A few years ago, I was in a relationship with someone I was inspired by, who cared deeply for me, who loved me. And yet, I found myself feeling alone. She understood me better than anyone, but at the time, I didn’t have the emotional fluency to understand or care for her in return. It takes the right vocabulary to ask to see someone’s self, and I hadn’t learnt the words.
Loneliness occurs when you are not understood or cared for. That much seems obvious. But it also occurs when you don’t understand or care for anyone else. It can seem like a debilitating problem to try to alleviate your loneliness if you feel there is no one who understands who you really are, can listen to you vent without judging you, or who can hold you when you hurt.
And loneliness compounds loneliness. If you are already in that state, it can turn you inwards and make it harder to communicate with others, so that it can feel like an impossibly tall task to go out and create connections. It can be easy to become stuck, paralysed by the weight of loneliness, without any idea of how to get out.
So how do you lessen this weight of isolation? Even in the most desperate of places, there are active measures you can take, practices to incorporate into your daily life that can help feelings of loneliness and facilitate being with people again in the way that you need.
Volunteering is one of the best and tested ways of becoming less lonely. A study showed that volunteering two hours a week played a huge part in alleviating widows' feelings of loneliness. Being part of something beyond yourself, and doing it in concert with others, provides a sense of community and shared purpose.
Volunteering not only puts you in contact with like-minded others, but gives you the opportunity to care for others in a direct and meaningful way. This feeling that your work is important to the being of another creates a connection between you that can drastically diminish your sense of isolation.
Join a club
Similarly, joining clubs, societies, or social groups can be a great way of meeting people and forming connections. It is much easier to connect when sharing an activity with someone that you’re both interested in. And just like with volunteering, doing something with a group of others generates a sense of community and togetherness, even if you don’t necessarily know the others in the group.
Joining a club can be a great way to meet people with shared interests.
Try to be vulnerable with others. Sharing of yourself reciprocates a similar sharing. Tell someone about the ugliness or awkwardness or just plain weirdness of you. Sharing in this way shows them that you trust them and will allow them to trust you with their weirdness.
This is an admittedly terrifying thing to do, but it opens up the door to deep and meaningful connection. To learn more about the power of vulnerability, check out the Brené Brown TED talk, it’s a beaut!
Croissants and Chicken Curry
Share a meal with someone. Food is the catalyst of friendship and the dissolver of barriers. If you have someone you would like to get to know, but are nervous about interacting with, offer to cook them a tasty meal. Even if your croissants look like crustaceans and your chicken curry tastes like a Montreal slush puddle, cooking for someone demonstrates caring and will always open up a conversation.
Ask for help. It is often hard to admit that you are hurt, that you need help dealing with that hurt, that you can’t do it alone. But doing so is actually empowering in that it’s the first step of changing your circumstances. There are many free resources like listening centres, crisis centers, and support groups that are there to help you get out of your loneliness. Check out the Vent Over Tea resource page for some ideas.
There is a line in a short story called “Me and Jane,” by Lulu Miller, a beautiful story about the love between two molting horseshoe crabs, and it perfectly articulates loneliness: "self confined, irrevocably, to its own body.” That feeling of being stuck in the borders your own skin, a barren landscape you don’t know the limits of, with no one to explore it with, is paralysing and all encompassing.
But it is not irrevocable. Alleviating loneliness is a process of learning how to be with and care for others. It takes a lot of time and patience, and requires daily practice, but it is always possible.
Don't forget, loneliness can affect anyone and everyone. Whoever you are and wherever you come from, you will probably experience loneliness at some point in your life, even if you're in a relationship or have close family and friends nearby. So don't be afraid to tell people how you're feeling, they have almost certainly felt that way too.
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