I was reading this article recently, (How loneliness changes the way our brains process the world), and much like the author states, the feeling of being lonely should act much like other instinctual feelings. Similar to when our bodies need nourishment and we feel hungry, or when we feel scared it’s a push to protect ourselves, or when feeling irritated is our brain telling us that something needs to change, etc. feeling lonely should be the reminder that we are better when we are in community with other people. But, it doesn’t always work that way.
Social relationships are crucial, providing safety, resources, opportunities to have children, and so on. The fact that we find the feeling of loneliness so unpleasant often motivates us to reconnect with others, bringing with it all of these benefits.
But it’s not as simple as that. Feeling lonely can also induce social withdrawal and types of negative thinking, which can make it harder to connect with people.
The tricky part is that we aren’t so simple. Yes, feeling lonely should push us to want to connect, but it also opens us up to all of the internal thoughts we have about why we are alone instead of connected to our community. Wanted to reach out connect means fighting all the negative thoughts. For me, those look like:
- You’re alone because no one likes you.
- You’ll just be bothering them.
- They don’t have time for you.
- Needing other people to help your loneliness makes you weak.
- It’s safer to just stay home.
It’s not so much that these are true, but the instinctual drive to connect with others that I may have got blocked by all of these arguments. Fighting them can be exhausting. Feeling exhausted does not make me want to spend time with other people.
Round and round we go.
For myself, and all of you, remember that feeling of loneliness is there for a reason, because we are meant to be connected to other people. Generally speaking, all those people we know and should connect with, also need the same thing. Many of them might even be struggling with their own internal negative thoughts too, and could use someone to reach out to them. If we all sit around convinced that no one wants to connect with us, eventually we’ll all be lonely, which seems like something we are headed toward. The solution is for each of us to take a step toward connection when we can.