Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
I often talk to my clients about how lonely they are. I see that many of our members feel the same way. and this makes me think about all the different ways to feel lonely.
Feeling lonely? And if so, what kind of lonely are you? And how is it affecting you?
You can be lonely because you spend a lot of time alone, or because you have people in your life, but few if any people who you can sit down with and have a conversation. On the other hand, you can have tons of “friends” that keep your social calendar packed, but nobody that you would feel comfortable sitting down with and talking about what’s really going on with you. You can be in a committed relationship but still not feel emotionally connected with your partner.
Being lonely can have an impact on your wellness, physical, mental, and emotional. Loneliness may be a factor in developing certain conditions like cardiovascular disease. It may have a negative impact on your ability to think clearly and make decisions. Loneliness may affect your ability to deal with stressful events.
And another question: What would make your loneliness go away?
I hear lots of “if only” in conversations about loneliness: If only I found someone to be in love with, my loneliness would disappear. If I had a good friend who is available when I need him/her. Or if my family members were more understanding and supportive.
Sure, any of these solutions could help you feel less lonely. But think about this: If you decide there is only one solution to your loneliness, then you might be missing out on other ways to be connected with people in a meaningful way, and you might find yourself feeling pretty disappointed. And you might also consider: Bringing more people into your life starts with you!
Here’s how to get started:
Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. You might have a very specific image in your mind about what your life would look like if you weren’t lonely, but is that the only way? Keep in mind that you may meet people who are fun to do things with but aren’t good at conversation, or others who can sit and talk for hours but don’t share other interests with you. Appreciate people for who they are.
Broaden your perspective. Is it possible that you may be overlooking someone who might enjoy spending some time with you, and would appreciate having you in their life? Consider doing an inventory of your social contacts with an eye toward people you might consider reaching out to. Anybody you know who could use a friend?
Be a joiner. Consider where the likely candidates are hanging out. A spiritual or religious meeting place? Classes? A support group? Volunteering? You might want to do some Internet searching on the things that interest you and the name of your town. Find a meeting and then give yourself a push to take the first step to make a connection.
Ask yourself: How can I be a friend? As the saying goes, the way to make a friend is to be a friend. So when you meet people, be careful about making the conversation all about getting your needs met, be a listener, ask questions, offer support, and stay positive! After all, we’re all looking for the same thing in the people we form relationships with.
Be patient. Relationships don’t develop overnight; they take time. Try not to assume that someone can’t be a good friend if you don’t feel a connection right away.
Get out by yourself. Don’t use not having someone to do things with as an excuse to stay home alone. Walk around at a shopping mall. Take a book and sit in a coffee shop. Go to a movie. Being around people can help you to feel less lonely, and who knows, you might strike up a conversation with someone.
Don’t get discouraged. Some people are going to be more open to getting to know you than others are. It’s about chemistry, and that’s hard to predict. When someone doesn’t seem all that open to connecting with you, try not to take it personally and get discouraged. Bringing people into your life is a process. Keep at it. Give it time.
And don’t forget: You’re already among friends. You are a member of an incredible community of supportive people right here! So stay connected with us. You are not alone!
There are a lot of great people who are looking for friends, too. But they’re probably not going to knock on your door if they don’t know you’re interested in getting to know them. Make it a project to get connected!