Loneliness sucks. Loneliness is real (see ** at the end). Loneliness is a signal that you are alive and living vulnerably (which has times of suck).
Loneliness will push you to relationship. Not that idealized romantic relationship which you think will cure your loneliness but relationships with people who see you.
Loneliness is not aloneness. Loneliness is the subjective feeling that you lack meaningful relationships or a solid support system. Hence why loneliness should push you into relationships with people who love you.
Our problem may be who we want these relationships with. Too often we idealize this healing relationship to be a romantic relationship. Even if you are married.
A romantic relationship can never be my savior of my loneliness and sadness.
Then there are the idealized friendships I want. I think that this “friend group” would help me with my life. So I contort myself and perfect myself to try to fit in. Meanwhile no one really knows me. With your carefully created mask you get this painful truth: only your mask receives love.
It’s hard to feel alone in your pain. It’s even harder to feel unknown in your pain.
“Real relief from loneliness requires the cooperation of at least one other person, and yet the more chronic our loneliness becomes, the less equipped we may be to entice such cooperation.”John T. Cacioppo, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection
John T. Cacioppo did some amazing scientific research into loneliness. (Doesn’t the book title sound like a science read? It is.) There are some wow thoughts here to help us understand the truth of loneliness and how loneliness actually sabotages our connections to others. Isn’t that ironic?
The purpose of loneliness is like the purpose of hunger. Hunger takes care of your physical body. Loneliness takes care of your social body, which you also need to survive and prosper. We’re a social species.John T. Cacioppo, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection
There are seasons of loneliness and then there are times when loneliness is prolonged. It is during those prolonged times that the brain changes to self-preservation. The brain becomes hypervigilant to social threats so I start seeing threats everywhere—whether consciously or unconsciously. I become like the animal on the edge of the herd. I feel vulnerable believing the possibility that everyone is going to hurt me.
This is so exhausting. This is why it becomes easier for me to not try with people anymore and to stay “safe” in my loneliness. (A lie.) The exhaustion comes because these threats wreak havoc on the body by putting the nervous system on constant alert. This exhaustion from the lie I am feeding the body is that “every” new situation is a threat. This then leads to a learned passivity.
This is stuckness. This is you, as the friend, reaching your hand down into the hole I am deep in and being refused.
The lies of loneliness are only ramping up.
I might start telling myself that I am lonely because I have poor social skills. That I am too introverted. Or too extroverted. But the truth is when I experience prolonged loneliness I focus more and more on myself. My brain is more and more stuck in self-preservation mode.
Which means my brain starts misreading people, scientifically proven. I read into people’s eyes looking at me. I read into people’s posture towards me. I overanalyze every word of those texts. I judge people very quickly.
Which means I start dealing with you more cautiously, more defensively, maybe viewing you as a potential threat because you might also leave me and add to my pain. This certainly leads to negative things happening in our relationship. I may say something insensitive. I may not return your text. You are left wondering what happened to our solid friendship.
Then over time we are no longer friends. You were at a loss as to what to do. I walked away to protect myself telling myself some made-up story that you had changed or some lie of betrayal.
Blaming you, I will become even lonelier. Oh the downward spiral.
You know this to be true, right? You’ve either been here or had a friend become this stuck.
While loneliness is lying to you, you also make those justified decisions which you think are keeping you out of loneliness. Staying with that bad match of a dating relationship. Agreeing to that hook up. Agreeing to those “friends with benefits” rules. Justifying the mask that is feeling heavier and heavier to put on. The nights out of drinking too much The nights at home of drinking too much.
Now you have regrets and shame mixing with this downward spiral of loneliness.
I feel so alone. Shame survives by convincing me I am alone.
Whether my pain was caused by my bad decision or whether something tragic happened to me, shame is loud in my head.
All of God’s promises that I know do not quiet this shame. Shame feels comforting when I feel so helpless. Because it is easier to feel shame than it is to feel helpless.
Shame is something I think I have control over.
Except shame lies.
If I leave shame unchecked, shame will make every decision for my life. P. 16, I Wish I Could Take Away Your Pain (Order information is below.)
This is a direct quote from my book. The book I wrote to help you enter into your friend’s pain and carry him/her well. There is a lot of “the real” of what to do in the book.
More science. You can’t “cure” loneliness by being surrounded by supportive people. Going to church every Sunday or small group does not cure loneliness. It is easier for the lonely person to go to church with the mask on and to not be seen. Even though the church family is not a threat, despite what the brain is interpreting. The hypervigilant brain will choose the mask. Have you ever been to church and have felt lonely? Enough said, right?
Getting out of loneliness takes reciprocity, not one-directional relationships. (Remember those relationships you justified?) You need to be in a vulnerable relationship with somebody. (Do read.)
When people I connect with can turn with kindness and compassion toward my difficult emotions, and I can do the same for them, our connection is strengthened like nothing else.
This is even better than having this trust with a marriage partner. This is a supposed-to in your life—whether you are married now or not. But to have this trust with someone who is not legally tied to you is such a gift.
Let a hero see you. These are people I have identified as being cheerleaders of me but who also dare to ask me hard questions. People whom I know are not afraid of my pain. The beautiful gift of trust has been established. And I in turn, do the same for them.
So loneliness cannot lie to me and keep my world small.
**Loneliness hurts, like for real. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows us that the emotional region of the brain that is activated when we experience rejection is, in fact, the same region—the dorsal anterior cingulate—that registers emotional responses to physical pain. –John T. Cacioppo, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection Amazingly true science.