You can be in a room full of people and still feel incredibly lonely. No one really sees you, hears what you’re trying to say, or understands what you’re going through. When you feel this way, what can you do?
People often think that loneliness and being alone are the same thing. But that’s not necessarily true. You can be on your own and have a great time, curled up on the couch with a good book, playing the piano or taking yourself on an artist date. If you’re introverted, you probably even need alone time to recharge.
That’s why loneliness isn’t so much a state of solitude as it is about feeling alone, while you crave human connection. That emptiness can be caused by having a limited social network, with little (close) family and friends to talk to and spend time with. But there’s a second kind of loneliness that’s often overlooked: emotional loneliness.
Emotional loneliness refers to the lack of deep, nurturing relationships with people. If that’s feeling when you really want to talk to someone, but there’s nobody you can call in the middle of the night. You may also experience emotional loneliness when you lose someone you love or go through a divorce.
The problem is, when you’re chronically ill, you’re at risk of both kinds of loneliness. If you spend a lot of time sick in bed or resting at home, you can become socially isolated or have friendships fall apart. I’ve written before about how you can strengthen your support system and make new friends with chronic illness. But even if you do have close relationships, it may still feel like your life is so different now, that nobody really understands your pain, worries and rollercoaster of emotions.
How do you deal with that hollow, aching feeling inside? I don’t have all the answers, but here are some ideas to deal with emotional loneliness.
Emotional Loneliness: What to Do When Nobody Understand You
1. Learn how to communicate clearly & constructively
If you have caring friends and family in your life, have you given them a chance to really grasp your situation? Maybe you’ve only been hinting about your problems, but so subtly that your loved ones didn’t pick it up. Or perhaps you’ve mistaken venting for sharing your problems.
To stop feeling so lonely, work out ways you can share your struggles in a clear and constructive manner. Putting your bottled up feelings into words can reduce the intensity of your sadness, anger and frustration over time – but only if you do it ‘right’. Of course there’s no one way to talk bout hard things, but here are some pointers:
Pick a person you trust and who’s willing to listen. Choose a timing and setting where there’s room for heart-to-heart conversations. Start by saying you want to share something you’re struggling with. Sometimes it helps to be clear upfront of what you need: “Don’t worry, you don’t have to come up with solutions for me, it would just be such a relief to get this off my chest. Would you lend a listening ear?” That way, expectations are clear, and you don’t get interrupted with well-meaning advice but still don’t feel heard.
When you can’t find the right words to say, maybe you can find a book or movie who does the explaining for you? Or perhaps you could get educated about your problem together?
Just remember one thing: if your conversation doesn’t turn out as you’d hoped, don’t get discouraged or rejected. Sometimes things take time to sink in. What’s more, it’s just one person, not the entire world. There’s always someone who cares and gets it. Which bring me to my next point…
2. Find people who do understand what you’re going through
Got nobody to turn to? It may feel like you’re all alone, no one who could possible understand the pain you’re going through. But somewhere in the world, there are others who are struggling with their chronic illness, mental health, sexual orientation or beliefs just like you.
Support groups and online communities can be a great way to get started. For example, The Mighty is a supportive community for people facing health challenges, while PatientsLikeMe helps members to get answers, take charge of their health and heal together. You can find a starter list of patient communities here, but don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about local, in-person initiatives for your condition.
Although talking about your problems proves to be helpful, it’s tempting to keep focusing on the problem you have in common. But narrowing down on the negatives only causes more distress. So don’t identify too much with ‘labels‘ – you are more than your problems.
And as always, be mindful about who you share personal and confidential details with, especially online.
3. Express yourself in a different way
So you have a hard time explaining how you feel in conversations. That doesn’t have to stop you from expressing your emotions. Writing, for example, gives you time to gather and compose your thoughts, whereas painting and making collages helps you articulate feelings you can’t put into words. You could also make a playlist that reflects what you’re going through and process your sadness through songs.
Creatively expressing yourself through journaling, drawing, singing or intuitive dancing can provide some much-needed emotional release. And who knows, maybe reading your words or seeing your drawings helps others to get an idea of what you’re going through too.
When you’re struggling with emotional loneliness, you can always turn to books, movies and music. Some of the most beautiful works of art have come from heartache and suffering, showing you you are not alone.
4. Mind your self-talk
Emotional loneliness gives you an empty feeling inside, that weighs you down. And being socially excluded hurts – literally. It’s no wonder that lasting loneliness puts you at risk for depression. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your internal dialogue.
Because if in your mind, you keep going over all the times that people have let you down or how lonely you are, that will only make you feel worse. You don’t have to ignore your sadness, but watch out for creating automatic negative thinking patterns.
Don’t overgeneralize. When one person makes insensitive remarks, that doesn’t mean that nobody understands you. Also don’t take everything personally. Most of the time, peoples choices have little to do with you and more with (a lack of) time, money and energy. Finally, don’t compare your life to others. What you see on Instagram is a highlight reel, not the full picture. If you’re prone to social media envy, do yourself a favor and stop watching those carefully curated snapshots.
Instead of engaging in negative self-talk, try to keep your mind positively distracted during lonely moments. Do crossword puzzles, create a mood board or bake a cake – whatever entertains you!
5. Reach out
Don’t give up connecting with people because no one seems to truly understand your situation. The more you retreat, the less included you will feel, and the harder it will be to find someone who you can confide in.
Of course you don’t want hurtful or one-way street relationships. But if you’re blessed with relatives, old friends or former colleagues who try to stay in touch, even if it’s not on the level you’d like, don’t turn them down. Keep reaching out to the kind people in your life in big or small ways.
When it comes to reaching out, also considering talking to a doctor, therapist or social worker about your emotional loneliness. They are there to help. Please be aware of the warning signs of depression.
And even though it doesn’t always feel that way, remember: You are not alone.
‘The irony of loneliness is we all feel it at the same time – together.’ – Rupi Kaur
Do you struggle with emotional loneliness? What helps you to cope with the heartache?
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