Loneliness gets a bad rap.
And for good reason. One of our deepest, most basic human needs is to experience healthy attachment—or in non-psychological terms, to experience loving connection with someone who sees us.
When you stop numbing, one of the first painful emotions you may encounter is loneliness. And loneliness is a double-whammy. It often shows up alongside grief or fear. But unlike those feelings, it tells you there’s no one out there who cares.
So please hear me loud and clear: if you’re lonely, I see you. And believe me when I say, there are so many others who see you too.
Your loneliness has valuable information that—when cared for tenderly—can lead you toward the love and connection you crave.
First, let’s take a look at what loneliness is.
—At its most literal, loneliness is the absence of close connection with friends, family, or loved ones. It shows up when you’ve moved far from home or had loved ones move away. . .or after the loss of a beloved companion, family member, or friend. It often kicks in after the loss of toxic relationships too, such as distancing from a family member or going through divorce. There’s a reason we hang on to people who aren’t good for us.
—Emotional loneliness is the experience of being alone, even when surrounded by others. You might be carrying a burden of loneliness from your childhood—maybe you were neglected or disconnected from your family. In that case, it’s hard for you to experience love as an adult, even when it’s near. Or you might be surrounded by people who just don’t get you.
Here’s the thing: as hard as loneliness is, you know what’s worse? Being so numbed out that you deny its existence.
Like the pain of a broken heart or a broken bone, loneliness is evidence that you are a fully functioning, vital, human being. It’s part of what helps you become whole.
I learned that the hard way. As a single woman and hard-working graduate student, I blocked loneliness for years until it caught up with me in my early thirties. Facing my long-festering loneliness was dreadful. . . and I don’t wish it on anyone. But it helped me cultivate the loving connections I cherish today. My trek through the wilderness of loneliness led me to unique characters, surprising insights and ultimately loving relationships that I never would have found had I not faced it.
At its best, when tended regularly, loneliness can be a gift.
Loneliness. . .
—reminds you of who you are—someone capable and deserving of love and meaningful connection.
—signals that your numbing behaviors aren’t working anymore (and that’s a good thing!)
—can lead you to new discoveries and put you on a path toward change.
What if listening to your loneliness could lead you to a deeper experience of love and fulfillment?
As you learn to recognize the gift of loneliness, you’re closer to the cure. When you name loneliness for what it is, you’re getting some distance from it. You’re letting it know it’s only one part of who you are.
Loneliness needs boundaries. And those boundaries need to be made of flesh. It needs to hear itself speak. . . into the ears of someone who’s listening. Talk to a friend or loved one about it. And if you’re in a season of prolonged or extreme loneliness, find a counselor or pastor or coach to meet with you regularly to explore it.
Once you have some flesh and blood boundaries in place, ask yourself some of these questions:
—How long have I been lonely? You might be in a particularly lonely season. Or you might have felt lonely for as long as you can remember.
—Who are those people who take my loneliness away? Be honest. And don’t be discouraged if it’s not who you feel it “should” be. It only takes 1 good soul to take the edge off of loneliness each day.
—When do I feel lonely? It might be at church. . .at work. . at home by yourself. . . or in your family. Don’t judge yourself—or others—for what surfaces. Just become aware.
If you’re surprised by any of your answers, take note. And don’t assume immediate action is needed.
Just pay attention. And invite God into your experience.
Your loneliness might be an indicator that you’re carrying a burden from long ago. Or it might mean that you need to make changes in your current relationships. It also might mean you’re not showing up as yourself.
As you face your loneliness with loving compassion, it will relax a bit. It’ll learn to trust you. And it will help you find the relationships and purpose you seek.
In next week’s blog post, I’ll walk you through some steps you can take to carve out a path through loneliness.
If you’ve struggled with loneliness, drop a comment below to let us know what’s helped. We see you. We hear you. And we’d love to learn from your experience.
Gaylene Fechner Hill says
I am in round 2 of deep, pain filled loneliness. A feeling that says you won’t survive…because of the abandonment element. My mom left me emotionally as an 8 year old. Ordered me out! I remember being on the front porch sobbing. She wouldn’t speak or console me she was mad and took it out on her family and it devistated me. She never let me back in.
Now I’m 8 years divorced. My daughter was 17 when it happened and lived with me until 2 years ago. I also lost 2 jobs during the time she moved out. Her move out was fine. It was time and heathy. So a year ago the pain of being along became horribly painful. I started helping in my HOA with the gardens to hopefully get a distraction. In helping I met a neighbor and we would get together and talk and have a glass of wine. I really enjoyed our relationship and it helped me get my mind off of it and have a companion. He wasn’t a believer so eventually I had to break it off as he didn’t understand why I wasn’t able to be “intimate”. So now I’m back to feeling the painful lonely again and I want to work through it and heal.
Alison Cook says
Stay with it, Gaylene! Love that picture of you helping in the HOA with the gardens and meeting new people. If you can do 1 next thing each day, you’ll be surprised how your new “garden” will grow. And I pray for deep healing for the lonely parts of your soul that trace back to your mom. None of your pain goes to waste!
Hi Alison, Thanks for your article on loneliness. My husband and I are in our 60s and due to his many job transfers we’ve had to move a lot. We just celebrated our 40th anniversary in Nov! Making friends was so much fun in our 30s and 40s. We spent those years in CT. Loads of friends, kids, great neighbors, grad school, church. Perfect. Then another job transfer further North to VT, and then 13 years later to rural Maine. Its been such a horrible season of loneliness for us both. Northern New England is notoriously difficult to find and keep relationships. Hubs still works, I left teaching at 61. I’ve joined adult ed classes in hopes of fostering some friendships. Nothing….. but the weekly class. We have no grandbabies since our only son isn’t married. Life is seriously sad. We’ve been talking about moving south to warmer weather and perhaps more openness. One of our moves when we were first married was a job transfer to the midwest. We loved it! Made forever friends the first month we moved there! We are both musicians and were heavily involved in choir and orchestras. That was 37 years ago. We often talk about defining life decisions. To relocate back to New England was a defining moment. We should have stayed in the Midwest. I’m not sure what, if anything we can do to make friends in our 60s. We’ve tried church attendance and wow what sad stories we could tell. So, Alison we realize that as one gets older, the importance of having friends is critical to optimal health. This is what concerns me. Thank you kindly for your ear. I look forward to hearing from you when you have a chance.
Alison Cook says
Hi Dee, So sorry that this season has been so lonely. As a fellow transplant to New England, I can relate to how hard it can be to take root. (I was told it would take 3 years when I first relocated here, and that was about right!) And I see so many transitions in what you have written, on top of the move. And yet also so many blessings – 40 years of marriage and deep awareness of many gifts (music, delight in friends, church, neighbors from the past.) The wisdom you’re observing about what’s most important in this stage of your life is going to be so helpful to others. In the meantime, I pray God shows you his hand in this current situation – as you turn toward him, I pray he shows you the new life and community he has for you. He meets us in surprising ways in the wilderness of loneliness. My prayers are with you and your husband.
Veronica Giamanco says
My loneliness comes more from having people in my life who don’t get me and don’t value what I have to add to the relationship. Thankfully, I do have people in my life who do value me.
Alison Cook says
Such great awareness, Veronica. Lean into those people who get you – they are precious gems to protect with all your heart. The fact that you know the difference is a gift. All best to you.
Hello my name is Timber I was married for 18 years been divorced for about 6 years now. Been going thru some valleys and Loneliness and I know each other well. I’ve gone thru failed relationship after failed relationship and I just don’t get why things happen the way they do. I don’t want to be alone forever.
Alison Cook says
Hi Timber, I appreciate your honesty and pray you’ll find a love that will last. I hope you’ll continue to get curious about yourself with lots of compassion. Failed relationships can become our brightest teachers on the road to the love and connection we’rre made for. All my best.
Thank you for your blog. I agree that loneliness can be a blessing I that ultimately the only real cure for loneliness is being comfortable with yourself. Being loved by others certainly can help immensely, but at some point it is necessary to embrace your inner wholeness regardless of the negative and even positive input the world may offer.
Alison Cook says
AMEN and High Five! Thank you, Mike, for sharing this wise nugget. So often, when we’re lonely, we’ve become alienated from ourselves. And when we keep seeking fulfillment in others, that tends to lead to more loneliness. The paradox is that once you’re at peace with yourself, you’re more able to cultivate meaningful connections with others too. More on this next week!