Perhaps you are recently divorced or separated. Perhaps it has been a long time since you have been in a meaningful relationship. Or perhaps you are stuck in a relationship that doesn’t provide you with the emotional intimacy you need. In any case, you are feeling lonely – very much alone, unloved, and unsupported. What can you do?
Here are seven steps you can take to better understand and cope with your feelings of loneliness.
1. Understand the difference between loneliness and solitude. Spending time alone doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience. Many people, from antiquity to the present, have chosen to completely divorce themselves from all human contact for months, or even years, at a time, and have found satisfaction in the solitude. Paul Tillich, German-American theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher, describes the distinction between loneliness and solitude this way,
Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.
2. Feelings of loneliness are the sense of missing something. It may appear obvious that what is missing is a person – the right person. However, it is helpful to look deeper. It may be that the reality behind the apparent lack of companionship is actually an issue of self-esteem. When you like yourself, and enjoy your own company, you don’t feel lonely – you just enjoy the solitude. If you discover that you really don’t like yourself very well, you can make more effective progress toward feeling better by addressing your self esteem than by searching for a new companion.
3. If you find that you do like yourself and yet still feel lonely, examine what kind of companionship you are missing. Are you needing someone to talk with? Are you needing a group to party with? Are you needing physical intimacy? Before you can address the perceived lack, you have to understand the nature of what is missing.
4. Practice enjoying solitude. Spend time in situations in which being alone feels natural. One of the best ways to enjoy solitude is to go for a long walk in a natural setting – perhaps in the woods or on a deserted section of beach. Leave the music player at home. Keep your schedule open so you can be unhurried. Enjoy the wind, the rustle of leaves or sand under your heel, the calls of the birds.
5. Join groups that don’t require an emotional commitment. Join a reading group or an environmental activism group. Volunteer for a service group like the Red Cross. Enjoy people’s company without any expectations. Don’t develop expectation of others, and don’t give credence to any expectations that others direct toward you.
6. Perhaps your feelings of loneliness are actually symptoms of a spiritual emptiness. Consider joining a religious or philosophical organization and attending regular meetings.
7. If you discover that your feelings of loneliness are caused by a desire for physical intimacy, be honest with yourself about what you are really feeling. Either address your needs responsibly, or use the previous suggestions to distract you from your physical needs.