Why do we feel lonely? If you’re like the majority of us, you’ve had this silent dialogue with yourself. Why do I feel lonely? Why, despite having friends, do I feel lonely? What is wrong with me?
We are social beings that thrive physically, mentally, and emotionally in healthy communities, with few exceptions. And new research indicates that loneliness is rising among the 24-39 and 18-23-year-old age brackets.
The statistics and data referenced in this article come from surveys on loneliness and isolation in America conducted between 2016-2020.
Why do we feel lonely? What exactly is loneliness? What are its four most common causes, and what can we do to address them?
Why Do We Feel Lonely? Loneliness Defined
The Oxford Dictionary defines loneliness as experiencing “sadness because one has no friends or company.”
When social connections aren’t made or are lacking, we experience loneliness. As a result, we may feel empty, isolated, or undesirable.
What are the four most common reasons for loneliness?
Why Do We Feel Lonely: 4 Common Causes Of Loneliness. (Number 4 Might Surprise You.)
1. Isolation. Few individuals would disagree that isolation is the primary factor in loneliness. The closed doors we lived behind during the pandemic intensified the feelings of loneliness we were already experiencing. As we returned to public gatherings, many anticipated our loneliness would subside just based on closer proximity to others. But unfortunately, this was not the case for many.
2. Unrealistic Expectations. Three beliefs left unchecked often ruin our connections with others.
A belief that relationships are to be perfect. If we expect or demand perfection from ourselves or others, we will be disappointed. There are no ideal people and no ideal relationships.
A belief that relationships are to be free of conflict. All relationships have peaks and valleys. Some days it feels like love is broken beyond repair. We have abandoned connections that needed a minor repair. And we have foolishly invested great energy to maintain soul-crushing relationships.
A belief that romantic relationships will fulfill us. Some people assumed that sex and or marriage would complete them, only to discover that it is possible to be married and lonely.
3. Reliance on Technology. When the pandemic came, many leaned heavily into technology because of our inability to meet in person. And technology helped many of us to remain somewhat connected. But we soon learned that there are limits to what technology can do for us as we experienced Zoom Fatigue.
4. Previous Harm or Trauma. The effects of trauma, shame, and a fear of being hurt again can result in our withdrawal from others. And while our self-defense mechanisms may prevent us from future harm, they will also cut us off from meaningful connections.
Why Do We Feel Lonely: 4 Powerful Solutions
1. We address pandemic-induced isolation by determining to open, not close, doors. We will have to find the courage to engage in new conversations without predicting the outcome for many of us. One comforting thought, the individual we are reaching out too, might be just as nervous as we are.
2. We manage unrealistic expectations in relationships by extending grace to others and ourselves. We know we are not perfect, and so we should not expect perfection from others. With others, we recognize that a potential conflict may be an opportunity to strengthen our connections. We are open to romantic relationships but understand their limitations in satisfying our need for companionship.
3. We use technology to enhance social interaction, not replace it. We may need to track the frequency and type of interactions we are having with others. For example, I might track my contact with a friend on a calendar and note whether it was an in-person meeting, a telephone call, an email, text, or video meeting. Then, I might determine what form of contact is now appropriate based on that information.
4. We move from previous harm or trauma by purposely engaging in the healing power of a community. We find others with similar experiences or the capacity to listen. In telling our story, we allow God to address our shame and powerlessness through others.
Call to Action
Would you mind calling someone this week? Go ahead and knock on their door. If you can’t locate a healing community, then create one.
If you need the motivation to do this, I highly recommend a powerful video by Eric Torrence for Feeling Lonely.