With the number of people reporting feeling lonely having doubled in the last 30 years, it’s now being called a “loneliness pandemic”. In America a huge 40% of people now label themselves as coping with loneliness. In the UK, the charity Big Lottery Fund and local councils are now offering funding to help those feeling lonely and isolated, especially the elderly.
Of course there is nothing wrong with being alone. The introverts amongst us of us are predisposed to enjoy their own company over being in a crowd, and this is perfectly healthy.
Feeling lonely is different, and not about about whether you are with other people or by yourself at all. It’s about how connected to others you want to be versus how much you actually are. That’s why you can feel lonely with a partner or in a crowd.
It’s a myth to think that having many friends means you aren’t lonely. Loneliness is less about quantity and more about a lack of quality interaction, of the sort that leaves us feeling connected, valued and able to value.
And loneliness is a serious psychological condition. Overcoming loneliness is important because left unchecked it can lead to anxiety, addictions like alcoholism, and poor sleep patterns. A study at the University of Chicago, looking at how loneliness affects the immune system, found it also increased risk of cancer and stroke.
Not that loneliness is all bad. Sometimes exploring our own need for others can lead to a deeper understanding of what our life means to us. At the very least it helps us be grateful for and respect the relationships we do have. So dealing with loneliness now and then can be healthy.
But if you are still feeling lonely no matter how many wonderful people you connect with, it could be you are overlooking the real reason for your inability to feel connected.
7 Surprising Reasons Why You Can’t Stop Feeling Lonely
1. You are afraid of intimacy. Sometimes the most seemingly outgoing person is the one who is hiding a deep fear of rejection and keeps others from getting too close. To connect with others and stop feeling lonely you need to take the risk of allowing people to see who you truly are, and be brave enough to seek out the relationships you really want, even if sometimes it doesn’t work out. If you suspect you are holding back from real connections, you might want to read about the signs that you fear intimacy.
2. You are stuck in the past. Sometimes you can have a lingering sense of being alone you don’t understand because it’s actually a hangover from your past. Perhaps you were an only child, shy, or ostracised at school, and even though you are now an outgoing adult you are holding on to that sense of feeling lonely you once had. Or perhaps it’s a past hurt that is stopping you from developing the connections you now need to feel good. If this sounds a possibility, talk therapy would be a good fit for you, creating a safe environment to identify and work through the old beliefs and emotions that no longer suit you.
3. You are struggling with codependency. Codependency involves using others for your sense of self worth. But it’s asking too much of someone else to put the weight of your happiness around their neck. Inevitably rejection will come, you will feel misunderstood, and that leads straight to feeling lonely. A codependent also tends to put their own life aside in order to do what their partner wants, which can mean you are hanging out with your partner’s friends who might not be people you have enough in common with to feel connected to.
Worried you are codependent? Read more about codependency here.
4. You don’t know yourself well enough. If you have never taken the time to truly learn what makes you happy and inspired, you’ll end up like a leaf in a stream, at the whims of other people’s ideas of what you should be doing and who you should be hanging out with. You might be in a career that doesn’t suit you, surrounded by people that you can’t connect with because on a deeper level they don’t match you.
If this sounds like you, and you have an active successful life but are still feeling lonely, it might be time to do some self development work. Think about reading some self-help books, talking to a coach, or trying a talk therapy like person-centred counselling or psychodynamic psychotherapy.
5. You aren’t acknowledging how much you have changed. Life is a journey, and we are all on our own unique path. What this means is that you can’t ensure that everyone you know and once loved will always be on converging pathways. Sometimes we just outgrow relationships, and holding on to friendships that are no longer in line with who are leaves us misunderstood and feeling lonely. Let go of outdated relationships with love and create room to meet the people who understand who you are today.
6. You are secretly attached to the idea that you are a lonely sort. If you choose to keep something in your life it is inevitably because in some way you are benefitting from it. Identifying those benefits allows you to choose to let them go. If you can’t stop feeling lonely no matter how you try to change your life, it could be that you are attached to the way it makes you feels special and untouchable, or like you are ‘too complicated’ for others to understand, i.e., smarter than them! Spend time making a list of all the benefits feeling loved and accepted can bring you instead.
7. You are actually just suffering from depression. Depression makes the best of us feel flawed and useless.
It’s impossible to connect with others if you are feeling that you aren’t worthwhile, so loneliness and depression are interlinked. If you can’t shake your feelings of being totally alone in the world, and also constantly feel lethargic and uninspired, consider these signs that you might be depressed.
Can Therapy Help Loneliness?
Absolutely. As the above list clearly demonstrates, feeling lonely is often connected to needing a clearer idea of who we are and what we truly want from other people, then having enough self-esteem to seek that out.
A psychotherapist or counsellor can help you with dealing with loneliness as they’ll guide you to get clear on your identity and strengths as well as help you let go of any past issues that are encouraging you to shy away from connecting with others.
If you found this article useful, do share it! Harley Therapy is on a mission to make emotional health something we can all talk about, so every share counts. Do you suffer from feeling lonely? Would you like to share your thoughts on loneliness? Have a personal experience you want to tell? Then comment below. We love hearing from you.