Many people struggle with loneliness because they live by themselves or spend most of their time alone.
Others may be surrounded by people, yet still feel lonely. Whichever the case, loneliness is caused by the lack of connection that comes through relationships.
The presence of loneliness reflects a lack of emotional connection, not a lack of people. That is why some people feel lonely even in a crowd. One may also experience loneliness when a social group does not provide the support the person needs.
Almost everyone has experienced a fleeting feeling of loneliness on occasion. Loneliness may be a situational or a chronic feeling.
Situational loneliness can be an acute sense of absence, especially in transition, maybe the first day in a new job, college or town.
It should resolve after a while once you get to know people. Chronic loneliness, however, takes more than two years to resolve and often stems from unabated situational loneliness.
How to overcome loneliness
There are three types of loneliness; emotional loneliness, social loneliness and existential loneliness.
Emotional loneliness comes from a lack of emotional connection in your life. Could be everyone in the friend group has a romantic partner except you. Or perhaps your heart has been recently broken and you are feeling the void left by the other person.
It is usually felt when you need to talk to someone about something happening in your life but no one is available.
The only way out of emotional loneliness is walking out of your shell and intentionally forming meaningful connections. It takes time, so do not expect an ‘instant friendship’ or a ‘love at first sight’.
Waiting around for another person to make a move is not a proactive stance, take initiative. Walk up to someone and strike up a conversation, you will be surprised at how responsive people can be. If they are not, do not give up.
Try reconnecting with an old high school friend, sharing drinks, exchanging texts or calling them. And you will start feeling much better.
Social loneliness comes when you do not feel a sense of belonging to a group. When you walk into a meeting or a party and do not recognise anyone, you may feel a tinge of loneliness wash over you. It might be felt even in a romantic relationship.
Whenever your presence is not valued or acknowledged by others then social loneliness becomes ostensible.
Exclusion from a group is painful and the only way to combat it is to jump into a new group or activity. This could be enrolling on the new ‘karate’ or ‘swimming’ club next door. Try volunteering with say the Red Cross, Kazi kwa Vijana, anything.
Existential loneliness is the result of a broader separation related to the nature of existence, and in particular, the meaning of life. The saying that you were born alone and you will leave the world alone suggests existential loneliness.
This is an inescapable aspect of life. A little bit of existential loneliness is good for the soul, it helps us to explore ourselves, and understand our world and our role in it. It also helps us to recharge and step out of our cocoons feeling more energised and purposeful.
Existential fears such as purposelessness, death, meaninglessness and freedom are experienced by virtually all of us at some point in this life.
Recognising this fear and using it as a motivator rather than a pitfall is one way to combat it. Realising that we are not alone in this, just one member in a vast sea of individuals battling with the same feelings.