some people beyond the surface, fluffy stuff.
You’ll be surprised at how good it feels to be engaged in a deep and meaningful conversation with someone else.
Why Fellowship is so important (The Roseto Effect)
In the 1960s, a local doctor named Stewart Wolf noticed that from 1954 to 1961, Roseto had nearly no heart attacks for the otherwise high-risk group of men 55 to 64, and men over 65 enjoyed a death rate of 1% while the national average was 2%
Once word got out, the entire town agreed to be enrolled in a study to determine potential factors as to explain such a weird anomaly. From an outsider’s perspective, these people should have been at great risk for heart disease, they had several risk factors including their diet (high carb with lots of fat), environment (worked in slate quarries where they contracted illnesses from gases and dust) and habits (smoking and drinking alcohol regularly).
But in the end, four reasons were cited for their exceptional heart health:
1. Family Centered Life
For the Rosetans, family was everything. Families were close and multiple generations all lived within the same home. Families were self sufficient and took care of their own.
Indeed, there have been countless studies in the medical literature supporting the fact that strong marriage and family relationships can help protect us from heart attacks. As the quality of our family relationships has such a profound effect on our heart health the question is what can we do to strengthen these relationships?
For me, what has helped the most is to put the needs of my family ahead of my own. As I give of myself it always seems that in the end my needs are met as well.
Also, given my busy lifestyle, I have found that what gets scheduled gets done. In other words, the calendar on my iPhone is also filled with many family events including scheduled one on one time with family members.
2. Spirituality and Religious Ties
On Sundays, everyone in Roseto went to church. It was a God fearing community. They had strong Christian values and were very spiritual people. They cared for their neighbors and looked after each other.
As with strong family relationships, many studies have shown that religion and spirituality can protect us not only from heart disease but many other chronic medical conditions as well. Even if you are not religious, taking time to care for your spiritual needs can be very therapeutic.
In our family, we worship together at church each Sunday. Even if it is a boring sermon at least you can tell yourself that, based on medical studies, you are getting healthier each time you go to church.
3. Strong Community
From a socioeconomic standpoint, you did not know in Roseto who was rich or poor. There was no keeping up with your neighbors. Even if you were wealthy it was socially taboo to display your wealth.
The community cared for everyone. If a neighbor was in need, everyone came to help. They were all “brothers” and “sisters” in the community.
Once again, there is a vast body of scientific data that socioeconomic disparities or even perceived disparities can lead to heart attacks. Trying to keep up with your neighbors or peer group will drive you crazy and cause undo stress on your heart. At the end of the day, all we really need to be happy is a safe home with enough food and loving relationships.
4. Low Stress
Despite difficult working environments at the slate quarries, Rosetans perceived very low levels of stress. They put their worries into God’s hands and knew that whatever happened in life their family and community would always be there to help. Crime was nonexistent in this village.
Based on all of the studies published to date, it goes without question that perceived stress is a powerful predictor of who will get a heart attack.
One of the most important things that can help with loneliness is fellowship. We were created to be social; we were made to laugh together, cry together, struggle together, and grow together. Even the most introverted people understand that we cannot go through this life alone. We need each other, and most importantly, we need fellow believers who will give guidance from a biblical standpoint and help us to grow stronger in our faith.
It’s a little less hard to be lonely when you consider that you are a part of one huge community of people who share a common love for God. We are all united as brothers and sisters by the blood of Jesus Christ, and that bond is completely unlike any other. And because we love God, we are called to love each other. That means bearing each other’s burdens as well as rejoicing in each other’s triumphs.
When we feel lonely, we must not forget that there are countless people just like us, who long to love and to be loved. Christian fellowship is essential to the life of all believers, and it is one of our greatest weapons against loneliness.
I hope today you have a better understanding of what loneliness is and some things you can do to help with it.Always remember, even though you may feel lonely, you are never completely alone. God promises to always be with you to the very end of the ages.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says,
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
What do you do when you feel lonely? How do you handle it?