Lonely, feeling isolated - what to do?
Reasons why you are lonely. What you can do about it.
Lonely * How might this affect me?
* What causes me to be like this?
* What things in my life contribute to feelings of loneliness?
How might this affect me?Everyone experiences loneliness from time to time. It comes in many forms. It often arises when you have little contact with people but it can also occur when you feel you have little importance or value in other people's lives. Or when the people you are with see things very differently from you.
If you feel lonely for a long time it can bring with it a deep and long-term feeling of thinking everything is useless and a sensation of separateness or isolation (thinking you are separate or different from everyone else).
Loneliness and depression seem to be very closely linked. Sometimes loneliness can be confused with depression. Depression can also bring about feelings of loneliness. If you feel overwhelmed with loneliness or depression seek help.
Remember you are not alone and that help is available to you.
What causes me to be like this?There are many different reasons why you might feel isolated or lonely. Here are some examples.
The way things are where you live* Physical or geographic isolation can separate you from other people
* Discrimination or harassment because of your sexuality, race, gender, religious beliefs, intellectual or physical ability, looks etc. This can make you feel separate from others
* Moving to a new place. This can be especially difficult if people speak a different language, have different customs or cultural expectations to you
* Lack of opportunities to "get involved". Things like high rates of unemployment, lack of money, having children (being a young parent you may also face undue criticism or judgement) or lack of affordable recreation places in a community can mean you spend most of your time at home
* You live with a controlling or abusive parent, adult or partner. They might force you to stay home, tell you who you can and can't be friends with or drive away your friends and family with their abuse
* You have been removed from your parents by the courts, your parents have divorced or you (or a parent) have moved away.
The way you think about yourself and other people* You feel you have little to share with others – so you don't bother!
* You don't like yourself – it's hard to believe others will like you if you don't!
* You criticise or judge yourself – we can be our own harshest critics!
* You don't trust people – this can be especially difficult if you've had an experience of abuse or violence. We have topics on these for further information
* You are embarrassed or ashamed of yourself – you might feel guilty, dirty, ugly or stupid. These feelings tell you that you are not a worthwhile person and that no-one will want to care for you or be your friend. These feelings too can be the result of an experience of abuse, harassment or forms of violence. We have topics on these for further information
* You feel "different to other people". This comes with living in a world where certain "ways of being" have come to be expected. You might feel isolated if you cannot celebrate or show part of your identity. For example if you are gay, have personal religious or spiritual beliefs or because of your skin colour
* You have a mental health condition that makes it difficult for you to get out or mix with other people.
What things in my life contribute to feelings of loneliness?
Loneliness and healthLoneliness can become a health problem when it is in your life for a long time and joins forces with things like:
* Self harming or suicidal thoughts
* Drugs and alcohol
* Anxiety or fear
* Criminal Activity
* Mental illness.
These are all things that many of us come into contact with at different times of our life. They become a problem when they become stronger with the help of loneliness.
For example some people smoke or use drugs or alcohol because they feel lonely. Sometimes it can become something they need all the time. Not only can this reduce possibilities of making new friends, it can mean losing the ones they had. A turn off for new friends is the smelly clothes, bad breath and dull looking skin that cigarette smoking can do to you. This can lead to feeling lonelier. The vicious circle takes control and they lose control of your life.
Long term loneliness can become a real health problem for many people.
What help is available to me?
Making links with others
While there are many things that contribute to loneliness the hardest thing to do is identify and face how you contribute to your loneliness. The first thing you might like to ask yourself is:
What do I do to keep loneliness in my life?
* I stay home by myself all the time. I don't go out anywhere
* I let myself believe I am ugly, stupid, boring and no one will like me
* I tell myself no one understands me. In fact, no one will ever understand me
* I spend all my money on dope/alcohol and then can't afford to do anything else
* I always get scared and don't try any thing new. That includes meeting new people or doing new things
* I let other people boss me around and tell me: who I am, and what I can do
* I tell myself I am a black sheep and I will never fit in
* I think there is something wrong with me.
Once you have looked at what you do to contribute you can look at the things you might like to change.
Some people like to write a list or a plan about what they will do. Set yourself some goals. Think about what you do and don't have control over (e.g. you can't change what other people do, you can change what you do!). Pin it up. Add to it. Take things away (it is always OK to change your mind). Try some new things out. Take a risk.
It can take time and energy to replace "loneliness" with involvement and "isolation" with a sense of community. Loneliness can be a big and overwhelming thing. Big and overwhelming things don't disappear easily. The way they do disappear is if you chip at them bit by bit.
Taking off little bits at a time can slowly help you to feel better.
More guidanceHere are some ideas of what other people have done to change loneliness by involvement and isolation by joining a community.
* Skills like assertiveness, conflict resolution, negotiation and problem solving can challenge the feelings of loneliness if it has crept into your life. (If you join a group to learn about these you will meet people as well.)
* Make a list of what is contributing to your loneliness. How might you change your relationship with these things? How might you build new things into the relationship? Remember you can't change other people. Think about the choices you have control over
* Put your fear aside and take a risk. Phone that person you have been putting off for ages. Invite a new person over for dinner. Go, when you are asked to a party
* If you are experiencing an abusive situation, tell someone you trust
* If you have been violent or abusive towards others think about the behaviours that you might choose that build safe, caring and trusting relationships in your life
* Tell someone you trust how you are feeling. Talk to a trained counsellor (you can do this over the phone without even saying who you are!)
* Find groups of people where you hold a common interest. For example join a sporting club, do a short course, or visit a support group
* Be open to others' opinions and views. Try and see things from another person's point of view. Remember you can learn from every person you meet! Let them know you are interested in them. (But don't try too hard at first. Just be friendly without asking for too much too soon)
* Connect with other people through volunteer work or becoming involved in other community projects. There are lots of people out there who feel just like you!
Think about what is best for you. Take control of what you can. Put energy into the things you can change. Take a risk and move out of your "comfort zone" in order to improve the quality of your life.
You could help yourself by helping othersOne way of overcoming loneliness and reducing social isolation is to be more conscious to the needs of other people. Being lonely can cause us to become a bit self-focused and sometimes are unaware that others have needs also. Consider the following:
* Know someone who is lonely? Do you see someone spend lunch alone every day? Think about how that person might feel. We can all help each other feel welcome and included. We are all part of the one community and we can all help each other
* Be open to others' opinions, views and ways of living. Try and see things from other people's point of view
* Allow, accept and celebrate diversity and difference in others
* Remember you can learn from every person you meet! Let them know you are interested in them and their life
* Invite someone new into your life. Invite someone home for coffee or to watch a movie
* Be aware of how loneliness might feel. Tell others about what you think
* Show someone that you care. Visit someone you know is lonely. Take them some flowers. Send someone a card or letter.
Who else can help?Counsellor – you may benefit from speaking to a trained counsellor particularly if there are specific psychological reasons for your isolation.
Spiritual Advisors – such as a minister, priest, pastor etc can be valuable sources of support and will provide a confidential listening service.