Learn about loneliness.

 Learning about the patterns of loneliness can help you break free.

To beat loneliness, you have to learn about it

 The first, most important thing a person who is facing deep loneliness can do is to get help, find someone you can really talk to – preferably a professional – as soon as possible. Because loneliness changes your brain, you probably need help well before you think you need it.

After you get help, it’s important to learn everything you can about this issue, because you have to guard against the way it distorts your view of the world. The biggest challenge in transforming loneliness is that it is often misunderstood by both the people who suffer from it and the people who are their friends and loved ones. Loneliness is a complex problem that affects our image of ourselves, our perception of others, and our motivation to take action. In order to transform it, you have to learn how it works.

The biggest challenge of loneliness

 The first thing to learn about loneliness is that it changes your thoughts and perceptions. These changes are important because you’ll have to fight again they make it really hard to find your way out. Psychologist and mental health advocate Guy Winch has a great summary of this in his excellent blog post on loneliness at the TED website:

“Unfortunately, emerging from loneliness is far more challenging than we realize, as the psychological wounds it inflicts create a trap from which it is difficult to break free. Loneliness distorts our perceptions, making us believe the people around us care much less than they actually do, and it makes us view our existing relationships more negatively, such that we see them as less meaningful and important than we would if we were not lonely.”

These distorted perceptions have a huge ripple effect, creating self-fulfilling prophecies that ensnare many. Feeling emotionally raw and convinced of our own undesirability and of the diminished caring of others, we hesitate to reach out even as we are likely to respond to overtures from others with hesitance, resentment, skepticism or desperation, effectively pushing away the very people who could alleviate our condition.”

Social connection as part of a healthy life

It’s important to realize that loneliness and social connection not separate. Think about loneliness like you would think about hunger: as the lack of something important to our health, something improved by adding meaningful social connection to your life. The feeling is not you; feeling lonely doesn’t define you any more than feeling hungry defines you as a person. That’s important because loneliness has real stigma attached to it in our society. Social connection is the “food” we use to be socially healthy, it is the positive we add to our lives. To learn more about this, watch the TED talk on loneliness from John Cacioppo, one of the pioneers of research into loneliness and social connection.

The three types of loneliness

In everyday use you’ll hear loneliness treated as if it was a single problem, but there actually three different types of loneliness that have been studied by researchers: existential, emotional, and social loneliness. Read this post from Psychology Today to get an overview of the different types and their causes.

Plan of action

So, having learned about loneliness, how do we take action? In order to effectively beat loneliness and build effective social connections, we need a plan that covers the different kinds of loneliness – social, emotional, and existential – and addresses them at every level. This means taking action as individuals, in our relationships, and building social connection into our culture.