Lonely in a crowded world

Loneliness is a universal emotion. It is felt by people of all nations and in all walks of life. It can creep into anyone's existence at any time and can be a consequence of a move, leaving home, graduation from school, job change or loss, death of a loved one, sickness, depression--or any of the many experiences we may encounter as we move through our lives. How much we are impacted by a given event or circumstance will be influenced by our support system or the lack of one, our individual resiliency, our past experiences--and how well we both anticipate and plan for the future. Regardless of how many of these factors weigh in our favor--we are all at risk for loneliness and gathering some good tools and resources for dealing with it should it happen along is a great way to minimize its impact.

Some common myths associated with loneliness:

* Just a problem for single adults
* Unlikely to experience this if you are married or have children
* One can't be surrounded by people and feel lonely
* Most likely to occur if a person is shy or has a more introverted nature
* Outgoing people rarely or never experience it

The truth is that you can be an outgoing and gregarious person who is frequently surrounded by people and still experience loneliness. This is because it is influenced more by your state of mind than your lifestyle. It is often confused with solitude, but they are not the same thing. Therefore introverts may experience less loneliness even though they spend more time alone, mostly by choice.

Reasons for loneliness:

* Plugged in 24/7 to virtual friends and interactions in relationships that lack physical contact and intimacy
* Living in close proximity but rarely connecting with the people around us
* Lacking in real time social interactions and connections
* Difficulty finding compatible people for dating and relationships
* Going from home to work and back home again without connecting to others along the way
* Being in a relationship where you stop talking/interacting/sharing intimate moments
* Being in a marriage where there is little or no emotional intimacy--like roommates

It seems that when people are out together or even just hanging out at home, they are often plugged into their devices, checking email, texting and catching up with friends on Facebook. They are often physically present but emotionally absent. Living in densely populated cities and towns has also led folks to create invisible barriers around them--like personal electric fences that go with them as they move about in their communities. Rarely do people who live in condos know their neighbors, they may know a few if they reside in a townhouse development, and may even know a number of their neighbors if they live in a single family home. In small and more rural towns, people often know many of their fellow citizens by name and they interact regularly when shopping, at church or at community events. Being coupled or married does not guarantee you will not be lonely. You have the advantage of the relationship and the additional friends and family that your partner brings to the relationship. However too many coupled people fall into the same trap of being constantly plugged in and avoiding conversation and quiet time with the significant other--until the finally realize they have lost touch with one another and are coupled but lonely.

Ways to combat loneliness:

* Make sure to spend UNPLUGGED time with others
* Seek out friendships through groups/church/community gatherings and any activities that offer real time interaction
* Make an effort to say hi to others, offer a smile and a good morning--or any gesture that helps you make a personal connection
* Reach out to those who live near and around you by getting involved in your building or community affairs/governance
* Make offline, in person time for old friends
* Look into volunteering--it's a great way to be useful, engaged and meet compatible people

Loneliness is a growing problem in our world, which is interesting given that it's a growing world. There is no shortage of people, just a dearth of real human interaction and connection. Consider unplugging a few times a week and suggesting this to friends. Perhaps you could organize get-togethers where phones are left at home and people bring only a smile and a willing attitude to meet, interact, and make real connections with others. At first it might feel like a scene from the Day of the Dead--but with some effort it could be like childhood all over again. Remember what that was like--talking, laughing, playing and having a great time doing nothing together?

Want to read other articles on this subject?

"Handling difficult disclosure in dating"
List of more "Problems with communication" articles

This is the last "Problems with communication" article.


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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