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Why We Might Feel Lonely and What to Do About It

Lonely Woman

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” ~Dorothy Day

Throughout my life it’s been really hard to admit when I've felt lonely.

I’ve been through intense periods where I have been without others.

I’ve been surrounded by people yet have felt no real connections.

The people I have loved have been physically or emotionally absent.

I’ve simply been alone over weekends, over weeks, over months, over years, and it has been grueling and horrible.

I found I had to monitor how much I shared with friends and family about how terribly lonely I felt, and that many resisted hearing it.

I have been through periods when I’ve been successful and periods where my life has fallen into devastation; loneliness has been a part of both.

In our society to admit loneliness seems like a big admission of failure. It’s uncomfortable to hear. The subtext is that our loneliness is a result of our inability to make connections. It’s all our fault.

I don’t know about that. I think it’s time that we understood that we are not alone in our loneliness, and it has more to do with the society we live in than anything else.

Experts are now saying that loneliness is becoming an epidemic, particularly in western societies.

Governments are just starting to see loneliness as an issue that has serious repercussions on our health and well-being. It’s become obvious to the structures that govern and to those that study us that loneliness is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Where Did This Epidemic Come From?

The fact is that humans aren’t used to being so alone. We’ve had literally hundreds of thousands of years of programming for living in groups.

Groups were important in keeping us alive. Our children were reared by the group. Meal times were a group affair. Groups were crucial in protecting us from predators and finding food.

Groups played a part in helping us to advance as a species over our distant cousins, the chimpanzees. We were really good at hanging out, chewing the fat, having some intergroup fighting, and making up with group hugs.

About 250 years ago the industrial revolution changed all that. Machines replaced the things we could do by hand. Stuff could be produced in mass quantities, which meant that we didn’t need to go down to Mrs Grumblebutt's cottage for butter, or Arg Arg Arg’s corner of the cave for mammoth meat.

Two hundred and fifty years is not long time if we consider that modern humans hung in groups for at least 100,000 years.

This short, sharp change started to cause the dissipation of communities, as we no longer needed to rely on each other but on the system to meet our needs. We could live further apart, raise the height of our fences, and function as independent but separated beings.

So there it is. It’s simple stuff, I know. We all know that it happened, but when we are crying in our houses we just need to remember that this has only just happened. Only just a little over 250 years ago things were different.

We changed because our mechanism for survival changed from groups to a system, so it’s asking a lot to expect that a species that has had thousands of years of genetic programming for group living should all of a sudden live separately.

Turning the Tide

I think we still need groups for survival, maybe not so much anymore for the food in our mouths, but for everything else—for a chat, for help with working through issues, for a shared direction, a shared passion, for a fight or two if that’s what’s needed, for care, and for hugs.

We don’t talk so much about pestilence or camels or carving sticks anymore, but there’s lots we need to discuss, such as how to fix a tap, climate change, cake recipes, sadness, music, politics—the list goes on.

The rise of online communities is evidence that we are programmed for group living, but we really do need face-to-face contact, as that’s what we are used to as a species, whether it be through hobbies, friendships, families, or building better societies. We need to revive our tribes!

So what’s stopping us from being part of a face-to-face group? One of the remedies for loneliness is within our grasp, so why aren’t we doing anything about it?

Part of it could have to do with the recent rise of the ridiculously busy movement that seems to have appeared in response to loneliness. It’s about filling one’s life up so there’s no time to feel alone, and it has a particular call and response mechanism.

“How are you?”

“I’m so super duper busy. How are you?”

“I’m ridiculously crazy over-the-top busy.”

Hmmmm. Being ridiculously busy is not a badge of honor but evidence of imbalance. It’s not surprising that our culture has invented it, as there’s such a big gap to fill, but it’s not the way forward.

It’s logical that ridiculously busy people get worn out and can feel even lonelier in the process.

If one is rushing around, there’s little time to forge deeper bonds and be there for others. It’s rewarding and stimulating in the short term, but self-defeating in the long run.

Many of you could argue that you are ridiculously busy as a result of society and its demands, but I would say that busyness is a choice, and we need to ask ourselves why we have made these choices.

Was it to fill some gaping hole? Is it necessarily your fault that the hole is there as per the discussion above?

When I think about my friends and family and their resistance to hearing about my feelings of loneliness, I realize there’s a very real possibility they felt this underlying loneliness too.

Maybe underneath all those layers of busyness there was a gaping hole, and hearing about someone else’s loneliness was too much of a trigger for theirs.

The problem with the ridiculously busy movement is that there’s no longer any time to hang out. All engagement must be scheduled. We don’t have time to ask of each other what we truly need. We don’t feel we have a right to do so.

So what’s the answer? How can we feel less lonely?

We need to reduce the amount of things we are doing, to see the formation of a group or groups as a priority, and to thank the system sincerely for supporting us but to make a firm commitment to working out how we can support each other. We need our tribes.

Alternatively, if we aren’t busy and feel terribly lonely, then we’ve got plenty of time to get on our sneakers and get out to find the tribes that we’ve lost. We need to honor our programming.

I know that there will be resistance and fear associated with making any of these moves, as we’ve put up a lot of gates between us over the last couple hundred years, but we’ve got to swallow this fear and go for it.

Feel comfort from the fact that it’s the path that almost everyone else in our bloodline walked, so we do have some good intuitive backing to help us.

Building Community with Self

As well as being fierce about re-establishing our tribes, there’s something else that might help with loneliness.

Most people in tribal communities had a role. They made shoes, rubbed goat dung on sick people, made swords and crossbows and feather dusters when they were feeling more peaceful.

I’ve found one of the absolute keys to feeling less lonely is to ask myself, “If I could be anything, what would I be in the village? How would I serve others?”

The beauty of asking this question is that we are actually asking who am I? We are getting to know ourselves.

If we tune in to what we really want, we are ultimately not going to have to ignore or run away from our deepest needs.

Obviously direction or purpose is just part of the puzzle of getting to know ourselves, but it’s a good place to start.

I’ve found that honoring my calling as a writer has been absolutely fundamental in feeling comfortable with myself, and I’m far more able to handle times of loneliness and rejoice in times of connection.

All this comes with the big caveat that society is, once again, not particularly encouraging of this type of thinking, and will do lots of things to put up barriers and fears to stop us from doing and being what we want. Society has created a structure, and there’s an incredible amount of pressure to conform to it.

That said, it’s worth it to be able to sit down with yourself and say, “I’m happy with you. Finally you are doing what I’ve been asking for all along.”

Let’s call this process self-talk, self-community, building a helpful dialogue in ourselves. The bottom line is that when we are happy with ourselves and are listening to our beautiful inner voice, we feel a lot less lonely.

Calling in the Tribe

So there it is. A little exploration into why we are lonely and what to do about it.

Feeling lonely is not your fault. Our society has thrown us a bit of a curveball and now it’s time to throw that ball right on back, spit on a wall, build a bonfire, and have a super huge hug with ourselves and someone lovely.

And right now, I’m also sending you that hug across the campfire, ‘cause that’s what tribe members do.

Lonely woman image via Shutterstock

About Kaylia Dunstan

Kaylia Dunstan is the creator of The Word Room, a place of freedom and fancy, healing and wholeness, and desire and dance. She loves expression liberated and beautiful being. Kaylia has been a commercial writer for many years. Meet up with Kaylia in The Word Room and on Facebook. There’s a cup of lemongrass tea waiting.

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  • Susan Mary Malone

    “The ridiculously busy movement.” Love that, Kaylia! We’re all falling into it today. But as you say, our tribe is still so important.
    Thank You!

  • Incredibly well written, thank you Kaylia 🙂 !

  • It is so important that loneliness finally becomes something that we begin to talk about it in our culture. And, there is more to it. Just like there are the cultural/tribal aspects, there are other, equally important aspects that are individual, psychological, spiritual… And so, we need all those different perspectives for lonely people (and who isn’t at some point in their life?) to mirror themselves in and to find their way through and out of loneliness. Because there is a way. Thank you for bringing in your perspective – and hugs back! 🙂

  • :Thanks Susan. Yes, tribe is ridiculously important huh. So glad you related 🙂

  • Thanks for your lovely feedback Alba!

  • Thanks Halina, yes what you have said is so true. This is only the beginning of a discussion that we all need to have. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  • Talya Price

    I have been going through this exact same thing. I have been living in a country that is not native to me and for the past 2 years living here I have felt so alone. I have been single for 4 years now, I have not been on a date in ages, I do not have any “real friend” I feel not real connection with anyone. My free time is spent alone and a part of me thinks that I might die here alone. I hate it.

  • Lois M

    I am currently going through loneliness as a new employee. People are ‘nice’ but no one wants to hang out with me. I go to lunch alone and skip bresk. I am a naturally shy and introverted person which makes it all the tougher.

    I did not read the article, not sure why. Maybe I am learning to like being alone.

  • jane

    Wiw, thank you so much.

  • Hi Talya,

    I know (or knew) the feeling. I trust another part of you knows you’re not alone and that this is not how your journey’s going to end.

    Many warm greetings,
    Halina

  • Jilly Wickersham Jr.

    I abandoned the groups I was a part of because they too often looked the other way when I was being wronged, gossiped constantly about my affairs when I wasn’t present, and were incestual, i.e. everyone was screwing everyone and it was I was “wrong” for having feelings and wanting something more from my connection with its members. More often than not, I have made major contributions to groups and been made to feel rejected and subjugated by the will of the greater group to general mediocrity. I am bitter, but I’d rather be bitter and alone than subjugated by the lowest common denominator of what the majority are willing to accept. I demand more from my peers, family, and friends.

  • june

    Thank you for this post. I think this issue is very much related to the “happiness” debate – and all those studies that prove that being financially comfortable etc., does not mean happiness, and I suspect that has a lot to do with the “superbusy” people losing real connection with others on a truly personal level (not commercial, work, etc.). It’s also probably that being emotionally cool is valued in our society, and the definition of “friends” has become so broad that the depth of friendship has been lost. One can be lonely for not having friends, but also while having hundreds of “friends” without meaningful connection with any of them. I’d rather have a few good friends with who I can have real connection (than many “friends” that I can’t have a connection), but I find fewer and fewer of them. Hug back to you, and thank you for raising this very important issue.

  • michael Fragale

    Perfect timing to read this. It’s wierd but this Millenium has brought me devistating loneliness . I could go on and on, but I’m really hoping others will understand this thought that’s been stuck in my head. Connecting , HMM, smoke signals were more personal than texting!
    Namaste

  • Ceejay

    I’m always lonely but that’s pretty much how it’s been since I was a child. I didn’t make my first real friends till I was in high school and even then one of them literally didn’t care about me or any of the problems I went through. So now I’m trying to rebuild but it’s extremely difficult. How do you go from acquaintance to friend, especially when said friends live so far away and stick to what’s familiar and not let anyone in?

    Plus what you said about being busy. I’m working what will be three jobs starting this year, so I’ll be extremely busy, but it’s definitely not something I wish upon myself just because I’m lonely. I have bills! Student loans! Things that our previous ancestors didn’t really put at the forefront of their minds. So I think that can be a determining factor as to whether or not we can foster some social time.

  • arien

    I send you a hug Talya. I am in the same place. Living in a foreign country since almost 9 years now, recently broke up a 12 year relationship with the person I move here with. I feel alone, lonely and hopeless and fear this will not change. Best of luck, may you find true connections soon.

  • Funnily enough I’ve just moved to a foreign country too and it’s tough. I really hope you both find people to relate to who get you and love you for who you are. I’m working hard on doing the same.

  • Thanks Theresa, that article is so interesting. Thanks for letting me know about it 🙂

  • bigdo

    the main deal might be anger… Anger can turn inward so fast… it can be what keeps you alone and isolated…. Trust is something that I think is pertinent too… you have to continually be able to trust new people throughout life…. Got to…

  • Elena

    Tayla, where do you live? I live in London & it’s a big lonely city here. If you ever need a friend, contact me because I love making new friends, and I know it’s really hard to move to a new place. 🙂

  • Elena

    This article really resonated strongly with me. Especially the part about people assuming that being lonely means there is something wrong with that person’s personality. The idea you tapped into about human programming to survive happily in groups was really interesting too. There are a lot of great theories about “innovation diffusion” which prove that a society becomes more intelligent and strong when it is transparent and group-centric.

  • Talya Price

    Funny I am moving to London. I currently live in Warsaw, Poland and I really dislike it. The last time I was in London, I felt alive, I felt free, I felt at home, the same way I did when I was in Paris. I just wish there was a way out of all of this.

  • Talya Price

    How do I contact you?

  • Becky Louise Matcham

    I think that even of you have a close friendship network unless you can talk honestly and truthfully about things that bother you ,you may always feel lonely.
    I have a lovely group of friends but particular members of the group are only interested in spending time with me when I am happy and positive .It is like my place is the positive one so when I am not in a good mood,I am not sure what my place within the ‘tribe’ is.
    It seems like lots of people claim to have a large group of friends because they do not want to admit that they are lonely.They build followers rather than friends.
    This article resonates with me,although I have a lovely group of friends I haven’t really been in actual relationship and my friends seem to place more importance of romantic relationships and it is making me sad that we will drift apart.University is the hardest as it is supposedly so easy to make friends and connections. Great article and message.I love the Tribal analogy,sometimes people try and be something they are not to fit in when they have something unique and a valuable skill to offer the group 🙂

  • Elena

    On facebook! Elena Silenzi. When you come to London, get in touch!

  • Michal

    Great article. I was so desperete for hug, so I cried when I hear this word. I am feeling lonely for all my life. Now I am in new city Poznań/Poland and I feel very lonely here. I have hard time connecting to people. People pressure me into romantic relationship, but I crave for friendship rather. I need to find my tribe, I dont want to be alone all my life. Thanks for your message.

  • Manjari Goel

    I feel this way most of the time. And this is in spite of having a loving family( Husband and kids).
    I need the human interaction and have tried relentlessly to have group dinners, coffee etc with my friends- girls group, family gatherings, small groups, Big ones- you name it . I am in a position now where I feel I am the only one who does try, no one returns the favour of organising anything. Is it because they don’t need me as much as I do?
    I live in an adoptive country- my original culture/festivals/ food/ language is very different to this country. I like this place but I miss home and my people and maybe that is why I try so much. But for once I would like people to respond also. I would like them to make an effort for me as well and make me feel a part of their frind circle…

  • Sakti

    Send you hugs Tayla with love from México!!

  • Talya if you do end up moving to London I’m now in Scotland so feel free to get in touch if you ever feel like a road trip up North 🙂

  • Meri Sundar

    I can’t believe that some one else out there that feels like me.I thought I was the only one that felt that way,and it made me feel even more alone,and lonely..I’m in the same boat as you Talya.Let’s take comfort in knowing that you are not alone.If you need to vent or share a thought contact me.

  • Jane

    I am going through a divorce which is not a pleasant place to be and the friends that I had during our marriage have disappeared. I have been so lonely and working on dealing with getting through the divorce I can say that I am at the 1 year mark and having been stressed that whole time is not good. I am slowly building up some great new friends who are there for me, but it’s when you go home to yourself at night that it’s the hardest. I now look at people differently and understand that they are in your life for a reason. Having genuine people around you helps. We all need support in life

  • Giovanni Andrew Roverso

    It’s not easy to find time for community when you feel like you don’t have time for writing.. But then I’m just procrastinating.. often because of a feeling of lack of connection with others!

  • Jahnvi_Chavda

    Sending you love and hugs.. I understand you as I am living currently in foreign country… and sometimes it gets tough…you are not alone in this phase..

  • Lola

    This article could not have come in a better time than now.
    I am lonely, alone and lost in my thoughts… you know that Loud voice in your head that over analyze every thing you do, or say.
    It just made me realized that i’ve been lonely for the past 20 years. I’ve tried to fill the void with “fake” relationships, falling into romantic relationships that were not fulfilling at all, since i was expecting the “other” to make me feel less lonely.
    At the end, I have only me , myself and the voices in my head to keep me entertained.

  • This is such a tough place to be…I’ve been there too, for decades too, until I accidentally discovered that within you there’s more than the voices that “keep you entertained”. Beneath the analyzing mind and the inner voices there is pain. Beneath the pain there is silence. Beneath that silence there is a source of pure love, pure joy. In my experience, re-connecting with that source can gradually alleviate loneliness and enable you to be happy alone – as well as creating more fulfilling and genuinely loving relationships.
    What I’m trying to say is this: This difficult, painful place can become a turning point. In other words, this is not the end. This can become the beginning of a new journey. It starts with being alone. It ends with discovering that you are not alone.

  • Lola

    Thank you so much for those inspiring words Halina!!!

  • Thank you for the advice, your understanding and the long-distance hug. I really needed it.

  • Thank you for the advice, understanding and the long-distance hug. I really needed it.

  • Balkyz Enterprise

    Hmmmm I just came across this … Am reading this with tears in my eyes… Am so lonely right now. Although I have so many people in my house right not but am not in anyway connected to them… The only person I can connect to his out of town… I feel like my life is attached to him.. How can I feel less lonely without having to think about him.

  • Lavena

    Although this article is a year old, this rings through for me. Living overseas and feeling very disconnected with everyone and my family. Even in spiritual groups. I fell in love with someone whom I felt connected with but it didn’t work out due to our ego and he went to find another person so this loneliness is imminent than ever.

  • mmm

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I loved your analogy of human tribes, made me reflect and relate to my life. Growing up, I moved to a new country with completely different language and culture as a teenager. I felt so lonely and vulnerable and worst of all, never felt i belonged to a group or community to this day. ( i am 27 year old now). I’ve always tried to be someone that i am not to fit in and of course that didn’t leave me with any real connections. Right now I am trying to listen to my inner voice and find my true self.