“Sometimes I feel so — I don’t know — lonely. The kind of helpless feeling when everything you’re used to has been ripped away. Like there’s no more gravity, and I’m left to drift in outer space with no idea where I’m going.” ― Haruki Murakami
I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery for a while. It’s a process that has allowed me to learn about myself and the problems I’ve had in life. My growth has been nowhere near linear; it’s been more of a messy, jolting experience. There is still plenty of room to grow also. Most of my issues are self-created, and I now understand I am my own worst enemy. But life changes, and along with it, so do we.
One of the biggest problems I face is feeling lonely. I’m not afraid to admit I deal with loneliness occasionally. However, a lot of it is self-imposed. It’s because of my actions (or lack thereof) that keep me on my one-man island.
I want connection, but it needs to be on a more personal level than simply having a friend. I want that closeness that comes with someone you trust unconditionally, but those relationships are hard to find.
As someone who is an extreme introvert at times, I wonder whether my introversion plays a part. Given introverts are more likely to spend greater time alone, I wanted to explore whether all that alone time made me lonely.
I want to emphasize I am not saying you are more likely to be lonely if you are an introvert. Everyone is different. In my brief search, I could not find any substantial research which shows loneliness is more prevalent in introverts. But I thought there may be aspects of me being an introvert that contribute to those feelings.
So I dug a little deeper into myself — and doing that has helped me understand what was causing my feelings.
What Is Loneliness?
Before getting into whether I may be more inclined to be lonely as an introvert, I want to talk about what it is because it differs from being alone. I love being alone, but I don’t like the feeling of loneliness.
I thrive on alone time. I’m more productive, creative, and happier when alone than when I am with others. I can also be happy with many people as long as there is that connection. However, being by myself allows me to recharge, especially after being with a group. Having that alone time allows me the opportunity to focus 100% on my kids when they are with me.
I need time to be alone. I need time to reset.
Loneliness is different. While I am happy being alone, I am sad when I’m lonely. That is the easiest way to explain it, and it may be different for you. Everyone experiences loneliness and we can feel lonely in many ways. Some of us don’t have significant others. Some don’t have many friends. And others may feel alone because they don’t fit in with what society deems “normal.”
You can be surrounded by hundreds of people or be in a loving marriage and still feel lonely. There is nothing wrong with feeling lonely — it is normal.
The problem begins when you always feel lonely. Chronic loneliness can lead to depression. It has also been found to be a health risk for older adults and can cause cellular changes, which may cause illness. You can even inherit it from your parents.
To put it simply, loneliness is much worse than being alone.
When I sat down and looked into my issues with feeling lonely, I drew conclusions between my introversion and my loneliness. I base these conclusions on what I know about myself and not on anything else.
I didn’t quiz myself or have friends answer a questionnaire. Although I do sometimes talk to myself, I didn’t sit down and pretend I was the patient and the therapist. That would be a bit weird, even for me.
I thought about myself, my feelings, and my habits. That’s it. That was my method. Powerful, huh?
So, none of these “findings” are scientific.
But I’m hoping what I found can help you like it’s helped me.
I’m responsible. I isolate myself. I love being alone so much; I forego everything else. I don’t reach out to friends as much as they reach out to me. The more I told them no, the less frequent they reached out — until they stopped calling. And I was alone more often and for longer periods of time.
My depression heightened feeling lonely. I was depressed because I was lonely, and lonely because I was depressed. My anxiety added to the mixture, and it was a vicious cycle. When you are depressed, you don’t want to be around others. Add in being an introvert on top of the depression and anxiety, and it is exhausting being around others.
My insecurity is a factor in feeling lonely. It is easier to be alone than with others because I was insecure about myself. I believe everyone has insecurities but, by being alone, I couldn’t get hurt by other people. My experiences cloud my thinking, and I allowed my insecurity to control my life.
I don’t have enough deep connections. I prefer deep connections with a few people rather than having multiple acquaintances. I don’t have friends with who I connect regularly. When you get older, it is more difficult to find those connections.
My introversion doesn’t cause my loneliness, but being alone for long periods of time does. It is a symptom of my isolation, not my introversion. The more I isolate, the easier it becomes to not socialize. I’m not lonely because I’m an introvert, I’m lonely because I isolate. But, I’ve used my introversion as an excuse to isolate myself from others.
What Has Helped
If you read my other piece on introverts, you’ll see I don’t believe introverts need to be fixed. But finding a balance between being alone and having enough social interaction or meaningful connection to avoid being lonely can be tough.
Nothing needs to change if you are an introvert. However, if you are like me and isolate, there are a few ways I’ve found helpful.
These are my “fixings.” Again, these are not scientific, and in no particular order in relation to the findings. But this has worked for me.
1. Don’t isolate. As simple as it sounds, this is the key to avoiding loneliness. When you isolate yourself, you are cut off from everything and everyone who can help. Studies show friends and family are the best cures for feeling alone — but not all of us have family or friends we can rely on. In those cases, seek help from those you trust. You don’t have to figure it out alone. This is also true for chronic loneliness. I know it’s hard, but taking action is the first step towards improvement.
2. Get out in nature. Similar to not isolating, just the simple act of getting out into nature for as little as 30 minutes a week has many wonderful benefits, including decreased stress, increased happiness and creativity, and can make you feel “more alive.” While this is not a cure, if done regularly, it can reduce those feelings and be used as a supplement to other remedies.
3. Go to a quiet public place. It’s not that I don’t enjoy being around people, it’s interacting with them that is the problem. So, I will go to a coffee shop or the library to work instead of always working from home and being alone. Or, I will surf the internet and observe others. People watching is fun. I know it doesn’t replace the one-on-one connection, but it is better than isolating, and it gives me a feeling of community.
4. Explain to your friends and family what you need. As I mentioned previously, some of my friends stopped calling because I was always saying no. So, I had to explain to them what was happening and what I needed out of the friendship. I had to explain that I’m an introvert and sometimes I isolate myself. But that doesn’t mean I can’t go grab a beer sometimes. Communication is key.
5. Fill your days with things that bring you joy. When not working, I fill my days with writing, running, exercising, reading, and being with my kids. I do things that energize me and make me happy. I go hiking when I can and try to not sit around doing nothing, and I keep my mind and body busy. I meet with people who make me feel good, and I try to return the favor.
6. Get a pet. I know not everyone can do this, but I’ve found having a pet reduces my loneliness. He gets me outside for walks and loves to play. I’ve also met several of my neighbors who I didn’t know prior because of the walks we go on. Studies show getting a pet has numerous health benefits.
Everyone experiences loneliness and being alone is not the problem. If you spend too much time alone, though, it can be detrimental. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, it will affect you at some time in your life. Being an introvert does not lead to loneliness, but isolation can — so there needs to be a balance between wanting to be alone, introversion, and isolation. It is up to you to find the right balance.
I still get lonely and that is normal — but those times are becoming fewer. I have learned what helps me out of these periods of loneliness and I’m hoping what I’ve learned will help you too.
Jeff Barton is a writer, ultra-runner, lover of books and zombies, a practitioner of positive thinking, and most importantly, a dad. Living and loving life one day at a time. You can find him at jeffthewriter.com and jefftherunner.com.
Image courtesy of RF._.studio.