Loneliness is something that can affect anyone at any time, and can come in many different shapes and forms. We don’t even have to be physically alone to feel lonely, and it’s this kind of loneliness that can often feel the most complex and confusing. After all, how can we feel lonely when we’re surrounded by people all the time? But the truth is this can happen quite easily when our emotional needs aren’t being met by those around us.
Unlike social loneliness — which refers to the lack of a social network, such as the wider circle of friends that provides a sense of belonging — emotional loneliness is feeling emotionally disconnected from the people around you or being unable to connect with them on a deep or meaningful level.
You’re responsible for your emotional needs too
That being said, emotional loneliness not only happens when our emotional needs are not being met by those around us but also when we don’t listen to our own needs. It’s easy to become distracted from our needs when we get caught up in the chaos of the day-to-day: if you’re a busy parent, work full time or have a hectic social life, you’re likely so busy thinking about everyone else’s wants and needs that you’ve forgotten about your own along the way. The problem is that when we prioritise others, we can end up losing ourselves in the process.
You might feel like you don’t know up from down or that you don’t know which way is right. You may feel like time is going too slow or is slipping away. When we’ve lost connection with ourselves, we can end up feeling very adrift. And often, when we are disconnected from ourselves, we feel lonely or detached from others.
Handling emotional loneliness starts by understanding that you feel this way for a reason and acknowledging that your feelings are valid. Our emotional needs are met when the people we have relationships with see us, hear us, and believe us. And to feel more connected with others, it’s important that you first connect to yourself. This process involves recognising your reactions and feelings so you can respond to your needs and take good care of yourself and your well-being.
When we think of keeping healthy we tend to prioritise our diet, exercise and sleep, but forget just how important it is to work on our real human connections. Here’s how to improve that.
1. Start with the most important connection: the inner one, back to yourself
Finding yourself and knowing who you really are gives you a new perspective and is important for self-growth and finding your purpose in life.
Notice your feelings, name them, accept your thoughts and emotions, because they are valid. The key to connecting with yourself is doing so without judgement. Understand what triggered your feelings of loneliness. If you understand what makes you feel lonely, you can learn to deal with those issues head-on.
When we closely examine who we are and what we are looking for in others, we’re better equipped to tackle feeling alone.
2. Honour your feelings and don’t suffer in silence
Sometimes we can feel like we’re drowning in plain sight of everyone. But if no one is going to throw us a life jacket, we might have to hold up our hands and say, “I’m not okay,” otherwise others will go on assuming everything is alright.
It’s important that you find people you can trust to talk to and who’ll hear you when you share your feelings. The ability to be completely vulnerable with someone and share your feelings without hesitation is crucial to feeling connected.
3. Establish meaningful connections
In order to feel connected to those around you, it’s important you are your true self. One of the most common causes of feeling disconnected and lonely is putting on a mask when you engage with people because you fear they won’t accept you.
Look closer at what relationships offer the most genuine connection, embrace those that offer you a listening ear, express empathy and are non-judgemental.
4. Practice self-compassion: make time for you
Self-compassion is a big part of connecting to yourself. Research shows that self-compassion promotes social connection and correlates to feeling more comfortable as our real selves.
So if feelings of loneliness arise, meet them with compassion. This will allow you to make your way back to where those feelings originated and alleviate them before they consume more of your thoughts. Self-care is particularly important when you’re feeling lonely, so be sure you’re doing what you can to take care of yourself in other ways. Eating nutritious food, exercising, and getting enough sleep will make you feel better in the long run.
The road to reconnection
Whether you’ve got a busy work or home life — or both — it’s easy to forget that you’ve got needs too, which repeatedly end up on the backburner. But not acknowledging your own emotional needs or taking time out to connect with yourself and those around you can lead to feelings of loneliness. Blaming yourself when you feel lonely is never helpful, so don’t get caught in the spiral of negative-thinking, and remember to talk to yourself in a way that is supportive, kind and caring.