Are you lonely or just alone?
A friend of mine, who is married with children, recently went to visit her sister. She lives alone in a tidy, minimalist house and has lots of freedom. She mentioned how lovely it must be to be her sister with no responsibilities, then she reflected that actually it must feel quite lonely?
But does being alone mean you must be lonely?
Being alone means literally you are by yourself, and in that situation you may or may not feel lonely.
Being lonely means you crave social contact and connection with others, so there is a difference. You can be in a group of people or with the one you love and still feel lonely.
Loneliness also has a scale or spectrum, with each end having extremes from constant loneliness to occasional loneliness.
If you are occasionally lonely, it's usually due to the circumstances, such as having no plans and being bored or being away from home. At the other end of the scale is when you are constantly lonely, and it's generated from you rather than from your environment. This can quite often be a result of you not feeling cared for or understood.
A recent survey (https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/06/12184/loneliness-linked-serious-health-problems-and-death-among-elderly) found that 43% of older adults felt alone, although only 18% of them actually lived alone.
As with most scales, the majority of people are located somewhere in between the two extremes. So if you feel lonely at some point think about what is making you feel lonely:
- Are you feeling isolated and need to see or connect with people more often?
- Do you feel that those around you don't understand or care about you?
Here are some other things for you to consider:
- Loneliness can be a sign that your mind needs more social contact or that the contact you're having isn't fulfilling.
- Having lots of connections that are at acquaintance level and whom you don't feel close to, can feel more lonely than being alone.
- Open up to family and close friends about how you're feeling.
- Start to share with those acquaintances to build a deeper rapport. Nothing bonds people like sharing your vulnerabilities, be brave and open up.
- What hobbies or interests do you have, can you use these to meet like minded people?
- Take things slowly, the best connections take time to build trust and connection.
- Focus on other people, their experiences and feelings. Be curious about them. Getting out of your head and thinking about others will relieve the lonely feelings.
- If you are single and lonely for that special person and emotional connection in your life, accept that this is understandable and okay. Then look for other connections in your life that can fill this gap, including self-love.
When you have found some good connections, nourish them, and don't be worried about being too forward or giving more than you get. When you make more friends you can choose which are most positive in your life.