According to a recent report (late October 2020) by Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project, loneliness is at an alarming high rate with 61% of people age 18-25 reported loneliness. In the survey of 950 Americans, 36% reported severe loneliness (frequent or all the time). The consequences of loneliness are severe, ranging from serious physical and emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, heart disease, substance abuse, domestic violence to death.
Social isolation from the pandemic definitely didn’t help but it at least brought some spot light to the long time pandemic of loneliness. I want to write this post to differentiate between loneliness and aloneness. Loneliness stems from being disconnected, not from solitude. Being alone does not mean being lonely.
The easiest way to know is by choice. If we choose solitude and we’re happy with that choice, that means we’re not truly suffering loneliness. In fact, being alone is healthy and restorative, even productive. On the other hands, if we feel disconnected even when we’re in a crowd, at a social event, or worst, in a relationship, we’re suffering loneliness.
As someone whose greatest fear used to be loneliness and being alone, my healing journey brought me to the realization of this paradox: to regain my ability to feel connected and nourish genuine connections, I needed to learn how to be happy being alone. There were many reasons why I avoided spending time by myself so much before but they came down to these two main roots: 1) I hated myself and 2) I was lost; I no longer knew who I was and I was afraid to find out.
Perhaps you’re feeling like I did back then. We don’t know exactly how we got to this point. Maybe we lost ourselves in terrible mistakes, or in horrible relationships, or in traumatizing past events; there were many routes that could take us to that darkness. But one thing is true: no matter how far we run, we can never run away from ourselves. Disconnection with ourselves is the fastest route to feeling disconnected with everything else and loneliness would be waiting for us.
If we’ve been avoiding being with ourselves for so long, how do we even start? First, simply recognizing what we’re feeling, the willingness to admit our misery is the first step towards healing. Once we get past the denials and start to accept our sufferings, we can reach towards the brighter healing path. We can seek out help and support, especially if we have unresolved traumas. When we start making those small steps, the path will appear even if we can’t see it in the beginning. Gradually, we will gain insights to see that we’re not quite the terrifying vision we were so afraid to find out.
The journey home, to find ourselves once again might be uncomfortable and rocky and long winding but it is absolutely worth it. Because on the way home, we start to find that not only we do not mind solitude, we actually need alone time to process things. The scenery on our way home might be familiar but we might look at it in a new light and gain new appreciation.
Once we reconnect with who we are, we can meet the world as we are. We can develop genuine connections with others as we know our strengths and limits, our desires and fears. As a result, we feel connected, loneliness becomes a fleeting thing.
If you’re afraid of solitude because you fear of being more lonely, you’re already lonely. Start the journey home. Your home is within you. If you have lost your way, do not hesitate to ask for guidance, for help, for support. Whether they’re therapists, counselors, mentors, teachers, coaches, reach out and come home to yourself.