Managing and understanding loneliness

What is loneliness?

We are social beings, and most of us feel the need to be close to others and seek out social contact and meaningful relationships. When our need for this type of contact is not met, we can find ourselves feeling alone, and yearning for closeness. This is a common theme and is a common definition of loneliness.

Loneliness and being alone are two different things. Some people may choose to live alone, or work in an environment where they do not often come into contact with other people. Being lonely can mean not feeling part of the world despite having a great deal of social contact with others, or being in a relationship.

Loneliness can have a significant impact upon your mental health and your emotional and physical well-being. It can be a contributing factor in anxiety, depression and can lead to prolonged isolation.

Why do we become lonely?

Personal Circumstances:

  • Experiencing the break down or ending of a relationship.

  • Comparing yourself to the apparently ‘happy’ lives of others - seeing only their positives and ignoring the negatives.

  • Moving to a new area, where you have few friends or family.

  • Being retired, not having as much social contact.

  • Losing someone close to you.

  • Experiencing stigma due to your gender, race, disability, health condition or sexuality.

  • Being a single parent.

  • Being excluded from social activities due to financial or mobility constraints.

  • An experience of physical or sexual.

Internal Loneliness:

Sometimes, when we experience a deeper more prolonged sense of loneliness. The causes can come from within ourselves, and will not always lessen regardless of our social situation or how many friends we have. This deep sense of loneliness can happen for a wide variety of reasons, such as:

  • You may find it difficult to like yourself, or feel others do not like you.

  • Experiencing low self-confidence.

  • Viewing yourself as less or unimportant.

  • Deep loneliness can stem from childhood, and could be linked with feeling unloved or cared for as a child.

  • You may avoid being on your own and spend a lot of time socialising.

  • Or hide away and minimise time spent with others.

  • You may develop unhelpful habits to manage your loneliness, such as overuse of alcohol or drugs.

Mental Health Conditions:

  • Experiencing a mental health condition can contribute to feelings of loneliness.

  • Social contact may be difficult and create high levels of anxiety.

  • You may find it more difficult to maintain relationships or friendships.

  • The stigma attached to mental health conditions can lead to isolation.

  • You may find yourself unconsciously or consciously avoiding meeting people.

Practical ways of managing loneliness

Experiencing loneliness is part of being human, and in some ways is unavoidable. This is because, as social beings, we seek closeness with others. However, we can manage our loneliness and find ways to cope. Below are some ways we can manage loneliness.

Reconnect With The World Around You - Making The Most Out Of Social Contact

  • Making contact with those you know can be a useful first step, and can help you to feel more grounded.

  • Consider things or people in life for which you are grateful.

  • Strike up a conversation with a neighbour or work colleague.

  • Going outside for a short period time and being around other people.

  • Joining in conversation in social situations can help you feel less isolated.

  • Make efforts to meet new people and experience new things.

  • Find common ground or interests with others.

Learn To Spend Time Alone

  • Being on your own gives you the opportunity to focus on yourself, and your wishes and needs.

  • Focus on the pleasure you gain from being in your own company.

  • Do things which hold your personal interest.

  • Keeping a journal or taking part in yoga or meditation can help you to develop confidence being on your own.

Other Ways To Combat Loneliness  

  • Value your own abilities and recognise your strengths.

  • Do your best to focus on the present instead of longing for the past.

  • Do regular physical activity.

  • Spend meaningful time alone - this will develop your ability to manage time spent on your own.

  • Spend time doing something which you enjoy, or develop a hobby.

  • Join a club, group or voluntary organisation.

  • Be mindful of your surroundings - bring yourself back to the present.

How therapy can help with loneliness

  • Therapy can offer you a safe space to talk about your loneliness.

  • Gain a perspective on its origins.

  • Develop ways to cope with feeling lonely.

  • Explore your past, present and future.

  • Face up to your loneliness.

  • Find a way to move forward with your life.

  • Develop practical strategies to manage loneliness.

Moving forward from loneliness

We will all at some point face loneliness, isolation and a deep sense of sadness. At times we may not know why or where these feelings are coming from. We may tell ourselves that we have everything we need, a good job and friends, so have no reason to feel as we do. However, loneliness can be a profoundly deep feeling, and no matter how many possessions we own, or friends we have, we can still find ourselves standing alone within the crowd.

To move forward from these feelings, we must first look directly at our lonely thoughts and understand what they mean and where they come from. This first step takes immense courage, and it is not easy to get in touch with our deeper selves and examine the possibility that our loneliness is not only within ourselves, but also is happening at an existential level.

The most powerful tool we have at our disposal when managing loneliness, is realising that we are not alone in our loneliness. We all experience these feeling at some point. There is some comfort in knowing that this is a universal theme. Over time, we will feel less lonely, and will manage and cope, and find light at end of the tunnel.

Counselling can be a helpful source of support and advice if you are feeling lonely. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua is an experienced Bereavement Counsellor & Integrative Therapist with particular expertise working with sudden or abrupt loss. He has helped many people work through the pain of their loss. Joshua also has experience working with a wide range of issues such as loneliness, isolation, depression, relationship difficulties and anxiety.

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