Loneliness is, or can be, a killer. It is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. You can be surrounded by millions of people and feel the utmost loneliness through lack of connection to other people. I hear London being called a lonely city all the time and that is one big place with millions of people all around. It can be triggered by times of the year or it can be an ongoing issue highlighted by some event or something someone says or just there staring you in the face.
You can also be lonely in a marriage or in a relationship, or because you aren’t in a relationship. You can feel lonely at any time, for any reason.
I have felt it at parties, at school, at work, I have felt it many times through my life. I am sure most of us have at one point or another. Especially as an Expat, friends come and go all the time. It’s inevitable. A sad fact of life. Or is it?
It is not just a question of getting used to one’s own company, which may be a positive thing, we should not rely on others to validate our exisitance, sometimes we need to learn to be comfortable with time alone to recharge our batteries.
The hardest part about loneliness is the feeling of isolation. You can feel isolated because you live abroad in a strange country where you don’t speak the language yet or don’t know who to contact or what to say even if you did know someone, or it may simply be that you feel you don’t know anyone well enough to even chit chat, let alone start a really deep conversation. Sometimes you can be isolated due to someone else, the worst kind. It can be devastating and overwhelming. You can regress into yourself and end up not wanting to talk to anybody. It truly sucks.
I write a lot about happiness (strangely enough) and also give workshops on the subject and one of the first questions I ask people in the workshop is “What makes you happy?”. A huge percentage of the people say friends and family. If no-one comes up with the answer ‘friends or family’ immediately, I push until someone mentions it and when they do, everyone generally says, “Well of course that goes without saying”.
But it doesn’t go without saying. It has to be said. It has to be shouted from the rooftops.
Especially for the people who feel lonely, isolated, alone, afraid, sometimes due to circumstances beyond their control. People need people. People need to be understood, feel connected, people need touch, comfort, succour. People are built to connect. But when we don’t know how, or where to go or what to do, it becomes isolating.
Being abroad, as I am. I see a lot of it. I see a lot of people living alone, or people whose partners are working and travelling all the time, I see people who have lived abroad for years, settled down and have stayed put as they have nobody back in the old country to go back to and no partner here. We are living in a more fractious world and we need to change that around. We need more cohab spaces. There are already initiatives to help people live in a large space where people mingle, but also where you have your own space, but these initiatives are not for everyone (older people and people in relationships maybe) and there are only a few of them at the moment.
What can we do about it on a personal level?
It is difficult for many reasons, training to be able to support people is not easily available, or cheap. Being trained to help people is always a good idea. Time is also another issue, does the free time you have available to help, correspond with the timing/needs of people who need help? Listening to people’s troubles can also take it‘s toll on ourselves. What are the rules for listening? What are the boundaries? What if more harm was done than good? What if abuse was part of the issue, someone was being isolated against their will? So many questions. So many variables.
What can lonely people do about their situation themselves?
That’s a hard question, not so simple to answer I don’t think. One thing would be to reach out to others and let them know they are feeling lonely? Getting a pet can help, Elderly people do that a lot. Helping others by volunteering, going into hospitals and residencies to listen to others or simply to help others can help sometimes. Do something creative? Learn a new skill? Keep busy at work, go out rather than staying in. Go to clubs or events to meet others. But all that is not easy if you don’t have the skills, the money, the languages or connections. How do you make connections to others? How do you make friends, if that is the reason?
One route would be to start up a local support group, but how do you do that? What if no-one responds? What if too many people respond? What if, what if, what if. It can sound easy, but you have to let yourself be vulnerable when you are feeling vulnerable already.
Meetup is a good system for setting up local groups. It could be a group for walking in the woods or coffee morning or creative ideas, it doesn’t have to be about loneliness, the cure could be a side product of the Meetup group. It is also a good system for finding groups that you might like to join. Maybe there are other lonely people who have set up groups themselves?
I run a creative/experimental workshop group a few times a month in the evening and a lot of the people come along, not only to learn something new, but to see friendly faces, meet new people, make friends or they don’t want to be alone at home. Not everyone wants to talk about it, but I hear enough stories and read between the lines of what a lot of people say to me at these workshops.
I also run a coffee morning on a Thursday for people that don’t work during the day and that want to connect with other human beings, get and give advice and just chat to another human being, a friendly face. Sometimes we are the only people they see apart from people in job agencies or in interviews, not a very friendly world.
People matter, they need to be heard, they need to be valued, listened to, taken seriously.
I often think about offering a proper listening service to people, but don’t know how to go about it.
I know there are many many services on the other end of a telephone or on websites where you can chat to someone. But people sometimes feel silly and don’t want to bother someone with their trivial things, ‘no-one wants to listen to me moan’ they may think. Mostly that may be true, but there are people out there would wouldn’t mind helping or chatting or just listening. There are good people out there who have been through the same or similar things, we all do from time to time, but may not want to admit it to ourselves.
One very good online service that I have heard good things about is 7 cups (of Tea)
The name comes from a buddhist poem about how it takes 7 cups of tea to reach zen.
From the website:
“7 Cups of Tea, by Lu Tong (795 – 835 CE)
The first cup kisses away my thirst,
and my loneliness is quelled by the second.
The third gives insight worthy of ancient scrolls,
and the fourth exiles my troubles.
My body becomes lighter with the fifth,
and the sixth sends word from immortals.
But the seventh—oh the seventh cup—
if I drink you, a wind will hurry my wings
toward the sacred island.
Translated by Christopher Nelson”
The dark side
I am surprised that a lot of people I know in my circle of friends who may have been suicidal at one point or another or know someone who has. I certainly have known people who have committed suicide. It has to be taken very seriously. Depression is a whole other ball game.
If you were to setup a service to help people, even if it was a listening service from time to time. How would you go about it?
I know that many services exist over the phone, (Samaritans for example) but if someone want to talk face to face with someone. How could this be done. I know people who have just taken a cardboard sign with Listening Service on it and offer 10 or 20 minutes of listening on the street, but that doesn’t reach the people hidden away. How to reach them? The people who are shut at home, the people who don’t know anybody and may not be walking down the street at the exact right time to meet somebody like that.
I will listen to you. If you need to talk, to be heard without judgement, comment or advice. I will hold a space for you, I will listen.
If you prefer, you can always call the professionals (if you are in Belgium) http://www.chsbelgium.org/en/
A great 75 year study done on happiness and the effects of loneliness: http://ed.ted.com/featured/zt8LPHB1#watch
The speaker ends with a great Quote from Mark Twain part of it is:
“A good life is built on good relationships”
Mail me your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org