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Overcoming Loneliness

Three steps to easing pain and reconnecting with the world

Loneliness can take root deeply within you. Maybe your daily routine is punctuated by this pain emanating from an emptiness in your chest. If so, you know that you are in trouble. It is a symptom of your severed connection from humanity. But while it can instill a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness, it can also be soothed.

The healing agents for loneliness are awareness, acceptance, and compassion. Here’s how it works:

Awareness. Choose to bring your awareness to your experience. Pay attention to how your body feels—the hollowness in your chest, the constriction in your throat, the heaviness of your body. If you feel the sadness well up within you, allow yourself to cry without restraint.

Acceptance. Many people instinctively try to run from loneliness. Sometimes they try to hide from it by numbing themselves. They might sleep, watch TV, or play video games. Or, they might try to distract themselves with chores and activities. They keep busy and superficially engaged in life. But none of this really works—at least not for the long haul. The aching emptiness breaks through numbed bodies and mindless activity.

Sometimes, people try to get rid of the pain by blaming themselves for it. They criticize themselves for being unworthy of others. They see all their flaws or mistakes and demean themselves for them. Frequently, their unconscious hope is that if they could identify what’s wrong with themselves and fix it, then they can make the pain go away. Or, if they can’t make it go away, they can at least make sense of it. But they only feel worse for their efforts.

Instead, choose to stay with the feeling. Acknowledge your loneliness and choose to continue being aware of it.

Compassion. Practice reminding yourself that others feel lonely, too. It is part of the human experience that most people share at some time or other. And just as you would show compassion for anyone else who suffers from being lonely, you also deserve this caring response. So, choose to see yourself with perspective—as you would see someone else—and tell yourself that it is sad that you feel so alone.

If you have supportive others in your life, reach out to them. Take a deep breath, pick up the phone to text or call, and ask for support in whatever form you need it. Allowing yourself to truly connect with others will help you feel emotionally stronger and less alone.

Strange as it might seem, there are benefits to loneliness, so you don’t necessarily want to be totally without it. By feeling lonely, you are able to understand and have compassion for others who feel similarly. Your loneliness can also be a crucial signal that your relationships are not as emotionally close, supportive, or engaging as you really want them to be. So it offers you a chance to identify this problem and make efforts to fix it.

As you consider these ideas, keep this in mind: The person who you are right now is in pain, a very human kind of pain in which you feel different from all other people and yearn to feel connected. Just as it would be sad to see others struggle with this, it is sad that you feel this way. And just as you would naturally feel compassion for their pain, you deserve the same compassion. So accept and feel your loneliness. Then offer yourself compassion. Doing this will help to ease your pain, open you up to experiencing a sense of feeling connected, and help you to take the necessary steps to reach out to others.

Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.

Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.

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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

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