Sydney Hills Counselling Blog

Being Alone vs. Being Lonely

Many people have difficulty with the idea of being alone; as a matter of fact, some may even rebound from relationship to relationship just to avoid it. Loneliness is an experience where we feel social disconnection; this perhaps having come about by us having experienced a loss or a major life transition. As humans, we are biologically programmed to be social beings and for this reason, most of us feel the need to be close to others. We seek meaningful relationships and social contact and when our need for connection isn’t met, we may find ourselves feeling lonely and isolated.

The mere thought of one day being all alone, is a common and relatable fear, given the importance of our need for social connection. Even the most introverted people, generally seem to want to have at least one person in their lives that they feel close to or someone they can turn to for support. Research on social inclusion indicates that disconnection and alienation from others, is closely linked to a person feeling disconnected from others and is regarded as a significant contributing factor in an individual deciding to commit suicide.

So, what is it about being alone that we find most distressing? For some of us, it may be the thought that we may somehow perceived as being flawed or unlovable if we are alone; we may even have come to harbour this belief ourselves, which can make it even harder to bear. For others, it may be the fear that if we are alone, we won’t have any kind of safety net or support if we experience difficult and impactful life circumstances or hardship.

For some of us, having time alone can feel relaxing and rejuvenating rather than isolating. The difference between being alone and feeling lonely is all about the story we tell ourselves. If we view ourselves as ‘less than’ others; if we feel we may be rejected or if we’ve been previously rejected by others, we will naturally feel worse than those people who see being alone as a choice rather than something which has been inflicted on them.

Spending time alone can also allow us to reflect and to develop a better relationship with ourselves. Choosing to be alone is considerably different to the state of being fearful of being alone, which is often associated with loneliness. Choosing to be alone without being fearful, acknowledges that we aren’t alone because we have shortcomings or personal flaws. Rather, it can be that we’ve made a personal choice which allows us the freedom to use our alone time in other fulfilling and pleasant ways.

There are many ways to be alone that don’t encourage loneliness: taking up a personal project, focusing on working on ourselves to better our lives or circumstances, taking up a hobby or new interest, learning a new language or taking an adventure holiday by ourselves are all good examples. Exercise is also a great way to spend some alone, as this may improve our mood and may also relieve the feelings of anxiety and / or depression which may accompany loneliness.

Being alone constantly can be challenging for even the most independent or introverted of us, so at times it may be better to get out of the house and try something new. Just getting out and being around other people, going to a café or perhaps a park may give us a small dose of socialisation that will make us feel connection with other people.

Loneliness isn’t just something that is only experienced later in life; it can happen to any of us at any stage in our lives and none of us are immune. Things that can make us vulnerable to loneliness include: retrenchment, retirement, sickness, disability, a marriage or relationship ending, depression, cognitive decline, moving into a care facility, becoming a carer, moving to a new country, state or region, giving up driving and the list goes on.

So, if we’re feeling lonely; not enjoying the alone time that others seem more comfortable with, how can we overcome this?

Here are some suggestions:

Be open to new experiences: Trying something new can be a good way to overcome loneliness. Taking a course in learning something new or joining an activity group are a few ways to notch up some new experiences. Keep an eye out for events you’d like to go to or people you’d like to get to know better. Make an effort to explore those new activities and friendships. If you’ve always wanted to take up hiking or fishing, join a group that does this on a regular basis.

Connect with others in your life: It would be great if other people in our lives could read our minds and intuitively ‘know’ when we needed to connect with them. It would be great to have current or old friends text or message us out of the blue, just to see how we are or to say hello. It’s helpful to understand however, that it’s often not so easy for others to think of doing that while they’re busy living their own lives. Taking charge and letting our friends know that we’d like to chat or get together, rather than waiting for our own phone to beep or ring, will often make us feel better and it can often make the other person feel good too. A little word of caution here: If when connecting with old friends, the conversation becomes awkward, there’s no need to feel embarrassed. It’s best to just laugh it off. Just know that if you had the courage to reach out to an old friend and it didn’t go as well as you’d hoped it would, it’s OK to put it down to experience and move forward.

Pay it forward or volunteer: Feeling lonely can sometimes come from a lack of belonging or purpose. Doing kind things for others can make us feel good and appreciated. Volunteering is a simple way to broaden our social circle and become involved in the community. Many great friendships have been made by volunteering and reaching out to others.

Become more socially connected: Reach out to friends and colleagues to see what’s happening or new in their lives. Listen to how they spend their weekends and holidays. Connect with someone whose company you miss or whom you haven’t seen for a long time. Connect with old contacts in other cities or countries and perhaps even take a short trip to reconnect with them. Take up a sport, hobby or interest where you can meet others who share your interest.

Connect with you: Spending time alone has numerous positive benefits, and we can learn to feel comfortable in our own company. We don’t need to be with other people all the time to enjoy life. Just noticing our feelings when we’re spending time alone or when we’re in a new or unfamiliar environment can be insightful. Spending some time alone can also make us appreciate the little things we may have taken for granted about our lives. It may also change the way we think about being lonely.

If our self-worth and happiness is reliant on external factors, such as having lots of friends, having a romantic partner or wonderful family relationships, it may result in us having a low self-esteem if these things fail to ‘measure up’ in reality. If we can recognise our own strengths and interests, it’s much easier to cope with being on our own. No one understands us better than ourselves. Being a great friend to ourselves is the foundation for being a great friend to others.

We can all feel alone and lonely, and at times not even the best friendships and relationships can prevent that. It can be difficult for other people in our lives to always be there for us and to always relate to our unique personal experiences and situations. At times, loneliness can become a major crisis, leading to (sometimes severe) anxiety and depression, and it then becomes necessary that we learn how best to cope with it.

If you find yourself in a personal crisis due to loneliness, reach out to us by calling or texting 0491 079 753 for a confidential chat. You can also contact us via email here.