Loneliness gets a bad rap. And for good reason. But what if loneliness is a gift?
One of our deepest, most basic human needs is to experience healthy attachment—or in non-psychological terms, to experience loving connection with someone who sees us.
When you stop numbing, one of the first painful emotions you may encounter is loneliness. And loneliness is a double-whammy. It often shows up alongside grief or fear. But unlike those feelings, it tells you there’s no one out there who cares.
So please hear me loud and clear: if you’re lonely, I see you. And believe me when I say, there are so many others who see you too.
Your loneliness has valuable information that—when cared for tenderly—can lead you toward the love and connection you crave.
First, let’s take a look at what loneliness is.
—At its most literal, loneliness is the absence of close connection with friends, family, or loved ones. It shows up when you’ve moved far from home or had loved ones move away. . .or after the loss of a beloved companion, family member, or friend. It often kicks in after the loss of toxic relationships too, such as distancing from a family member or going through divorce. There’s a reason we hang on to people who aren’t good for us.
—Emotional loneliness is the experience of being alone, even when surrounded by others. You might be carrying a burden of loneliness from your childhood—maybe you were neglected or disconnected from your family. In that case, it’s hard for you to experience love as an adult, even when it’s near. Or you might be surrounded by people who just don’t get you.
Here’s the thing: as hard as loneliness is, you know what’s worse? Being so numbed out that you deny its existence.
Like the pain of a broken heart or a broken bone, loneliness is evidence that you are a fully functioning, vital, human being. It’s part of what helps you become whole.
I learned that the hard way. As a single woman and hard-working graduate student, I blocked loneliness for years until it caught up with me in my early thirties. Facing my long-festering loneliness was dreadful. . . and I don’t wish it on anyone. But it helped me cultivate the loving connections I cherish today. My trek through the wilderness of loneliness led me to unique characters, surprising insights and ultimately loving relationships that I never would have found had I not faced it.
At its best, when tended regularly, loneliness is a gift.
Loneliness. . .
—reminds you of who you are—someone capable and deserving of love and meaningful connection.
—signals that your numbing behaviors aren’t working anymore (and that’s a good thing!)
—can lead you to new discoveries and put you on a path toward change.
Loneliness is a gift: What if listening to your loneliness could lead you to a deeper experience of love and fulfillment?
As you learn to recognize the gift of loneliness, you’re closer to the cure. When you name loneliness for what it is, you’re getting some distance from it. You’re letting it know it’s only one part of who you are.
Loneliness needs boundaries. And those boundaries need to be made of flesh. It needs to hear itself speak. . . into the ears of someone who’s listening. Talk to a friend or loved one about it. And if you’re in a season of prolonged or extreme loneliness, find a counselor or pastor or coach to meet with you regularly to explore it.
Once you have some flesh and blood boundaries in place, ask yourself some of these questions:
—How long have I been lonely? You might be in a particularly lonely season. Or you might have felt lonely for as long as you can remember.
—Who are those people who take my loneliness away? Be honest. And don’t be discouraged if it’s not who you feel it “should” be. It only takes 1 good soul to take the edge off of loneliness each day.
—When do I feel lonely? It might be at church. . .at work. . at home by yourself. . . or in your family. Don’t judge yourself—or others—for what surfaces. Just become aware.
If you’re surprised by any of your answers, take note. And don’t assume immediate action is needed.
Just pay attention. And invite God into your experience.
Your loneliness might be an indicator that you’re carrying a burden from long ago. Or it might mean that you need to make changes in your current relationships. It also might mean you’re not showing up as yourself.
As you face your loneliness with loving compassion, it will relax a bit. It’ll learn to trust you. And it will help you find the relationships and purpose you seek.
In next week’s blog post, I’ll walk you through some steps you can take to carve out a path through loneliness.
If you’ve struggled with loneliness, drop a comment below to let us know what’s helped. We see you. We hear you. And we’d love to learn from your experience.
This article about loneliness is a gift originally appeared here.