Loneliness is not necessarily being alone. We may be alone for long periods without feeling at all lonely. On the other hand we may
feel lonely in a familiar setting without really understanding why. The best way to begin to understand loneliness is to examine
some of the ways people experience it.
You may feel lonely when:
- you’re alone and you don’t feel you have a choice not to be;
- you feel that you’re lacking attachments you had in the past;
- you are facing changes in your life–a new school, town, job, or other changes;
- you feel there’s no one in your life with whom you can share your feelings and experiences;
- your self-perceptions are that you’re unacceptable, unlovable, not worthwhile even if others don’t share those perceptions.
Misconceptions About Loneliness
People who are lonely often report feeling depressed, angry, afraid, and misunderstood. They may become highly critical of
themselves, overly sensitive or self-pitying, or they may become critical of others, blaming others for their situations. When these
things happen, lonely people often begin doing things which perpetuate their loneliness. Some people, for example, become
discouraged, lose their sense of desire and motivation to get involved in new situations, and isolate themselves from people and
activities. Other people deal with loneliness by becoming too quickly and deeply involved with people and activities without
evaluating the consequences of their involvement.
What To Do About Loneliness
Loneliness is not a defect or an unalterable personality characteristic is to recognize that loneliness is something that can be
changed. It is also important to know that loneliness is a common experience. According to a recent national survey, one quarter
of all adults experience painful loneliness at least every few weeks, and the incidence among adolescents and college students
is even higher. Loneliness is neither a permanent state nor “bad” in itself. Instead it should be viewed more accurately as a signal
or indicator of important needs that are going unmet.
You, or anyone, should take action when important needs aren’t being met. Begin by identifying which needs are not being met in
your specific situation. Your loneliness may result from a variety of needs. It may involve the need to develop a circle of friends or a
special friend. It may involve learning to do things for yourself, without friends. Or it may involve learning to feel better or more
content about yourself in general.
There are a number of ways to begin meeting your needs for friendship. Consider the following:
- Remind yourself that your loneliness will not last forever.
- In doing the things you ordinarily do in the course of your daily schedule, look for ways to get involved with people. For example,
~ eat with others
~ join a club
~ find a exercise partner
- Put yourself in new situations where you will meet people. Engage in activities in which you have genuine interest. In so doing you
will be more likely to meet the kind of people you are interested in meeting, people with whom you have something in common.
- Make use of church and community resources. Examples are clubs, churches, part time jobs, and volunteer work. Ask for ideas
from someone who has been around longer than you have.
- Work at developing your social skills. Practice getting to know others and letting them know you.
- Don’t judge new people on the basis of past relationships. Instead, try to see each person you meet from a new perspective.
- Intimate friendships usually develop gradually as people learn to share their inner feelings. Avoid rushing into intimate friendships
by sharing too quickly or expecting that others will. Let the process develop naturally.
- Value all of your friendships and their unique characteristics rather than believing that only a romantic relationship will relieve your
Think of yourself as a total person. Don’t neglect other needs just because your companionship or friendship needs are not being
Make sure you follow habits of good nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. Don’t let academics, hobbies, and other
Use your alone time to get to know yourself. Think of it as an opportunity to develop independence and to learn to take care of your
own emotional needs. You can grow in important ways during time alone.
Use your alone time to enjoy yourself rather than just existing until you will be with others. Avoid merely vegetating–deal with your
situation actively. Recognize that there are many creative and enjoyable ways to use your alone time.
Whenever possible, use what you have enjoyed in the past to help you decide how to enjoy your alone time now.
Keep things in your environment (such as books, puzzles or music) that you can use to enjoy in your alone time.
Explore the possibility of doing things alone that you usually do with other people (like going to the movies).
Don’t decide ahead of time how you’re going to feel about an activity. Keep an open mind.
In summary don’t define yourself as a lonely person. No matter how bad you feel, loneliness will diminish or even disappear when
you focus attention and energy on needs you can currently meet and when you learn to develop new ways to meet your other needs.
Don’t wait for your feelings to get you going–get going and good feelings will eventually catch up with you.
Counseling Center at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign