How to overcome loneliness
Loneliness is characterised by a depressing feeling of being alone in the world and can be especially acute for individuals of 60 years old and more. Loneliness is usually a word associated with the old and dying but is an experience that can happen to everyone at one point in our lives: In my experience this can happen on two levels. Being lonely within yourself even when you have people around you and secondly, being lonely because there are no interactions happening and you feel disabled in some way in not being able to go out and meet anyone. Loneliness can be seen as a negative feeling (I believe it to be a positive realisation to prompt us to change something in our lives). Coping with loneliness is part of the up and down emotional make-up that every individual has. However, in certain circumstances, you may feel extreme loneliness when a loved one dies, when children leave the home, or when you go through a divorce or breakup. Loneliness can often be compared to a feeling of not belonging anymore. It holds with it many negative symptoms such as depression, anxiety, decrease in self-worth, decrease in self-confidence, gradual or sudden loss of vigour and vitality, loss of the will to do anything pleasurable, anger, irritability, self-denial, helplessness, hopelessness and the uncertainty of not knowing how to deal with loneliness. The effects of loneliness can be quite disabling, many of which are a result of the negative feelings triggering a chemical change within our bodies: • gastric problems such as heartburn, peptic ulcers, indigestion • loose motions, constipation • lack of appetite or the opposite voracious appetite • sleeplessness • continuous anxiety • memory loss There are two types of chronic loneliness to look out for—epidemic loneliness and epistemic loneliness: Epidemic loneliness is the widespread experience of being lonely in the presence of our loved ones and family. This is a result of living in a disjointed society which reduces the quality time we have to spend with the people that we care about most. This situation doesn’t allow for us to homogenize our feelings, fears, joys and future plans but instead results in lack of communication and a break down in relationships. This can be combated when: • communication is given enough validity and importance in the family, and in every other relationship both professional and personal • A degree of emotional dependability (not neediness) is a great method of overcoming loneliness and using your partner as a sounding board for sharing emotions rather than being completely isolated within yourself. Epistemic loneliness is loneliness that is derived from core relationships and values, whereby the focus is on self-preservation and the protection of the self from painful experiences usually in relation to others that have potentially hurt us, or we are fearful of being hurt by. The inherent need here is focusing on the self and understanding and accepting oneself so that a healthy manner of relating can be achieved. There is a huge difference between loneliness and aloneness: feeling alone usually means that you have no company to share your views or an experience with, where loneliness has little to do with how many people are around but more to do with your feelings of connectedness and closeness on an emotional level with another person. There is a clear difficulty with people admitting that they are lonely. One of the most prominent symptoms of social and emotional loneliness is that you feel disconnected from people (emotionally and physically). There is the common experience of developing low self-esteem and a feeling of hopelessness. Moreover it is difficult when in this state to believe you deserve anything better than what you are experiencing. It may seem like a failure to admit that social loneliness is what you’re experiencing because this feels like admitting to being helpless and seeking pity from others. Whereas, contrarily by surrendering to this experience, you can acknowledge what you need in your life and make the necessary changes. By recognising that loneliness can in fact be healthy opens up a door of opportunity for change. This is an opportunity to reach inside yourself for self-sufficiency and reaching out towards your loved ones for healthy emotional contact.
Understanding yourself and solitude: To understand how you feel about solitude, you first need to explore your feelings about connection (having someone in a way that satisfies and sustains you), how you relate and connect to others, with yourself and your environment.
Affirmation while being alone: By creating affirmations reinforcing the importance of your aloneness and how it is a vital component to your life will help you in the process of acceptance i.e: o I am alone with my memories o I am alone with my thoughts o I am alone with my body o I am alone with my desires o I am alone with my capacity to make change.
Identification: Through firstly identifying that you are in fact lonely will allow you to take a step back from the experience of being lonely and create some space for you to understand this situation in greater depth.
Acceptance: The process of acceptance is usually a difficult one because it is a process of surrendering to something that is causing us pain. By surrendering and taking ownership of the loneliness will allow you to create a different relationship with the experience of being lonely!
Validation of need: By validating yourself through the first steps and acknowledging that you have a particular need. In this case a need for closeness and a need for intimacy will allow you the opportunity to recognise that there is a void needing to be filled form which you can make any necessary choices to change and create.
Your own most constant lover: In solitude you are aware of being alive and having needs, and of being able to meet someone of those needs without turning to others. In solitude you do not feel empty because you are feeding this void with self-love, a vital component in assisting us in being intimate with others.
Watching your thoughts: By watching and listening to your thoughts (your internal dialogue) you will be more attuned to how you are feeling and more aware of the conversation being used to either sabotage you from being intimate with others or pushing you closer to others.
Seeking out help: Put out a hand to another and they will certainly meet you with theirs is a saying a truly believe in! Have the conversation with yourself to understand what prevents you from asking for assistance. Once this is overcome you are one step closer to a more enriched connection with someone.
Changing the manner of relating: By recognising how you relate to people, your environment and to yourself will create a greater understanding of how things may have gone wrong previously in relationships. Moreover, this will allow you an opportunity to fix any insecurity’s you have an assist you in becoming more rounded as an individual.
The courage to be lonely: Especially as older adults we need to be willing to tolerate loss and separation. This is crucial to emotional maturity but can be incredibly painful to accept. By acknowledging that this is a situation that may arise due to the death of the people closest to us creates an opportunity to develop a relationship with the idea of loss and abandonment, so if per se the time does arrive we feel less impacted by the situation hence giving us the strength to do what is necessary to move on.
No one deserves to be lonely, so if worst comes to worst: Take up a new hobby, learn something new, challenge yourself out of the emotional inertia that has taken over your life. In case you miss your spouse or a loved one who has passed away, do something in their name to keep their memory alive.