I know it can feel bleak when you are alone.
But I am sure you will see things differently by the end of this post.
If you are specifically (and impatiently) looking for the actionable steps to solve this issue, skip to this section:
Else, keep reading…
Table of contents
- Time for a quick story
- Defining the Problem – Lonely or Alone?
- Different Ways You Feel Alone
- Humans are Social Animals, Apparently
- Trauma and Feeling Disconnected
- Technology – Helping or Hurting?
- Is there something ‘Wrong’ or is there something ‘Right?’
- What do I do when I am Feeling Lonely
- You Are Not Alone
Let me tell you a quick story…
One day I was alone – I mean really alone. No one on the street alone. No one to call alone. It’s weird to be the only one around – like in an apocalyptic movie.
So the traditional advice did not work in this case – Call an emergency line, ask authorities, call family, call friends, find a support group – nope, all out. So it was me and the trees and the bees.
There is nothing like pure survival to clear the mind. Food, shelter, safety – that’s all the mind can think about in these times. A person floating alone at sea is not thinking about next month’s credit card bill.
However, only some have a dramatic story behind their feelings of isolation.
A more likely scenario is you are facing a different problem that is hard to identify. What is your situation? Are you physically alone? That is not the same as being mentally or intellectually alone – you are around people, yet you can’t connect to them. People surround you, yet you feel so lonely.
Perhaps you are alone in a relationship. You make all the effort and communicate, and it’s a one-way deal – only one of you is pulling their weight.
Do you sit at work and wish you were anywhere but with these people?
Got a health problem no one understands?
No partner, no one to talk to or go on vacation?
Divorced? Separated? Single?
Now you start to see the enormous likelihood that someone somewhere is so alone they cannot think what to do. Social or economic marginalisation, intellectually misunderstood, isolation due to an illness, a ‘different’ personality – many possibilities to be stuck and alone, and sometimes conventional advice is not getting them out of this one.
What if people around us can’t feel what it’s like—the soul-crushing, palpable pain of having no one? You ache to be connected. It hurts. When people suggest advice but have not experienced the pain as it were – they sometimes fail to help us in these moments.
Being alone may not be a problem anyway if you enjoy it.
Loneliness, however, may only be solved once it is understood. It’s a complicated issue, and you are worth the time and effort it may take to find the reasons.
Defining the Problem – Lonely or Alone?
When people feel alone, what do they mean? Are they physically trapped or isolated, with no humans around?
Or are they surrounded by people but feel disconnected?
Or is it that they are not alone as much as they are lonely? There are people around them, but they ache for at least one person they can count on and call a true friend.
The reason to consider the distinction here is that many people live alone and are perfectly happy. It suits their personality. If you are satisfied with living alone, for example, living alone is not a problem.
Things in life only become a problem when they negatively affect your life.
So, the problem is then not being alone but a feeling of loneliness. Lonely is a feeling. Alone is a circumstance.
Feeling alone often then means feeling alone with your problems. Put simply – no one “gets it.”
Due to the number of people on the planet and their different lives (even within the same family or home), there is no guarantee you will find someone like you.
People also have different levels of ‘damage’ or trauma from living and existing, further complicating communication and connectedness.
Even when we have many things in common with someone, we can still feel alone. Do you live in a home with four or five people, four or five televisions or screens, and four or five shows playing?
Proximity does not necessarily equate to you feeling part of the pack. And it’s not a matter of being more ‘social’ – The feeling of loneliness can be a complicated web.
Different ways you feel Alone
- The Misunderstood
I know you feel alone, and you think no one else can understand how you feel. You might be treading a well-worn path of the perpetually misunderstood. Consider the following groups of people –
Geniuses – Some people are chronically lonely. It never goes away. They are misunderstood by all around them and, therefore, alone psychologically or intellectually. It’s isolating. Think of the isolation of famous historical figures, all due to the inability of those around them to understand their genius – Van Gogh, Tesla, Magdalene, Da Vinci, Jung, Nietzsche etc. If you and the walls are the only ones in the room that “get it”, who do you talk to then?
And what about Billionaires – It’s not just genius that can feel alone. What about those rare few at the top of the financial tree? If the captivating television series Succession is even a tiny bit accurate, the characters portrayed look incredibly isolated. No amount of private jets, resorts and high-end social events can make those characters connect to those around them. Who can relate to their problems? No amount of cash can buy you a real friend who cares (And unlike the average person, when you are Billionaire, no one feels sorry for you).
Back to us common folk now. Perhaps you are just a different thinker. You are a deep processor of information (or a Highly Sensitive Person), a theoretician, or a philosopher. These types can and do suffer from loneliness from the sheer complexity and high level of their thinking. You don’t have to be a genius in order to see the world differently from your family, neighbours and friends.
- A Very Complex Problem
One of the loneliest feelings you can encounter is when you can’t get others to understand a complex problem fully. Did you try telling someone? After all, a problem shared is supposed to be a problem halved – except when you share it and no one gets it!
Why can’t they see what I’m saying? Why don’t they understand what has happened?
Problems are also relative. The depiction in Jake Gyllenhaal’s film, The Guilty demonstrated this point. Because of a wildfire situation, there was little time, resources or empathy for potentially a more critical domestic problem occurring at the same time.
For those who can’t find anyone to ‘get it’, I offer this advice – stop trying to explain. If you are relating to this, we have a whole article on Self Help Guide For Men When Being Alone.
Look, instead, for those who share your experience (in a similar support group) or empathetic types (therapist, empathetic friend or colleague etc.)
It is wildly unrealistic to expect others to understand all of our experiences, let alone one involving many layers of complexity. It may have been a problem for years or involve multiple elements unknown to anyone else.
Sometimes people want to help you but don’t know how.
- Social Outcast or Independent Mind
What if you are the black sheep? You do everything the opposite of your family or society. What if you do not conform to gender norms or shun cultural or religious practices? Being the odd one out can be a primary reason for feeling alone. You are slowly rejected from the group as you refuse to go along with things that contradict your beliefs and values.
Do you exist outside your society due to gender norms? Do you live outside the acceptable societal structures expected from relationships?
Even in cultures celebrating individuality and independence, society still expects a degree of compliance with the norms. Cultures that are more communal based and less individual can be even less forgiving of anyone who ‘dares’ go their own way.
The price you might pay for being yourself is you are lonely and alone.
- When No One Thinks you Deserve Help
This one is for those who do not automatically gain sympathy from the general public – the rich, the beautiful, and the talented.
These groups are not exactly at the top of an NGOs priority list. If they suffer a problem, people tend to think, “yes, well, but they have this and that, don’t they?”
If you are a CEO, will the employees care? What about a professor? Or a wealthy couple?
This point is not to dismiss the economically or socially marginalised in society – their journey in life is undoubtedly challenging. But feelings of isolation are not just for the marginalised. If we are a compassionate society, we must think that a person’s individual experience does not get cancelled by their bank balance.
If your bank balance saves you from feeling alone, no celebrity would have trouble – and we know they do.
- Social Anxiety
Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety as it is more commonly known, affects many people and can create a lifelong struggle for sufferers. Social Anxiety is essentially an overwhelming and debilitating fear of social situations – which means constant difficulty interacting with people.
There are treatments, and it is not necessarily a lifelong condition. Being a relatively new disorder, Social Anxiety is also tough to diagnose as clinicians are unfamiliar with the symptoms. Misdiagnosis is common, often confused with depression, panic disorder, ADHD, bipolar or schizophrenia. (1)
And being misdiagnosed itself can lead to a person feeling extreme isolation and loneliness – being misunderstood by the world.
In this case, the person may wish for human connection, but particular fears prevent their attempts. You can see how this could cause extreme loneliness that is not easy to break by a few ‘positivity’ quotes from well-meaning friends and family.
- Health Challenge or Illness
An illness can both physically and psychologically leave you feeling alone. While you grapple with your health, those around you may struggle to know what to do and slowly slip away.
If you struggle with mobility, it is another potential step away from those around you. And the condition, the pain or unique challenges may be minimised by those who don’t understand.
The net result is a double whammy for sufferers – alone with their problem and alone in the world.
What about other scenarios? You may have an embarrassing problem, or you need help conveying the exact details of your situation. Perhaps the people around can’t relate – whatever the reason, it can lead to a sense of aloneness that almost outweighs the initial concern.
Because of a hesitancy to share details, shameful or embarrassing situations can make finding support and understanding even more challenging.
- Isolated location or not in your ‘right’ location
Are you that lucky guy who lives alone in a cabin in Alaska? I say fortunate, as when I mention this to people, they universally think it sounds like a great setup!
But not everyone in a remote location is there by choice. Due to affordability, some people are geographically alone, away from support and friends.
Technology can sometimes bridge the gap, but many people desire face-to-face human connection.
It may be a situation where the geographic location is not about isolation, but you feel you are in the wrong place. Do you connect with people outside your culture better? Do you think you were born in the wrong country? People have always migrated to countries for economic or security reasons, but migration is changing. The concept of finding a place that suits you better has infected the rich, and they are leaving their so-called “wealthy” counties and looking for a better “fit.” (2)
Many people do not feel a sense of belonging where they are born, and the longer they live in the ‘wrong’ place, the more isolated they feel. It’s about finding a culture or community where you suit the flow of life, values, and society’s core structure.
Humans are Social Animals, Apparently
Humans live in societies and communities, and survival is built on cooperation.
However, what do we mean by humans being ‘social?’ This definition has become somewhat confused in the context of the base nature of humans.
But the main problem with thinking of humans as ‘social’ is the definition – I’m pretty sure it did not mean socialising – i.e. sorority parties, dinner parties, social functions and events etc. Regarding human nature, social refers to being in a society and a structured way of existing through cooperation (3).
Yes, we are social creatures; however, we are not all suited to socialising.
So the word social is not about our gregarious personalities and beer-guzzling ability but refers to how we organize our communities.
In this context, social does not mean having heaps of friends – it means being part of a surrounding structure of cooperation. You can be a social human by simply being part of society. You are social – even if you are not the life of the party.
And the way we existed in previous times was about survival and sharing resources. But haven’t we evolved past this need to survive? All this was true in hunter-gather times, but is it still relevant? Most people can get any food they want 24 hours a day.
How does this relate to being alone?
It means we do not have to feel bad about ourselves if we do not enjoy modern ‘social’ events.
Truly ‘sociable’ people do not like to party. Such social events rarely result in real, meaningful connections (4), although some of you may have differing views.
And in terms of societies, does living in hurtful communities and around toxic people still help our survival?
If people only want you to cooperate so that they benefit, then I wonder if that’s working very well these days, at a survival level or any level.
Now you understand that you do not have to be ‘socialising’ to be social or indeed a human!
Trauma, Feeling Lonely and Disconnected
There is a concept called emotional detachment. It refers to being unable, for some reason, to emotionally connect with people (5).
You might also be afraid to make connections due to past experiences. If you do not know why something happened to you, it would be natural to shy away from everything to protect yourself from future harm.
Depending on what happened to you, this emotional detachment may be deliberate or an involuntary protective response.
An example of deliberate detachment might be setting Boundaries. To keep away from harm, you may limit exposure to people intentionally. Although this may be intentional, it could cause you to feel alone and become lonely.
A more significant problem may arise when you don’t know you are doing it – you feel numb and empty. Something deeper, on a psychological level, could be the cause.
Have you ever felt very apathetic or with low motivation, but you are usually happy and energetic? Or perhaps you are nasty to people and don’t know why – it’s certainly not your true nature.
Consider researching emotional detachment as a possible cause of your inability to connect with others. A health professional can work with you privately to ascertain what makes it challenging to connect and leave you feeling alone. There may be multiple reasons for you feeling detached, and it might also be masking a different underlying health issue.
If you have been traumatised in your past, you may not even be aware it happened. You might feel ‘different’ to others. Loneliness can arise from invisible wounds, and its nothing to do with your personality. You may be blaming yourself for feelings that are not your fault.
Technology – Helping or Hurting?
It’s called Social Media, right? It’s supposed to be ‘social’ and connect us. It’s supposed to make us feel understood, have a voice, be equal and enable us to find our ‘tribe.’ It depends on who you ask whether it is helping or hurting – the tech guys say it’s helping, but some psychologists beg to differ, reporting it affects, among other things, our emotional health (6). It is likely an individual response anyway.
But ask yourself-
Do you feel more connected and happier after Social Media encounters?
Don’t get me wrong; I have experienced the benefits mentioned above of some incredible and accessible technology. And I’m only scratching the surface of technology’s role in society in this article.
But could something else be happening? Since, for a long time, technological advancements have often appeared to outstrip our adaptation abilities, is it possible that instead of connecting, it has done the opposite?
We have many more examples of lives we ‘should’ be leading – many successful, happy people are out there! I mean, look at their awesome pics as proof!
But there are also so many more people giving (unsolicited) ’feedback’ to us now – and they don’t even know us.
Some people feel even more isolated in their attempts to connect through technology and find people who are just like them. They could not find anyone in their suburb who understands them, but now they need help finding a true connection around the globe!
Going on a date in person is hard, and people face rejection. But online dating can now involve many more rejections than we would ever get in person. One most common example is ghosting. Read more about it here- Bummer! Why She Ghosted Me And What To Do Now. And they never met or even asked us a question!
If meeting the right people can mean moving from our geographic location to find understanding, then loneliness should decrease.
But if we are judged by online parameters, aren’t we being even more misunderstood?
Sometimes when we meet a friend online, it can help for a while, but ultimately reminds us that this friend is far away, and the people we are surrounded by are still there.
Having discussed the possible drawbacks of Social Media, many have found a friend or even a lifeline through technology. When someone has no one, that support group or forum makes all the difference to someone suffering alone. I mean there is a reason why this is one of the most searched query on google- “I feel lonely and depressed reddit” People find support on forums like reddit and you can too.
Is there something ‘Wrong’ or is it ‘Right?’
What if you feel alone because people tell you it’s ‘wrong?’ You should get married, get a partner, go out more, and make more friends.
Are you happy by yourself until you start watching a movie, social media or a comment from someone which makes you feel like you are supposed to be partying or hosting huge family gatherings every weekend? Are some of us meant to be alone? Is it better for your health? We may only need to be around people sometimes.
And if this is the case, is it the pressure and assumption that we are all social creatures leading to so much loneliness? If we accept it as ‘normal’ for some people, will the problem go away for some people?
Take Carl Jung. He seems to have enjoyed his alone time –
It’s not just a theory, either. Research has shown that people who are alone are not sad but rather happy as they prefer that existence – it’s their choice.
And contrary to stereotypes, the people who preferred being alone were more open-minded and less neurotic than others. Studies also explained that those not afraid of being single are more extroverted and conscientious (7).
So all of a sudden, being alone is not necessarily about being sad or introverted, as is often portrayed.
The difference appears to be choice – if you want to be alone. If you do not, then we need to try and help you.
Feeling Lonely? Try This
Here is an exercise I created to solve multifaceted, complex problems. You can apply the simple process to many scenarios, however. If loneliness is your issue, see if the following exercise helps you clarify a way forward.
Clarity is crucial in solving a problem or getting what you need and want.
What exactly is the problem?
In my case, I was trying to tackle big, macro-level problems when what saved me was one single small step. I needed to clarify the real issues to get out of a mess.
As someone said, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ – so I developed this system when no conventional advice could help me. I was facing life-and-death scenarios. I needed to clarify (quickly) a way to survive, and this is how I did it.
(This is a simplified version of my system to solve complex problems, with examples to illustrate).
The process involves creating some Lists.
|Create a list of the top three things you NEED or WANT right now.|
PROBLEM – FEELING ALONE
|Example 1. Someone to understand and listen to my ideas. Stop feeling guilty and weird all the time. Find a life partner or companion|
|Example 2. Feel confident around people. Be comfortable doing presentations at work. Improve my looks|
This step helps you clarify the problem. It might even mean that being alone is not your main problem. As example number two demonstrates, this exercise may highlight that you have friends and are understood and feel connected to society, but you wish you had more confidence around people. It may have felt like loneliness.
By thinking of what you want, it streamlines the exact nature of the real problem. Try and be specific as possible.
The above list clears the way for you to take one step toward solving your problem. The next list clarifies the steps – the How.
Again, try and be specific and mention (small) steps – “join AYZ Dating app” rather than a broad idea such as “try and find a girlfriend.”
|HOW to achieve or obtain the three things above|
|1. Someone to understand and listen to my ideas||– Join the ‘Physics Fans’ Clubhouse group- Join a ‘New Writers’ forum on Reddit|
|2. Stop feeling guilty and weird all the time||– Make one-hour activity a day where I don’t think about my problems, i.e. Go for a jog/walk – Make an appointment to speak to a therapist|
|3. Find a life partner or companion||– Attend the next scheduled Meetup social group in my area to start meeting people in person and expanding my chances– Volunteer at my partner’s fundraising events|
|Feel confident around people||Try one new social outing per week|
|Be comfortable doing presentations at work||Practice a presentation in another setting outside work, i.e. In an online public speaking forum|
|Improve my looks||Look up Pinterest and find a new hairstyle.|
If you cannot think of the HOW, make ONE SMALL STEP – e.g. Read articles and books about loneliness.
You can do only some of the steps on the list. It is to help you identify the problem and to encourage you by seeing that a potential solution is within easy reach. It can help prevent a feeling of helplessness from creeping in.
It was a single, tiny step that led me to the solution to my highly complex problem.
You Are Not Alone
Of course, a clever philosopher might tell you that you are never alone – you are with yourself!
That is not particularly helpful when you want to travel with a partner or share a meal or a new business idea.
If you can isolate why you feel lonely, it may be a step towards rectifying the situation or accepting that it’s not a problem after all.
Being a party animal is not the same as being a part of a structured society.
There is room for all types of personalities and ways of life.
But if you feel truly alone, I hope you have at least one step to try and start to feel better soon. After all, you need to take action to see any difference. Start with the small worksheet exercise mentioned above.
Jennifer is the co-founder of menPsyche. She holds an Applied Science degree in Public Health & Health Promotion and authored the ‘Personal Disaster’ book series.
Jennifer has a vast range of experience across many domains, including extensive international exposure.