By Michael Kimmel
Loneliness is normal. You can be the happiest, most loved person and – I guarantee – at some point(s) in your life, you’ll feel lonely.
Loneliness is a part of life, no matter how beautiful or powerful you are. When you feel lonely, you feel sorry for yourself. You don’t feel connected and cared for.
I hope that, as you’re reading this, your shoulders drop and you find it easier to breathe. When you feel lonely, you’re not doing anything wrong. Loneliness is normal.
That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to accept. Many, if not most, of us fight it: when I was younger, I stayed really busy – with a packed social calendar – so I wouldn’t feel lonely. Now, when I have clients who schedule their lives down to the minute, I wonder: “Why are they so afraid of having nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to text?”
Many of us are afraid of feeling overwhelmed by loneliness. But, we don’t have to go there. As a psychotherapist – and occasional lonely person – I like to help my clients work with difficult emotions – like loneliness – by looking at how they play out both internally and externally…
Internally: In our minds, we resist loneliness. Does it help? Not really. Instead, why not make peace with it? I once had a client whose previous therapist told him: “Fight your loneliness: make yourself go to parties and be around people”. This isn’t terrible advice, but it’s a total focus on the external part of loneliness. What about what goes on in our heads? What do we tell ourselves when we feel lonely?
“Nobody likes/loves me.”
“I’ll always be lonely.”
“Everyone knows I’m a loser, so they stay away.”
This kind of internal self-talk would make anyone feel bad. Is this how you talk to your best friend? Of course not, and this is no way to talk to yourself either. Make a list of what you wish someone would tell you when you feel lonely. For example:
“This is temporary. It will pass.”
“Remember: you are loved by many people, including me.”
“Let’s do something fun, so you’ll feel better.”
An exercise I like to do, when I’m feeling lonely, is to look at myself in the mirror and ask: “What can I do right now to help you feel better?” I am often surprised by the answer.
When you feel lonely, the last thing you want to do is be mean to yourself.
Imagine that someone close to you has died and you’re grieving that loss. How would you treat yourself? Would you be extra-kind to yourself: booking a massage, buying yourself flowers, or getting a scoop of your favorite gelato? Well, no one has died (I hope), but you could still take loving care of yourself when it’s loneliness – not grief – that strikes.
Externally: When we feel lonely, we want to feel positively-connected to other people. Who or what makes you feel loved and cared for? Gravitate to those people, places and activities. Here are five ideas to consider:
- Join others with common interests – Meetup is great for this. The LGBTQ Center also has a wide array of events, from lectures to dances.
- Ask a few friends to go to a movie or have lunch. Keep the group small, but not too small: the energy of a group can lift everyone out of their individual funks and worries.
- Treat yourself as you wish a dear friend or lover would: with tenderness, affection and praise.
- Get outside and relate to nature: talk to the birds, flowers and trees. You’re not alone here; they’re with you.
- Deepen the relationships you already have. “How can I be a better friend/lover to you?” can open up a depth in a friendship or romance that you’ve always dreamed of.
Loneliness is normal. Since we’re all going to experience it, I suggest you find ways to make peace with it.
It doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. Try some of the above ways to work with it – both internally and externally – and see if the intensity and frequency of your loneliness shifts.