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Why We Feel Lonely Even When We’re Not Alone

Loneliness

Even when I’m around people, I feel lonely.

This is something I often hear in our Loneliness community on Huddol. I have felt this way many times in my own life.

How do we understand these two concurrent realities? On the one hand, you are in the company of others, and on the other you feel like there is no one in the room but me, myself and I.

Loneliness reaches far beyond a physical reality

The fact that you have people around you doesn’t mean that you are not in a lonely place – one is manifesting in a physical state the other an existential one.

Loneliness is rooted in our feelings, thoughts and attitudes towards ourselves, which can be projected onto our experiences of others. For example, if you are very self critical, you may also become very critical of others. Your self criticism is isolating, and your judgment of others is further lonely making. You may feel that people can’t understand you, because your judgment is telling you, often through a clearly derogatory lens, that they are not like you, or worse yet, a threat to you. This would be an example of a very lonely making thought pattern that began with a story about you that you retell repeatedly through your experience of others. Eventually you start to believe the story is real and the moral always is: I am alone.

Feeling stuck in your thoughts and feelings

Highly sensitive, reflective, and introspective people often develop the habit of turning their thoughts into their life companions. This can be a wonderful journey of exploration. Taken too far, it can lead to withdrawal and becoming trapped in our internal chatter.

Social settings, particularly those that are discomforting, may trigger us to withdraw from our surroundings and shift most of our attention to our thoughts and feelings. Add the layer of a socially unfamiliar place, or strange people, and thoughts can spiral, taking us further down the fear rabbit hole. Thinking we only have one place to turn, we go to our minds for a solution to the emotional angst we’re feeling. We turn to the culprit for a solution.  The more you indulge that inner space, the more your outer space disappears, triggering a feeling of contraction and loneliness.

Some people are socially anxious

Fear of judgment, disappointing others, or not being good enough can all be features of socially anxious thinking and feeling patterns. Some people struggle with this consistently. That may mean that the very thought of being in a social space is stressful and anxiety provoking. We are so primed to feel badly when we’re with others, that when the occasion arises, we are already protecting ourselves from all the preconceived bad in our midst. As that protective instinct kicks in, we believe that the only way we can abate the anxiety is by avoiding it – cue withdrawal. Problem is, the avoidance snowballs as we double down on our lonely making feelings; we feel bad about feeling bad.  The more that self loathing expands, the more we feel unworthy and lonely.

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Written by
Mark Stolow