In a world surrounded by so much communication and social community, it can be strange for many to think that an individual could, in these times, be lonely. After all, with an ability to instantly connect to billions of people, surely it is up to the individual who feels lonely to make the most of, and utilise, such connection. Right?
What Does Loneliness Feel Like?
Loneliness is defined as: “sadness because one has no friends or company.”
Within this definition, the truth of the connection an individual needs to thrive can be seen as something deeper than that which social media or other such communities can provide. Whilst they can deliver information and gratification from others for things you have shared, they can never delve to a level which provides a person with that true feeling of company.
People need more than a like. They need more than a passing comment. They need genuine investment from people who are committed to them for no reason other than ‘you being you makes me feel yay me’.
Loneliness can feel like you are trapped. Stuck in a slimy ditch which, although you can see the top and see the light above, you are unable to scale to escape. Oftentimes the more you try, the more the mudslides from beneath you, keeping you in place. You reach out, nothing. You call, nothing. You visit, no time. Come back later. Call back tomorrow.
So often isolation can fuel itself. After all, have you ever seen that single person in the restaurant? That individual in the crowd? The person sat in the cinema on their own? Isn’t it uncomfortable.
First thought towards that person is often a discomfort, wondering why they are alone. What is wrong with them? Second thought, pity. Neither of these a comfortable way to be thought of.
Understanding the Difficulties of Feeling Alone
We each have circles of community around us. Those closest in the inner circles, those less well known in the outer. The frustrating thing for someone who is lonely is they are often in no one’s inner circle.
Although they have people they view as their own inner circle, for a relationship to fully be mutually beneficial and thrive, both parties must have a similar view of each other. They both must see them as a close friend, or even just a friend at all. When you are in no one’s inner circle it doesn’t matter how well you push to maintain relationships, you are never a priority to those people. They have other things to worry about, other people they want to invest in. And that’s fair. We each only have so much energy we can spend each day.
But what of the lonely person left on their own? How can we do our best to notice when they are in need? A difficult question indeed.
4 Tips for Recognising a Lonely Person in Need
Be careful how you communicate
One thing that is often missed by someone who is lonely is conversation. Whilst people can be very good at amusing themselves and maintaining an internal dialogue, or distracting themselves from their isolation, everyone needs to talk to a real person at some point.
And for these individuals, the care with which they are treated can go a long way. It is really easy to quickly reply to someone when we may not want to talk to them at that time. Get the conversation over with, get past it and get on. At times this can be more destructive than if no message were sent at all.
When a person feels neglected, and others do all they can to move past a conversation with them, it can hurt. It might have taken a lot of courage for the person to even send a message in the first place, and it’s important to be considerate of that. To you, that one message may not be consequential. But for a person who is lonely, it means a lot.
One positive conversation can dispel many negative ones in this situation. One person treating the person with respect, and actually showing compassion and joy at talking with them, can be very healing for an individual.
This doesn’t mean we must always have long conversations the second we get a message. Boundaries are important. Instead, it may mean waiting a day to reply until you do have the energy to reply. It may mean making sure to be purposeful about what we say; a short purposeful conversation is often better than a long conversation that has been given no time or care.
You should not be expected to be emotionally available all the time for everyone. But being purposeful about your conversation when you are available can be important to someone who is lonely.
Recognise that sometimes a text may be a cry for help
Opening up is a vital part of maintaining good mental health, and it is essential to have people we trust to share how we are feeling with. Sometimes, when a person does not have people they are close with, the message to you may be them opening up.
Often it will not be obvious, an individual may not feel confident enough to say they need support. Instead, it could be more subtle. It may be inferred in the questions they ask you, are they trying to steer the conversation to a certain subject? Do they keep pulling things back in that direction? It may also be phrased jokingly, trying to cover the question with humour.
In these situations, it can be helpful to once again wait until you have the emotional energy to reply. While you are not expected to be emotionally available at all times for everyone, you should still be aware of and sensitive to potential cries for help.
Don’t just wait for them to contact you
Something that can make someone feel really valued is when others initiate contact first. A lonely person might only ever have a conversation with someone else when they are the one to always reach out. They may never get called, or visited, or messaged without being the one to initiate.
It can be the little things that a person misses the most. For example, they may not have been asked “how are you”, “how has your day been” in a long time. They may not have been called just because someone valued them, not for a practical purpose but just…. because.
A small gesture such as a message to show you are thinking about that person can go such a long way! Plus, this gives you the control of when you are emotionally available. You have the choice to reach out when you have the capacity for conversation.
One small question may not mean a lot to you, but may mean the world to them.
Help them feel seen
When a person is lonely, they often try so hard to connect, open up, and reach out to people to maintain their relationships. And when this consistently comes back with no success, it can be incredibly disheartening. In the best of times, it can be hard to maintain motivation, even with a whole host of people cheering you on. In hard times, it’s much more difficult. Especially if you feel like there is no support.
To feel seen, it’s the small things that really matter. Big impact almost always starts with a small change – that’s what all this is trying to say really. The smallest act, the insignificant conversation, may be the thing that communicates to a lonely individual, “I see you, others may not but I do. You are not alone. If nobody has told you they love you today, remember that I do, and I always will.”
It may just be a 5-minute conversation or a passing visit to you, but to another, it is the difference between complete isolation and complete community. Show that person you see them, you value them.
Final Thoughts for Those Feeling Alone
Understand that your friends cannot read minds
To those who are feeling alone right now, it is so important to remember that there are people out there who love you and want to support you. However, they are not able to read minds. Sometimes we just have to be honest and say we are struggling, say we are feeling alone.
Honestly, I can be the worst at this. I can be very headstrong and feel like I can do everything on my own. And I can often think that it is other people’s responsibility to just know that I am feeling down. They should just see that. This is not true though.
It is not fair to expect my friends to just know what I’m thinking and feeling, especially if I have said everything is ok. Even though it is really hard, sometimes I just have to take the step out and tell someone how I’m feeling. Then allow them the space and time to respond to that. I can’t always expect my friends to drop everything instantly, they must have some grace with that.
It’s all about building trusting relationships. I know my friends care about me, I know they will support me. Sometimes it may take a day for them to respond, but I trust them to be there. In those moments I often just have to sit and tell myself that. Tell myself that my friends do care about me and value me. A late reply doesn’t mean they hate me. It may mean they have had a hard day too.
A good practice can be asking before opening up to a friend. Say something like, “do you have some time, I’m having a hard time?”. That gives them a choice, and maybe they don’t have capacity right now but they will later, the choice is important. From that choice you show them you care about their wellbeing too. You value them. And if they don’t have time at that moment, remember to affirm the truth to yourself that they do in fact care about you.
Do not get tunnel vision
When feeling lonely, it can also be very easy to intensely focus on the few people who are not there. Often, in doing so, you can easily miss the people who are around you and wanting to support you.
Very quickly the mind can spiral with its own thoughts and quickly make you believe that because one person isn’t around for you, that no one is. If you are feeling lonely it is important that you set aside time each day to positively affirm the people who you know are there for you. Ask yourself, “who are the people I do have in my life?”. Then from that, name them out loud. Doing this gives you control over your mind. Doing so consistently, each day, will make sure that your mind begins to notice and know the people you have to support you, rather than focusing on those you don’t.
Along with this, it is important to understand that not everyone will be in your inner circle, and you will not be in everyone else’s inner circle. When lonely it can be easy to focus on those who are in our immediate vicinity. Our mind quickly seeks out community wherever it can find it, and always with the easiest option.
In times like this it is useful to take a step back and ask why you are trying to pursue community from this person. Is it because they are the right person to connect with, or is it because you are simply wanting community from anywhere it appears? If the latter, we can then take control of that thought and proactively think about who would be a good person to connect with, not just who is immediately close to us.
You deserve to have a community
Company, companionship, and friendship (beyond a ‘like’ on a screen) is vital to being emotionally well. And being alone can feel like all that has been taken from you.
However, never forget that you deserve the best relationships and communities! You don’t need to settle just for the closest people you can get, but rather seek the people who are really going to build you up and invest in your friendship day after day! By taking a moment to think about why, we allow ourselves the space to see the broader picture, and see the people who are in fact there for you.
Peter Bonnebaigt or “Pete” is a Manchester-based sound engineer and tour manager. Over the years, he has done shows and toured across the UK, Europe, and globally. Pete is passionate about mental health and currently serves as The Lily-Jo Project’s operations manager. If you ever need to get in touch with us, Pete is often your first point of contact and is always happy to make a new friend!