Loneliness is a natural phenomenon that we all experience at various points throughout life: when we leave home, we have a break-up, someone we love dies, when our children leave, at retirement and in old age when we experience the loss of our friends and partners. We have a sense of the normality of this but loneliness can also develop into something permanent, a type of ever-present companion and this requires action and attention. Loneliness pushes us to move out of our self-protected spaces and urges us to make meaningful connections in the world. It involves taking risks as only genuine connection satisfies. Most of us have experienced loneliness in the middle of crowed rooms or indeed in the middle of pseudo relationships and we know that this is not what fulfills and ultimately it will not satisfy. The road to meaningful relationships and friendships is not an easy one and it will require courage, perseverance and faith.
Spending time with people is a basic step. Initially this might feel fraudulent as you are on the edges of the group but with time, the boundary of being on the outside become more permeable as acceptance and belonging grow. Say ‘Yes’ to any and all invitations as the practice of mingling and turning up for events becomes more comfortable and endurable. Ask people to events or coffee and initially make these short so that your endurance is not stretched too far. If we spend enough time with people and particularly if we do something for them, care and friendship arise naturally. If joining a club or group is too difficult, think of volunteering or helping out at an event. This takes the pressure off socialising as working together creates a natural fellowship.
Look at your living situation. Is it conducive to social living? We need to balance the need for refuge in our homes with the need for connection. If the people/person you are living with are not good for you, what are the possibilities for change? If you are living alone, could you consider taking a room in a shared house? There is no doubt that if you are lonely, something needs to change and this can start with your living situation or your social situation. The prediction is that many of us will live alone in the future and if we are to thrive we will need strong social and friendship connections and the time to foster these is now.
One of the factors of loneliness is self- consciousness or self-absorption. This is where all the attention is focused inwards due to fear of rejection or fear of being thought needy. If we are to overcome loneliness, this inward focus needs to be turned completely outwards so that we are open to connecting with others. Be interested in the other person, ask questions and let your intelligence tell you when either you or they have had enough. Be brave enough to ask to meet again and do not engage in post-mortems as going back over conversations only results in misery for you. Take the first step outward and begin the journey towards connection.