If you haven’t read or heard the blog “Embodied experience and objective reality” yet, please do so first. The following will make little sense otherwise.
The days are getting shorter and darker while I'm writing this. The weather has been shit for days, with storm warnings alternating with rain and cold. Sometimes they don’t even alternate. Everyone tries to stay inside as much as possible, and I can’t blame them.
This simple fact also means that this is the time of isolation. People don’t just stay inside but also more often choose not to go out and be social. (Especially with the holidays in front of us where we all need to be social, but that’s a topic for later)
Loneliness is an uncommon subject to talk about, but in these times one of the most important when we want to take our primal being into account. Humans need social contact, we are very social beings and without a society we would crumble. At the same time, we see more and more people struggling with that feeling of loneliness.
The strangest thing about loneliness has to be that in objective reality it doesn’t really exist. Don’t get me wrong (before you run away) loneliness is definitely real, but objectively not quantifiable. When we need to “decide” when someone is lonely we can’t name the number of people someone needs as a minimum. Is one interaction a day enough? One person? Three, ten? A hundred?
While some people thrive on a lesser amount of interactions per day, some need more. The introvert/extrovert scale we all know. At the same time, the feeling of loneliness can show up surrounded by a hundred people, whereas others feel no loneliness even if encountering no one for weeks.
The only way we can “know” when someone is lonely is by “feeling” it. There are a lot of effects on the body when you feel lonely, your immune system changes for example. That we can measure, but it only gives us an insight into the effects, not the cause.
It is highly important not to gloss over those effects. Babies can die when ignored for too long, loneliness increases the chances of many cancers and let’s not get into the indirect consequences of loneliness such as problems with mental health and alcohol.
All this makes it very much a real thing. If you read or listened to the 104 this is exactly what was meant with realities not always matching.
The feeling of loneliness is unfortunately exactly that, a feeling. And as such a very important truth in our personal embodied experience. A truth we don’t like to shine a light on. Because we all know what it feels like to be lonely. We recognise it in others and feel sorry for those that feel it.
So what lessons can we draw from that simple recognition?
You can’t think away loneliness. The reason we write about loneliness is to emphasize the need to accept the voice of the primal being here. The feeling is true for you, no matter how hard you fight it, think about it or try to downplay it. There is no intellectual way to think yourself out of loneliness. An embodied experience can only be fought by embodying the solution.
Quality over quantity matters. We can’t name a number of random interactions with people to fight loneliness, because those numbers and contacts really don’t matter. Only a single truly meaningful interaction can drive away the feeling of loneliness for days or weeks. This makes it highly important for interactions to be meaningful, if they aren’t these moments may actually intensify the feeling of loneliness. An empty conversation at a bar may do more harm than actually being alone.
Lonely people stay away from others. Nothing hurts more than trying to find a connection and failing miserably or worse getting pity. It may sound counterintuitive but the truth is that lonely people often keep themselves more isolated, to prevent the feeling from worsening. Starting a negative spiral.
All of this is not to say there are no solutions. But it is important to realize these major three pitfalls before starting to fight loneliness, either for yourself or by helping someone else out. Here are our six best tips to put the above into practice and change the outcome.
Be honest and open: A real meaningful connection can not be made if you are closed off. The danger of “rejection” is real. But staying lonely to be “safe” is also a useless argument. The danger of rejection is easily outweighed by the long-term dangers loneliness brings.
At the same time, it’s important to also be honest with yourself. What are you really looking for in a connection? If you’re looking for a connection over games a dance club might not be the best place to start.
Become comfortable in silence: Many people use connections to drown out the discomfort they feel when they are left alone with their own thoughts. When loneliness is a lack of meaningful connections, maybe make one with someone who is always there for you, at least as a start. Being your own best friend and being comfortable with your own presence really helps fight off a lot of the loneliness.
Don’t compare: You can’t often see how meaningful a connection is from the outside. People who connect with a thousand people can still feel lonely, and a lot of famous people do exactly feel lonely because there is no connection in these interactions. When only one true connection can make all the difference, looking at others having hundreds of interactions is comparing apples to oranges. So, simply don’t, you never know what single connection can make the difference today. (It might be a dog on the metro)
Move and get out(side): Making a meaningful connection isn’t always limited to speaking. When loneliness is embodied, the solution also should be. Moving together can be just as effective, or running errands together or sometimes just sitting around. Oftentimes simply being in the presence of someone or something can be enough to break that feeling of loneliness.
And that someone or something doesn't even have to be human. Nature always has a way of creeping up on you when you least expect it. Dogs and cats can be great company and the most connected to life I’ve felt in a long time was alone on a mountain watching the wild waters pass by. (Quick side note: Never adopt any animal just to fill a void. They are living beings and deserve respect.)
Make new connections: When the current objective reality doesn’t fit anymore, why not change it? If you have no one around to make a meaningful connection with, why not find someone? Through hobbies you are passionate about you can often meet people with the same passion. Don’t have a hobby yet? Get one.
Take care of yourself: If everything else fails at least take this one tip. When you feel better, either by moving, sleeping, showering or eating better, you can take on more of the challenges this world has to offer. Fight loneliness one step at a time. First, make sure you feel good enough to get out into the world again. It might not be today or tomorrow, but the time will come when you feel better in your own skin again. When all else feels too far away, start with getting there.
And if that doesn’t work? Consider therapy, there is no shame in getting help when you need it.