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Sometimes I get this sinking feeling.
It's a really disturbing kind of feeling.
And, for many years, it was the source of massive anxiety and seriously affected my mental health.
It was the feeling that I was totally alone. And would end up alone. Forever.
Can you relate to that, even a little bit?
In this article, you'll learn different reasons why you might be feeling alone and questions you can ask to move out of the loneliness-alone spectrum.
It is only through a deep understanding of a situation that useful, corrective action can emerge from the darkness.
What's at the Heart of Feeling Alone?
Let's start at the most basic level.
You might feel alone because you are, in fact, alone.
In other words, there is literally no one around you. You're physically by yourself.
This is a good place to start, but it's very surface level.
What you see around you is only part of your reality.
The physical shapes and surfaces that float in and out of your periphery are the "known knowns," if you will. They're obvious.
But I've found that I can be in front of a group of people, so clearly this is not the end of the search.
There's more to feeling alone than social isolation.
What are the "known unknowns" and the "unknown unknowns?"
Being curious about what you're feeling will help you start to battle loneliness.
More Than a Sense of Isolation (The Meaning Behind a Feeling of Loneliness)
There's something about the word "meaning"--a word I write about all the time and which forms the basis of my mission with The Mental Health Update--that is at the center of feelings of loneliness.
What is meaning?
What does it MEAN to create meaning in life?
To start, meaning is unique to each of us. What you find meaningful is not necessarily going to be what I find meaningful.
To you, meaningful connections might be with your family and friends, and I might, well, be obsessed with my cats. (I am, but I also love my family, by the way.)
Another great source of meaning for most people is being with a significant other in an intimate relationship, otherwise known as the Great Romantic Relationship.
Sharing your hopes, dreams, and doubts with someone you love can absolutely be a meaningful experience.
But it still doesn't describe what meaning actually is.
I would argue that meaning is about connectedness.
It's a connection to something greater, whether that's a higher power, a community activity, or a relationship with another person.
Here are some other descriptive signs of meaning for me:
1. An emotional connection
2. A social connection
3. Taking part in something on a regular basis in order to gain familiarity and skill
I've found that my greatest loneliness stemmed from not having meaning in my life.
When I didn't have meaning, I could be in a room full of people and still feel completely lost.
I discovered that feeling alone had less to do with social isolation and more to do with something going on deep inside of me.
It's what drove me to write and share what I've learned years ago to stave off my long-term loneliness stemming from lack of meaning.
Even the weirdest emotions and experiences become familiar when shared with others online.
I never thought that would be the case, but talking about my experiences made me realize just how common they are.
And I know now that I don't actually need that much human contact. I can create meaning by being creative and sharing my creations with others.
Now, I'm very fortunate because I have a wonderful relationship with my wife of five years. That is a huge source of strength and stability for me. Without that, I might need more social time with others.
Life is always in flux, and you'll need to do the work I've done to figure out what's meaningful to you--and what you need to feel confident and whole.
In Conclusion - How Do You Navigate the Loneliness vs. Being Alone Spectrum?
Any mental health article worth its weight should make you think.
Beyond that, it should drive you to take action.
Now that you understand the deeper source of feeling alone, it's time to plumb your emotions, consider your friends, family, and other relationships, and figure out what feeling alone means to you as an individual.
Questions to Ask Yourself About Loneliness
Do I agree with the alone vs. loneliness distinction?
Do I think they're different? Why or why not?
Is there a certain type of loneliness that most affects me?
Is there a cycle of loneliness impacting me?
What does feeling alone mean to me?
What other questions could I ask myself based on what I just learned?
Knowing more about your feelings of loneliness / alone feelings will help you understand when you're in a situation that is in need of corrective action.
If, after asking yourself these questions, you determine that you are feeling alone and in need of support, it's time to do something different.
You can't do the same things, stay in the same kinds of situations, and expect that your mental health and physical health will drastically change for the better.
You can't do what you've always done and expect different results.
After you've assessed your loneliness / alone state, be a person who chooses one, concrete action to try.
- That might mean starting with research mode and checking out a book from the library that can help you understand how you feel.
- Or it might mean joining a group of people who seem to share your interests.
- Going in the complete opposite direction, it might mean taking the weekend for yourself so that you can have space to reflect and write about what's most important to you.
There's no one right way to do this.
Your mind is a complex thing, and it can take a while to figure out what's making you tick.
But, trust me, you will find it if you just move forward.
There's no such thing as lonely people, only people who are stuck in a passing feeling of being alone.
We determine what we learn from our feelings.
Negative feelings can become great teaching tools if we look at them in the right light.
In this very search for understanding, you're not alone.
We're all on the same path.