How to overcome loneliness?

26, July, 2013, by Seema Bhatnagar

When was the last time you felt lonely, helpless and hopeless? I guess, not too late, might be yesterday or morning today. Loneliness has become a commonly heard word and in absolute terms it is an epidemic which nowadays has become a reason for depression and anxiety for many. People feel depressed, vulnerable and hopeless in the face of loneliness and fall prey to various types of addictions.

Some of the most famous personalities, like Issac Newton (the most famous mathematician of the 17th Century), Abraham Lincoln (16th President of the United States), Vincent Van Gogh (a famous painter), Ludwig Von Beethoven (a famous composer), Brooke Shields (a famous writer), Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of Great Britain) had suffered some form of depression and mental disorder due to loneliness. Besides these, there are other movie stars and celebrities who experienced loneliness and slipped into depression and continued suffering for years before committing suicide and other forms of self afflictions.

As per common perception about loneliness, it is more common among people who are staying alone without any family support, but this is not entirely true because there are people who are living in a happy family but still feel lonely. Sometimes, it feels so surprising that people resort to marriages and then have kids just to beat the darkness of loneliness. Isn't it surprising that relationship like marriage is getting established on the compulsive emotional need which can possibly hijack freedom of spouse or it may bring unrealistic expectation on partner?

Why people feel lonely?

Break ups, separations, death of loved one, old age, rejection, failure, loss of job, lack of healthy relationships, financial crisis, and children leaving home are some of the common reasons for loneliness. There is no single clear reason which could be responsible for loneliness.

By nature, human beings are social animals so yearning for company and support comes natural to us, but when this need become compulsive, it turns out as an emotional issue and individual feels uncomfortable. With the concept of individuality in our society where people holds personal freedom as the prime value, there is hardly any place left for family members in life, which makes people to seek external ways to share personal achievements, moments of joy and sorrow. On not finding proper vent of emotions, people take refuge in suboptimal relationships and habits.

It will be wrong to say that loneliness is common only amongst people who are living alone, in fact, some of those who stay in a family also experience it. Mostly, it is because they do not feel well connected to their spouse and children and that drives them to an emotional point where they feel unwanted, rejected and find their life meaningless. It is especially more common amongst people who do not find their spouse as their true confidant.

People who have a strong need to get approvals and appreciation from others and feel happy only if somebody is around or people who have insecurity of losing personal image or those who are perfectionists are more prone to loneliness. Unrealistic expectations from others and not getting response for emotions are some others triggers for loneliness.

For people who experience loneliness, it is very difficult for them to maintain healthy relationships with others. They constantly feel insecure and look for ways to seek some sort of company. There is a constant feeling of not being genuinely loved and cared for by others and there is nobody with whom they can share personal woes. As a result, they feel totally disconnected with others and feels as if there is nobody who can really understand them and their problems. This feeling of disconnect keeps them limited to their shell which if aggravated makes them to slip into depression and other psychological issues. Alcoholism and drug addictions are some of the alternatives a lonely person seeks for immediate relief. Falling into suboptimal relationships becomes another way to seek solace. Unfortunately, these external alternatives provide solace for a very short duration and compel one to try it again and again to feel better and as a result an individual becomes an addict and a victim of loneliness.

JOHN CACIOPPO, THE director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, is the world's leading expert on loneliness. In his landmark book, Loneliness, released in 2008, he revealed just how profoundly the epidemic of loneliness is affecting the basic functions of human physiology. He found higher levels of epinephrine, the stress hormone, in the morning urine of lonely people. Loneliness burrows deep: "When we drew blood from our older adults and analyzed their white cells," he writes, "we found that loneliness somehow penetrated the deepest recesses of the cell to alter the way genes were being expressed." Loneliness affects not only the brain, then, but the basic process of DNA transcription. When you are lonely, your whole body is lonely.

The social networking phenomenon is gaining ground these days because of loneliness in people. Teenagers especially are hooked on to this idea and spend most of their waking hours on chatting and changing status updates. While social media platforms such as Facebook and Google+ have grown, new research suggests Americans are lonelier than ever. A recent survey found that 35 percent of adults are chronically lonely, while 25 percent said they don't have a best friend.

This social media platforms claim to bring people together but somewhere it has caused more harm than good. By looking at pictures of friends sharing happy moments with their friends and family, many people feel lonely inside on realizing that they are not able to share such pictures with others. One might be having long list of friends on FB but there is nobody with whom you feel deeply connected and can share deep seated thoughts and emotions. TV, Ipads, Ipods have become best friends for many and people have become addicted to such gadgets because they feel these will not let them feel lonely. In the age of technology, we live with the notion of being well connected to others but the reality is we hardly have true friends and family members who can make us feel really connected.

Many of the famous music albums and movies encourage the idea of seeking relationships to overcome loneliness and that feeds people with the belief that it is alright to feel lonely and seek relationships to overcome it but this belief is very disempowering.

Solitude and Loneliness

You cannot be lonely if you like the person you're alone with. ~ Wayne Dyer

People are generally mistaken about the difference between solitude and loneliness. Solitude is that positive state of mind where you enjoy being with self while loneliness is that negative emotional state where you feel disconnected with self and others and seek company of others for emotional fulfillment.

Solitude in itself is a state which makes you feel empowered and it is rather positive and gives you an opportunity to know self better. Being alone is not bad at all; it gives you an opportunity to know self in deeper dimensions.

In spiritual realms, it is said, that human body has an inner most core called as "Anandamaya kosha" which is blissful in nature and if somebody experience that state that person is always soaked in blissfulness and his/her happiness and joy do not depend on external factors. People who practice meditation daily, experience better control over emotions and do not feel the need of fulfilling emotional needs externally, they find themselves more stable and grounded inside.

My personal experience

As a person, I am quite comfortable and stable in myself and very fond of my own company (it might sound weird for some:)) but there are instances in my life when I felt lonely. Such instances were, when I was criticized for not complying with certain person's will, when rejected by one of my good friends, when there was nobody who could help me in solving some tricky problem at work, when struggling for what I wanted to achieve personally, when ignored by close friends. During moments of loneliness, I felt a strong disconnect with people around me and felt as if nobody understand me. The overall feeling was as if I am incomplete in myself and something is missing and had a very low confidence in myself. I started avoiding people and had least communication with others. This behavior further aggravated the problem and I felt more lonely. During those lonely times, I never tempted for any external support for relief rather I had a strong self talk and counseled myself. I questioned myself, what is that thing which I can do in my capacity and make myself comfortable and what others can do for me. With this thinking in place, I could quickly overcome my weakened state and this single most thought made me feel powerful from inside.

With time, I have learnt to respond to situations well, and have understood and accepted the fact that people are at their own different levels of consciousness or personal development and they are simply unable to understand what I feel and like in my life. Since everybody see the world from his/her own lens, so it is difficult for people to understand each other. Also, with time, I have learnt that everybody is struggling something or the other in life and feeling lonely and looking external support.

I have always loved spending time in solitude, as I am absolutely comfortable in my own company that does not mean that I avoid facing others, if at all I avoid, it is because of my busyness and not out of any emotional issue. My work, interests and hobbies keep me completely occupied for almost whole of the day. My interests of reading, writing and thinking keeps me completely occupied in myself. I am not dependant on anybody for company, if somebody is around or not that makes me equally comfortable. Moreover, with constant practice of meditation, I have overcome many of my compulsions in life and it has really worked wonders for me.

How to overcome loneliness?

Since we all have different emotional constitution so there is no one way to overcome loneliness but you may experiment with some of the ways which might prove helpful. First of all, root out the idea that being alone is bad; rather it is an opportunity to focus on and harness inner emotional strength. With this mindset, try to explore following:

You are never alone.

If you ever feel lonely and disempowered then seek out support of your own company first rather than looking outside. This is the only and best way to overcome loneliness. It is true that one should have friends, but not to get rid of loneliness but to share happiness and problems. With more than 6 billon people on this earth it simply seems impossible that one can feel lonely. In the sea of life experiences, relationships, education and power to think, I do not think anybody can ever feel lonely, it is entirely up to you how you engage yourself and brings difference in people's lives. Mind it, your own company is the best one for you in the whole world because only that drives you in all the tough times.

Be your own best friend.

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Seema Bhatnagar
, Blogger, Writer, Life Coach and Founder of Abundance Thinkers, site for personal growth and development. Empowering people in achieving and living the best of personal potential.

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