What to Do With Loneliness

I struggled with loneliness for years. And I did not know what to do with loneliness. In fact, I often felt as if it was a shameful secret I couldn't tell anybody. I didn't know that loneliness is a tender guide that could lead me to the connections I craved.The pain of loneliness is specific and real, though its presence can mean different things. Some people are lonely as a result of being isolated from family and friends geographically. Some deal with the loneliness of living alone. Others feel lonely as a parent or in a marriage. Still others experience the loneliness of feeling invisible in the midst of a crowd.

Loneliness does not discriminate.It's a voice we often want to push away. It can bring up feelings of shame, such as:

  • I'm not good enough.
  • What's wrong with me?
  • I'm destined to always feel this way.

If you feel lonely and notice that voice of shame inside, acknowledge it. Write down the story that shame is telling you, or tell someone you trust. Shame seeks to keep you isolated.Loneliness, on the other hand, tugs at you, whispering, "It's not supposed to be this way."

Loneliness reminds you that you were made for more than this.

I understand that loneliness does not feel like a friend, that it can feel so tender inside. But the truth is that loneliness is a signal that beckons you. It may not feel like a welcome signal, but it's one that is trying to help. It reminds you that:You were made for connection. You were made to be seen, heard, and known.

Yes, I get it. That may not feel remotely close to your experience. Instead, loneliness can feel like a painful reminder of the kind of connection you crave but do not know how to find.

It's not your fault. There are so many reasons loneliness finds its way in. For example,

  • Trust gets trampled.
  • Bonds are broken or betrayed.
  • Wounds from the past linger inside of you.
  • We live in a world that encourages isolation.

Maybe past hurts have led you to isolate, because people feel unsafe. Maybe you're grieving a loss or bearing a weight that feels like "too much" for other people to take. Maybe you've always felt a little bit lonely, even with friends. No one has taught you how to create two-way relationships that honor your deepest need for connection.

You stave off loneliness as best you can. You stay busy. You keep scrolling. You pray that it would change.You don't want to feel lonely. But, disappointments, discouragements, and disappearances have accumulated. And, you don't know what to do with the loneliness.

What if you could honor loneliness as a valuable guide?

Consider this: Loneliness is a sign that your soul is working exactly as it should. It's a cue from deep inside your God-made internal alert system telling you that something isn't quite right. It doesn't mean there is something wrong with you. Instead, loneliness is a cue that something painful has happened that needs your compassion and your gentle attention.

When loneliness is left hidden or untended, it takes over in unhealthy ways. For example, you might:

  1. Move toward people who misuse or mistreat you; or
  2. Further isolate out of fear and frustration.

I want to offer you another way.When you acknowledge loneliness as an important signal in your soul's design, you can move toward what you actually need. Loneliness can become a wise and helpful guide in your longing to establish mutually nourishing connections with other people.

What to Do With Loneliness

If you're struggling with loneliness, take a moment to reflect on the following questions:

1. When or where do you feel the loneliest?

It might be at church, at work, or at home. It might be when you are by yourself, with your family, or in a room full of of people. It might be late at night or first thing in the morning. Don’t judge yourself—or others—for what surfaces. Just become aware.Loneliness leaves you a trail of bread crumbs. As you start to follow clues, notice each one and begin to examine it. For example:

  • I felt lonely at that event. I wonder why?
  • That conversation left me feeling so alone. What about that interaction felt so isolating?
  • When did I first notice the feeling of loneliness? Was it related to a move or relational transition?
  • Was I lonely as a child?

Next, consider. . .

2. Who or what takes my loneliness away?

Be honest. And don’t be discouraged if it’s not who you feel it “should” be. You might notice that you feel less lonely when you are by yourself, at the gym, with pets, or chatting with a friend who lives far away. It might be seeing a friend who you sense also feels lonely. Start getting curious about these bread crumbs. For example:

  • I feel lonely with my best friend, but not with my neighbor. I wonder why that is?
  • I feel lonely in big groups of people, but not by myself. What is happening inside of me when I am with a group of people?
  • When I have a day with structure, I feel less lonely. Weekends are lonely when I don't have anything on my schedule.

Now, it's time to make tiny shifts toward connection. . .

3. What is one brave step I can take?

Based on what you've learned, identify one small step you can take toward authentic connection. In other words, take steps toward what makes you feel connected and alive.Here are some examples:

If you notice feeling lonely in groups or with specific friends, practice modifying how you show up with them. Sometimes loneliness comes as a result of hiding who we really are.

  • Consider an honest need or preference you could state.
  • Ask someone to do something that is meaningful to you.
  • Raise a topic of conversation that you find interesting. Notice how they respond.
  • You might tell a safe person, "I'm feeling lonely during this season. I don't need you to fix it, but I do need you to know how I'm feeling." Sometimes loneliness simply needs someone to bear witness to it.
  • If you feel lonely at church, consider if there is a different service you could attend, a smaller group, or an interactive class that might allow you to feel seen and known.

If your loneliness is based on certain times of the week, get proactive about scheduling connection before the loneliness settles in. For example:

  • Ask a long distance friend to take a "walk & talk" with you at a certain time each weekend.
  • Schedule a support group, counseling session, and/or prayer group at key times throughout the week.
  • If you are at home alone, a podcast or music can take the edge off of the loneliness. Use these strategically to help create a feeling of connection.
  • Join a club or volunteer to help get you through a long weekend.

Above all stay curious and gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to move away  from what brings up loneliness and toward what brings you feelings of life, one brave step at a time.I can't promise that your loneliness will dissipate immediately. But, if you welcome it as an important guide, it can lead you toward the connections that you crave. Instead of shaming yourself, you'll start to move toward the good things you were designed to enjoy. Loneliness will become a surprising guide.God satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. —Psalm 107:9