Loneliness – A beginning of understanding

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A few years ago I mentioned that when I was young and single I found that when the weather got warmer and the days got longer, I’d feel an almost physical pain. It was like a longing for something I could not name. After that post, I had at least one blog comment and several long emails telling me that others have that same experience. What is that painful feeling? That pain is loneliness.

I felt that pain again a couple of weeks ago. It was an unseasonably warm day, so I decided to take a really long walk around my community. Everyone was outside, either playing with kids or just talking to friends in their yards. Everyone was happily occupied with other people. I felt like the only person in the world who didn’t have someone to talk to, someone to plan the rest of the day with. In fact, walking among the busy families and happy couples, I almost started to believe (just allowing myself to wallow and be crazy for a minute) that I was actually invisible. I was like the poor guy who gets shown around by the Ghost of Christmas Past. I was seeing a world where I didn’t exist, and nothing I could do would help me to enter into that world. Of course, after I walked a bit more and exerted myself to get over a huge hill to get back to my own neighborhood, I felt better. I realized that I have my own friends and family. Did I want to call one now to get together? No!  But just realizing I had the choice helped me to get back to my happy mood.

At different times in our lives, we may find ourselves lonely for different reasons. Maybe we have just moved to a new area where there are no familiar faces, or maybe we have suffered a breakup or other loss of an important relationship. If we’re a little older, maybe our last child growing up and leaving home triggers a painful feeling of being lonely. Other times it can be a seemingly simple event that sets off that painful reaction.

Take my coworker Steph for example. Steph is a 45 year old healthy independent woman who is one of the most introverted people I know. She has a partner, Josh, and she has a best friend, Kim, and she’s quite happy most of the time just doing her own thing after work and even most of the weekend. She usually sees Josh several evenings a week, and then every few weeks she and Kim get together for a movie or dinner. Kim is an introvert too, so the two women may text each other once in a while but really don’t see each other very much. Steph is happy to have Josh and Kim in her life, but she has a lot of solitary activities she loves to do too, from sculpting to reading to talking long walks with her dog.

Yesterday the weather was warm and beautiful, so Steph decided to grab her dog and go for a long walk to the park to throw the Frisbee for him. She was happy enough, and just wanted to get the most out of the fleeting weekend before the work week arrived. But then she received a text from Kim. “Hey – did Josh tell you we saw him at the sidewalk art show?”

Suddenly Steph’s spirits plummeted. Kim was probably at the show with her family, but why hadn’t Josh asked her to come along with him? She felt totally abandoned by both of her close connections. She realized she had always felt secure and happy having just two people in her life, but now she felt so alone. She had an irrational thought that neither of them really cared about her or wanted her around as much as she had always thought they did. Although she knew she was being “crazy,” she felt depression creeping in to ruin her afternoon.

Of course her friends just happened to be out for an afternoon and it meant nothing negative at all, but sometimes something as trivial as that can take us down. Our wonderful sister who was the only person who really understood us says something sharp to us, making us feel that we’re alone after all. Or maybe it’s a holiday weekend and all of our close ties are actually out of town, so all we see are people we hardly know, rushing to have their own gatherings and celebrations. We start to feel as if we could be isolated for an infinite amount of time and no one would care.

It may come as a surprise to extroverts that introverts can get lonely, of course. After all, aren’t we the ones who walk the long way around in order to avoid the crowd? In fact, some of us introverts may be even more lonely than other people, because for us not just any person or group will do. We want to be with real connections, people who really get us. We may know dozens of people from school, work, or other previous situations and yet not want to socialize with any of them no matter how lonely we feel. Although it’s very unpleasant, I think that loneliness is a necessary pain nature provides to keep us from getting too isolated. Otherwise we might get so wrapped up in our own thoughts and hobbies that we neglect our friends and loved ones too much. The hours just fly when we’re happily doing our solitary pursuits.

I’m still trying to analyze and work on this area of life. Some possible solutions or goals for introverts might be:

Try to meet and develop at one new real friend. Of course this will be a process that takes time. Introverts want genuine friends, quality relationships.

Meanwhile, try to identify when we’re really lonely or when we are just reacting to social custom or the people around us. If movies were something that everyone went to alone, we wouldn’t feel bad about doing so ourselves. It’s that feeling of, “What’s wrong with me? Am I really all alone in the world?” that feels so bad sometimes if it strikes. So – if it’s just the “should” in the world rearing its ugly head, tell it to shut up we can enjoy the movie.

Make the effort, even when we’d rather get lost in our own worlds, to get out once in a while and maintain the relationships with people we really like. Sometimes that will mean doing something when we don’t want to, like cleaning the house to have someone over when we’d rather be reading a great book.

What else? What do you do when you feel lonely?

Photo credit: Waheed Akhtar

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18 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. First time i’ve noticed this restless feeling was 3 years ago. I guessed at one point what could it be but still felt like a freak of nature,depressed and lonely. It’s nice to read about it from others and also so clearly and calmly explained.

  2. I thought I was the only person who is experiencing this kind of behavior and I was wrong. I’m an introvert too and I guess people around me doesn’t understand me and doesn’t know the meaning of this word which is “introvert.” They always think that I’m the weird one, that I don’t want to socialize with other people. that I’m too selfish to share my time with them and it isn’t true because I’m really happy when I’m with my friends and family. Well thanks for this site. Such a great help to understand myself.

  3. I’ve had this feeling since I was a teen and I’m 30 now. I’ll think… wow it is a beautiful day so I should have someone to do something with. And then I think yes it would be nice to be out if only everyone else in my city were not thinking/doing that very same thing. A nice sunny day means crowds of people everywhere. Even the most remote places will have visitors on a nice day. I normally conclude that home is the best place for me to be. I will venture out on the next rainy day.

  4. Somatimes people can’t decide if they are introverted just because they really like to be alone. That’s actually NOT what loneliness means, that was really hard to explain to my teenager daughter last week. I was searching for some useful tips for communicating how to anxiety to my daughter when I found your blog, there are a lot of useful case studies and articles which I am really interested in. I simply have no idea how to handle a teenager with a light depression and unfortunately none of the doctors could help us…
    Vanda´s last post ..3d printing competition at Budapest 3D Printing Days 2014

  5. Please tell your daughter that a lot of people feel this way but either don’t talk about it or try to ‘fake’ being an extrovert because they want to blend in. For the latter choice, it means they accept that they’ll feel exhausted by the huge effort and perhaps dissatisfied by the quality of relationships this promotes.
    -Encourage her to say ‘yes’ to invitations or initiate invitations on a regular basis – regular could mean once a week or once every ten days. That way, she can maintain relationships but still have lots of time to recharge.
    -encourage her to go outside for part of each day. Even if it’s just reading in the garden, the fresh air and sound of life outside blow a kind of softness and hope into our minds.
    – have her write down 2-3 good things that happened each day – even if it’s “noticed a funny ad on a bus” or “heard a sweet bird song.” She can retrain her mind to look for at least a few good things to write down, and it starts adding up after a while.
    – encourage her to spend 10 minutes doing something really physical, even if it’s jogging in place in her own room. It really clears the mind and creates some energy.
    – ask her to be as kind and gentle to herself as she is to other people. If she believes that all people deserve respect and dignity, she must include herself.
    – Google and print out ‘The Desiderata’ for her.

  6. I think that this feeling might be well-known not only for introverts, some call it seasonal depression. You are absolutely right, it can affect like physical pain in your bones and nerves, sometimes you can have really strong migraine all day long without any reason. I really del glad about reading the story you’ve described about Steph and her environment, she has to be lucky to have a best friend (who is an introvert as well) and a friend to go out several times a week. The only thing I cannot understand is the relation to the warm weather. I experienced the same symptoms several times, and only when I’m stressed. By the way I won’t claim myself as an introvert…
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  8. Hey C.BLACK,

    I noticed that you haven’t updated your blog in over a year. Is there a reason why?

    I am an introvert and really passionate about creating a space that connects all of us. If you want, I can take it over for you. If you are interested in keeping your website alive, shoot me a reply back. 🙂

    Thanks,
    Yufa

    P.S. The last thing I want is your hard work to go to waste.

  9. It would be nice if this site stays up! I really need a place to go to talk to others who are like me and see I’m not alone in the world. Unlike many I haven’t found anyone who really truly understands me and wants to have meaningful conversations. I can’t deal with BS talks and gossip! 🙂

  10. Yes, definitely know that feeling. Nowadays I’m blessed with good friends and a great girlfriend, but can still occationally have short trips of feeling lonely and awkward about these things, like on a sunny day I just feel like I ought to “do something” to catch the day, but I don’t really know what or where to start! I guess you could train your ability to take initiatives in this area and that’s what I have to do, but it’s clear motivation for it doesn’t come as easy as motivation to learn the usual “introvertish” stuff. Luckily my girlfriend has a dog so just some nice walks with her and the dog goes a long way, combined with meeting people when working and occationally going out. It’s important not do be too dependant on one or two other people though, as you discuss. Anyway thanks for an interesting post.
    John (Books That Will Change Your Life)´s last post ..Quiet

  11. Hey there,
    I just wanted to say pretty much everything you just said I was like ‘yep, that’s me!’. It’s so comforting to be able to relate our feelings with others and to know that my feelings are not weird and no one else feels this way, so THANKYOU you have made my day 🙂

  12. Kimberly Suzon on

    Nice blog. Thank you!
    I feel exhausted in front of many people and when someone ask me ‘are you okay’ ‘why are you so silent’, I so hate it. Like what’s wrong with me? Duh!

  13. I had these feelings of loneliness occasionally when I was young ,but as I’ve gotten older I just don’t feel them anymore. I’ve come to an understanding about an introvert living in an extroverted world. I no longer feel the need to please people ,and the ability to say no thank you and move on has made all the difference in my stress level! I never get bored when I’m alone but in a busy crowd I get bored and just want to escape!

  14. hey, your blog is not updated since long. Where are are?

    This post is awesome. Loneliness is actually a beginning of the new journey to understand yourself better. We are all busy doing the things that is feel like important but often forget that, we need to know ourself better in order to become successful.

    will be glad if you update your blog

    Thanks.

  15. What a helpful blog. I am grateful indeed for the many shares. I’m in my 60’s & have been introverted since I was born. In other words, I remember always being this way. It hasn’t changed, but the wonderful thing that has changed is my understanding along with a continuing acceptance of how I am. There are many resources in our societies today that many of us can tap into now to learn from & to know that we are not weird, or strange or wrong. We are unique & usually extremely creative. And that makes me smile… from the inside out! Yep! I like how I am and would never want to be an extrovert. LOL That’s just way too scary a thought and actually creates anxiety for me. I do have to work on the lonely feelings & strange feelings that I don’t understand, but as you know, it can create deeper thought & eventual soul growth that is so beautiful. That’s a gift we give to ourselves. That’s a gift we share. Blessings

  16. I don’t know whether it’s just me or if everybody else encountering issues with your website.
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