If you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company. – (Jean-Paul Sartre)
A reader writes, “I read your article about loneliness and it made a lot of sense to me. However, I really feel like I try to follow the suggestions you make and it just doesn’t seem to work for me! I try to ‘be a friend’, give to others, but I just get taken advantage of, and treated like I’m worthless.
“I try not to be needy, moody, etc., but whatever I try to be just doesn’t seem to work.
“I see a lot of people around me who are loud and mean and gossipy and don’t seem to care about others, and they have lots of people gravitating around them constantly, and I try to be decent although I am on the quiet side, and I always feel that nobody, but nobody, likes me.
I’ll start with an overview of the problem, follow with specific actions our reader can take, and include some cautionary tips.
The content of our reader’s words describe her problem while her choice of words reveals her feelings. For instance, in three short paragraphs she used the word “try” five times. She believes she is a “trier,” not a “doer.” Notice also, she doesn’t say no one likes her, but that she “feels like” no one does. The overall tone of her short email indicates low self-esteem and self-confidence.
In other words, she believes she is defective and undeserving of friends, as well as incapable of building successful relationships. Although she is keenly aware of her own feelings, she doesn’t yet realize that the feelings of inadequacy she is experiencing are quite common and shared by most people.
So, the first step our reader needs to take is to see beyond the mask that others are wearing. They may look confident and in control of their lives, but they, too, feel inadequate. Once she realizes they are no different, she can come to like herself; after all, she is just as deserving of friendship as anyone else. This step is extremely important because we cannot like others until we like ourselves. And if we don’t like others, we will be viewed as unlikable, and, therefore, have no friends.
We see the world not as it is, but as we are. That is, if we think we live in a hostile, judgmental, and untrustworthy world, it is not the world that is that way, but ourselves. So, the second step our reader must take is to change her attitude. She needs to realize that there are no nasty people. Sure, there are people who do nasty things, but that’ s because they are troubled, mistaken, or confused.
This, too, is an important step, for until she can forgive and accept others with their faults and all, she’ll be unable to forgive and accept herself. And if she cannot accept herself, she will not like herself. This in turn will make her unable to like others, making her friendless.
In our reader’ s own words, she sees “a lot of people that are loud, mean, gossipy, and uncaring.” That’s not a very friendly thing to say, is it? Why is she so suspicious and judgmental? If that’s the way she feels about people, no matter how kind she ‘ tries’ to be, her body language and tone of voice will give away her true feelings. Small wonder she has few friends at this time, but she can change all that with a change of attitude.
A good way to change our attitude is by living according to the words in this prayer:
Lord, make me an
instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred,
let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
and Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master,
grant that I may not
so much Seek to be consoled
as to console;
To be understood
as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving
that we receive;
It is in pardoning
that we are pardoned;
and It is in dying
that we are born to
The world is a mirror, a valuable one that we can learn from. You see, all of the things we don’t like about others is really what we don’t like about ourselves. So, instead of being upset about others, we should be grateful that they are teaching us what we need to work on to improve.
The third step our reader should take is stop trying so hard. The harder we try to force things to happen, the less likely they are to occur. She needs to relax and allow events to unfold naturally. Just be there, open and receptive.
Finally, as someone who understands the pain of loneliness, she should be ever watchful for other lonely souls, aggressively befriending the friendless.
A Closer Examination of Loneliness
Loneliness is one of the scourges of humanity. It seems to affect everyone regardless of age or ethnicity. Whether you’re a Ph.D. or high school dropout, rich or poor, you’re equally vulnerable. What exactly is loneliness? It is a FEELING that intimacy, understanding, friendship, and acceptance are missing from one’s life. It is a FEELING of isolation or separation from others, a FEELING of being all alone. We need to realize that loneliness is nothing more than a feeling. After all, you are not your arms or legs, for they are just parts of your body. Similarly, you are not your feelings, which are just parts of your psyche.
Words are a lot like cars. Both are loaded with power. Cars are used to drive home. And words are used to drive home a point. Words and cars are very useful, but when used improperly, they can harm us. There are many poor drivers and poor thinkers because we learn about cars and words from unqualified instructors, such as our parents or friends. Now, let’s get to the point. Did you ever say any of the following to yourself or others? “I am lonely.” “I am sad.” “I am angry.” If you did, that is a misuse of language that has harmful effects.
Here is something to think about. The words we use imprison us or set us free. For example, if I were to say, “I AM lonely.” That is just like saying, “I AM white.” or “I AM a male.” You see, there’ s nothing I can do about being white or a male. There is nothing I can do to change what I AM. So, when I say, “I AM lonely,” the implication is that I cannot change. In other words, I use words to imprison myself with false beliefs.
However, when I acknowledge that loneliness is a feeling by saying, “I FEEL lonely,” I open the door of my prison cell because feelings can and do change. Of course, as long as I continue to say, “I feel lonely. I feel lonely. I feel lonely,” nothing will change. For although I opened the door, I have chosen to remain in my cell. To completely set myself free I have to take that extra step by saying, “I feel lonely, SO I’M GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.”
Loneliness is much more than an inconvenience. Left unchecked, it can be a precursor to the solitary confinement of drug and other addictions. For the pain of loneliness may cause one to look for solace in drugs, alcohol, sex, or gambling. There is also the danger of loneliness developing into anxiety and depression. One can become completely immobilized by feelings of self-pity and helplessness. Also, one may try to mask pain by oversleeping or putting in long hours at the office. Finally, the stress imposed by loneliness leads to a weakened immune system, heart disease, and other physical ailments. The moral is clear. If we’re suffering from loneliness, it’ s time to decide to do something about it.
All right, I feel lonely and want to do something about it, so what should I do? Start by understanding a simple law of life which can help solve almost any problem. That law is: You have to give away what you wish to receive. Our actions are balls that bounce back to us. A corollary of that law is: Don’t give others what you don’t want to receive. If I punch someone, they will punch me back. If I hug someone, they will hug me back. It’s as simple as that. And that is the wisdom contained in the teaching, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Now, let’s see what happens when we apply the above principle. I feel lonely. As I sink into the sea of loneliness, I decide to reach out. For the pain I experience reminds me how others must feel. So, I resolve to help lessen the suffering of others by becoming a volunteer or a friend. Perhaps I visit seniors, the bedridden, or those in prison. Or, I may befriend a lonely classmate, co-worker, or neighbor. As I do so, what do you suppose happens? Yes, others eagerly look forward to my visits. By becoming a friend, I have gained friends. By offering support, I have won support. By healing the loneliness of others, I have healed myself.
Another corollary of the law of life mentioned above is: You will receive in direct proportion to what you give.Give a lot; receive a lot. Give a little; receive a little. So, give of yourself, expecting little in return. Think of others, not yourself. Don’t be needy because that will drain the energy of others and drive them away. Rather than needy, be a friend. And build that friendship slowly. Don’t overwhelm others with your own problems. Learn to listen to others and they will listen to you. Learn to comfort others, and you will be comforted. Practice the principle of Tennessee Williams, who wrote, “When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”
How can one love someone they don’t know and don’t spend time with? What is true for others also applies to yourself. How can you love yourself, if you don’t spend time alone to get to know yourself. Being alone need not be the same as being lonely. For being alone is an opportunity for reflection, self-discovery, and growth. You will never be lonely if you like the person you are with. And no matter where you go, you will always be accompanied by yourself, so get to know and like that person.
a) Work on building your self-confidence by reading this brilliant book by David Lawrence Preston: “365 Steps to Self-Confidence.” You can read the entire book or download it for free here.
b) Another valuable tool for overcoming self-doubt is “The Ten-Day Plan” developed by William James. You can learn about it here.
c) A good introduction to the art of making friends is the classic book “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. Every library has it, so you can read it for free. Or you can download it for free here.
d) Also, learn about how we reap what we sow here.
2. Stop trying to win friends and just focus on being friendly. Instead of asking yourself how you can get people to like you, ask how can you get yourself to like people. After all, as Dale Carnegie wrote, “It’s much easier to become interested in others than it is to convince them to be interested in you.”
Focus on becoming the person you were meant to be: kind, generous, supportive, nonjudgmental, trusting, loving, courageous. When you treat others with kindness you boost your self-esteem for several reasons:
a) you feel good about yourself
b) the recipients of your kindness praise and thank you
c) you feel worthwhile
d) your life becomes filled with meaning and purpose.
But this only works when you are sincere. In other words, you become kind not to make others treat you well, but because others are troubled by feelings of self-doubt and need to be praised, encouraged, and appreciated.
Keep in mind friendly people care about others. In fact, they care about EVERYONE. That’ s why Sebastien-Roch Nicolas De Chamfort wrote “I have three kinds of friends: those who love me, those who pay no attention to me, and those who detest me.” If you pick and choose, you are not friendly, you are picky.
Also keep in mind the comments of Alexandre (the Younger) Dumas, “Friendship consists in forgetting what one gives, and remembering what one receives.”
3. Accept yourself. Be your own best friend. Learn to like yourself. I don’ t mean that you should become egotistical, but just that you should feel good about yourself. Follow your conscience and you will be proud of yourself and happy to be in your own company. As Wayne Dyer wrote, “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.” So, improve yourself until you are a pleasure to be around! If low self-esteem is holding you back, don’t just whine, pick up a good book on the subject and apply its principles. If you are troubled by psychological pain you experienced in your childhood (criticism, rejection, ridicule, etc.), you can also learn how to heal your ‘wounded child’ (see the books listed in the References section at the end of this article).
4. Look approachable. You never know when the stranger next to you will become your friend, so always remain open. Smile, maintain eye contact, and radiate a friendly warmth wherever you go.
5. Instead of trying to join a clique, form your own. Why wait to be invited to join a group when you can form your own group? End your loneliness by ending the loneliness of others. Who can you see that needs to be invited to join a group? Invite him or her to join yours!
6. Don’t be fussy about who you go out with at first. Everyone has something to offer, so keep an open mind and welcome anyone willing to hang out with you. Initially, your first concern should be to develop your circle of friends. Later, as your circle enlarges, you can decide who to spend more time with.
7. To make friends, you have to go where people are. So, join clubs or groups. Some of the many places you can meet people include church groups, sports clubs, adult education classes, personal development courses, theatre or improv groups, dances. Also consider the many charitable organizations that need volunteers. And, of course, you can meet people anywhere: at the dentist’s office, in the supermarket, at amusement parks, parks, in the movies, at concerts, in the mall, at the post office, in a coffee shop, or while you are waiting in line somewhere. You are surrounded by opportunities, so remain alert and make someone happy by introducing yourself to him or her.
8. Become likable. What kind of people do you want to meet? What kind of people do they want to meet? Become like the people they want to meet and they will want to meet you.
9. Become interesting by being interested. When someone strikes up a conversation with you, listen to what is being said and get involved by asking open-ended questions. Stay away from questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Act like a journalist by asking the who, what, where, when, and how questions. Ask what they’re doing now, what they did in the past, and what they hope to do in the future. Ask about their hobbies and ask them to tell you more. People love to be the center of attention, give their opinions, and share their knowledge. So, if you have lots of questions, you are likely to end up with lots of friends.
10. Ask the people you already know to hang out with you. There are already people you know and have spoken to, but never thought of asking to join you somewhere. It may be someone working in the library or bookstore; it could be a classmate or co-worker, or it could be someone working in the store where you buy your shoes and clothing. Wherever it may be, do the unexpected and ask them if they’d like to join you for a movie, coffee, or trip to the mall.
11. Get a job. If you’re not already working, get a job. It will provide you with spending money and give you opportunities to meet people.
12. I, YOU, and WE. When engaged in a casual conversation with a new person, use more “YOU’s” than “I’s” to keep them interested. Later, insert some “WE’s” to draw them closer. For example, if they mention a subject you are also interested in, don’t say, “Oh, I am also interested in that.” Rather, say something like, “Oh, WE have the same interests.” After hearing two or three WE’s from you, they will begin feeling like a friend.
13. Take advantage of today’ s technology. Visit www.meetup.comand see if there are local meetings that interest you.
14. There’s nothing questionable about the power of questions. If you’re feeling lonely and don’t know why, that’s because you haven’t been asking questions. Take an inventory of your behavior. Are you a show-off? Domineering? Moody? A complainer? A gossiper? Unreliable? Nosy? Short-tempered? A taker that doesn’t know how to give? Do you build walls instead of bridges? Would you want to be friends with someone like you? Questions provoke thought and point to solutions. How can you take corrective action unless you ask yourself what you are doing wrong? If you are still mired in loneliness, is that because you’re waiting to be rescued? (Don’t hold your breath because help isn’t on the way. If you need a hand, you’ll find it at the end of your own arm.) There are lots you can do such as join a support group or master people skills. Learning about self-esteem, assertiveness, and how to overcome shyness and win friends can be a great deal of fun and put an end to your loneliness for good. Don’t deprive others of the blessing of knowing you; be a friend!
15. Help others. Loneliness drains one’s energy. Lonely people may just sit around hoping to be noticed. Instead of focusing on themselves and experiencing their own pain, why don’t they look outward and notice the pain of others? Think of all the lonely people in hospitals, for instance. Why stay at home and mope when we can visit hospital patients and relieve their loneliness? If we were to do so, wouldn’t our loneliness disappear? Isn’t it true that if we wish to have a friend, we must be a friend? Experience the insight of Dag Hammarskjold and you’ll be on the road to recovery. What was his insight? Here’s what he said: “What makes loneliness an anguish is not that I have no one to share my burden, but this: I have only my own burden to bear.”
16. Accept responsibility. Stop blaming and start taking responsibility for the choices you make. It’s time to make the right choices. You deserve to be happy. So, take the steps that will pull you out of the gutter of loneliness. Blame is self-defeating. Responsibility is self-actualizing. Live by the precept, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
17. Journaling. Need someone to talk to? Talk to yourself in a journal. Keeping a journal is cathartic. It will help purge yourself of negativity. Ask yourself questions and sit in silence until you get answers. Record the answers and apply them to your life. Example questions are: What would it be like not to be lonely? How would I act differently? What can I do to change my attitude and behavior? When will I accept responsibility for my own actions? When will I begin to take the steps I know I should take? What can I do now to begin overcoming my loneliness? Journaling is a valuable tool in regaining control over your life. There are several great articles and books on the subject, such as those you will find here and here.
18. Join Groups. You can meet many people at church groups, clubs, associations, volunteer groups, and adult education classes. While there, don’t look for friends, but look for opportunities to befriend others; don’t look for someone to heal your loneliness, but look for chances to heal the loneliness of others. For it is in giving that we receive.
19. Plan in advance. When you know in advance that you will be alone, prepare by renting a hilarious video, borrowing an inspiring biography from the library, or catching up on chores you’ve been meaning to do.
20. Focus on the positive. If you don’t have any friends, look in the mirror, and what do you see? A smile or a frown? If we walk around with a chip on our shoulder, we drive people away. Conversely, if we are polite and friendly, we attract others to us. If you wish to attract birds, scatter bread crumbs, if you wish to attract friends, scatter seeds of love.
21. Exercise. Loneliness is a state of passivity. To erase it you need to be active. Get involved in an exercise program. Exercise will make you feel better by improving your health, lifting your spirits, and boosting your confidence. And while doing so, you may make new friends.
22. There are many other things you can do, such as getting a pet and cultivating hobbies. For more help, look into The Loneliness Workbook by Mary Ellen Copeland. If you cannot lift yourself out of loneliness unassisted, seek the help of a professional or join a local self-help group.
23. If we have a feeling of emptiness, it is because we are not focused on a purpose for living. It isn’t necessary to go on an endless search for meaning. All we have to do is stop, reflect, examine our interests and choices, and choose a path. All paths lead to the mountaintop. As long as we are on a path, we will have a sense of direction. And all paths lead away from loneliness, for loneliness is stagnation, passivity, and inaction.
24. From the psychological view, we can say that loneliness is a yearning to be reunited with our lost self. As a young child, we were happy to be the person we were. But then our caregivers and others intervened, pointing out our faults, flaws, misdeeds, defects, blunders, and transgressions. We came to dislike who we were. So, we were torn apart from our original happy self, a person that we may continue to miss and long for. Each time you do the right thing, instead of the unkind thing or easy thing, you prove to yourself you are a decent person. Do this often enough and you will be reunited with your lost self.
1. Be patient. Don’t despair just because it may take a little time to build your circle of friends. Just be sure to take some action, however small, each day. It will be well worth the effort.
2. Don’t buy your friends. By that I mean, don’t spend money on people with the hope you can “bribe” them into becoming your friend. As George D. Prentice wrote, “A friend you have to buy won’t be worth what you pay for him.”
3. Bad friends will prevent you from having good friends. Although you want to be open-minded and compassionate, a little common sense is called for. Needless to say, if you are so hard up for friends that you befriend drug addicts, gang members, and criminals, you are placing yourself at risk and lessening your chances of having good friends. Don’t be so desperate to make friends that you add to your troubles.
4. Don’t be sensitive. Remember, not everyone will like you (neither will you like everyone you meet). For example, your behavior, mannerisms, or appearance may remind someone of their mother that used to savagely beat him or her as a child. And this memory takes place on a subconscious level, so neither that individual nor you will know why he or she doesn’t like you. It has nothing to do with you, so don’t get upset and just accept it.
5. Don’ t wear a mask, pretending to be smarter, braver, richer than you are. Eventually, the truth will get out. Besides, everyone dislikes phonies and likes sincere, authentic people; so be yourself.
6. Don’t enable the bad habits of others. Occasionally, a friend may ask to borrow a small amount of money. If it’s just occasional and they promptly pay you back, there’s no problem. But if they’re always asking for money and rarely pay you back, there’s a problem for several reasons:
a) you are losing money you worked for
b) you will grow resentful of being manipulated
c) stress or tension may develop between the two of you
d) you enable your friend, allowing them to grow dependent on you, which is bad for them because they need to develop independence for their own success.
After Making Friends…
1. Treasure your best friend(s). That is, honor them by keeping your word and keeping the secrets between you. Or as Wilson Mizner expressed it so well, “The best way to keep your friends is not to give them away.” (That is, don’t tell on them.) Never betray a friend as that will cause them to doubt your sincerity. Buddha expressed it this way, “There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.”
2. Once you’ve develop a circle of friends, remain open to meeting new people. For maximum growth, we need constant stimulation and exposure to new ideas. So, balance a large group of friends for stimulation with a small, inner group for intimacy.
3. Maintain your friendships. Friendships need to be maintained. Don’t neglect them or take friends for granted. Celebrate birthdays and see or speak with them regularly. For those who have moved away, stay in touch so you can enjoy a future get-together.
4. Share your friends! If you have a large group of friends, some of them will not know each other. Introduce them to each other. Spread the joy!
5. Share in their victories. Never be envious, but always rejoice in the successes of your friends. Recognize their achievements and congratulate them for their accomplishments, and console them in their losses.
7. Be blind to the weaknesses of your friends. They are imperfect and so are you. Here are what two writers had to say about this subject: “Keep a fair-sized cemetery in your back yard, in which to bury the faults of your friends.” (Henry Ward Beecher), “To find a friend one must close one eye — to keep him, two.” (Norman Douglas)
8. Seek balance. Balance the frequency with which you meet your friends. If you meet too infrequently, you will be neglecting them; yet, if you meet too often, you will interfere with their private lives.
The world is a friendly and beautiful place and can become even more so with your help. Think not what others can do for you, but what you can do for them. People are craving for recognition and attention, and you have it in your power to offer it to them. Remain friendly at all times and you will cultivate peace wherever you go. Mankind needs the solace and refuge provided by friendship. Become a part of it. Here’s how William Blake describes the magic of friendship, “The bird, a nest; the spider, a web; man, friendship.”
by David S. Narang Ph.D.
by Margaret Paul and Erika J. Chopich
Bye-Bye Loneliness: MAT for the treatment of loneliness by Meg Stanton M.D.
John Cacioppo on How to Cope with Loneliness
Ven Ajahn Brahm on Loneliness
Noah Elkrief on How To Deal With Loneliness… Right Now
Guided Meditation on Loneliness