If you ever ask yourself, “Why do I feel lonely even though I have friends?” Let me tell you… you are not alone. Loneliness is a common feeling!
Podcast Episode! Do you know the definition of loneliness? What about the 3 types of loneliness? In order to solve a problem we need to know what we are battling. Listen Here.
So to start, we need to understand “What is loneliness?”
Loneliness is a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship, which happens when there is a mismatch between the quantity and quality of the social relationships that we have and those that we want (Perlman and Peplau, 1981)
There are different types of loneliness: emotional, social, and existential loneliness.
- Emotional loneliness is the absence of feeling close ties and meaning in our closest relationships.
- Social loneliness is feeling like you lack a wider social network.
- Existential loneliness is a universal aspect of the human condition where one feels “separate” from others.
Loneliness is a feeling that comes and goes. It can also be a situation and only happen at certain times, holidays, or situations. Loneliness can also be chronic when someone feels lonely all or most of the time.
Loneliness can also be characterized by intensity, or how overwhelming or strong it feels, which can constantly be changing from one moment to another and over long durations of time.
Because loneliness is a state of mind, being physically alone is not a necessary nor a sufficient condition to experience loneliness. One can experience a lonely state of mind while being with people at work, at home or even in a marriage.
Loneliness has increased in recent years.
- 58% of respondents say they always or sometimes feel like no one knows them well, up 4% from 2018.
- 52% of report sometimes or always feeling lonely, up 6% from 2018.
- 47% of people report feelign they have no meaningful relationships, up 4% from 2018. (Cigna 2020 Loneliness Report)
Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Solitude is often necessary and enjoyable. However, loneliness is always a negative feeling that doesn’t require someone to be physically alone. Loneliness is quite commonly experienced when a room of people surrounds someone.
Experiencing loneliness leads us to feelings of sadness, emptiness, and isolation. The feeling of loneliness is subjective and varies from person to person.
Loneliness can be tough because it tends to make us withdraw from others. We get so hung up on what’s missing in our relationships that we fail to see the good things right in front of us, invest in any of our relationships, or invest energy into building connections.
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The Paradox of Having Friends but Still Feeling Lonely
What about when you have friends,… but feel lonely. There are a few reasons this might be happening.
The first reason we might feel lonely is that we hold certain beliefs and expectations about our friendships, community, and connections that are not fulfilled. These beliefs and expectations are what I refer to as your “story roots.” When the actions of the people around you fail to align with your story roots, you may feel increasingly disconnected from them.
PODCAST EPISODE! Want to learn more about story roots? Listen to my episode on the three kinds of roots here.
We can feel lonely when we feel like a burden to our friends. We have story roots (aka beliefs and expectations) about our friendships, and when we reach out to friends, we don’t feel like their actions meet our expectations and support our beliefs.
Another reason we might feel lonely even though we have friends is that our expectations of ourselves, our community, friendships, or connections we should have doesn’t align with our reality. When our reality doesn’t match our expectations of the friendships we should have, we might feel lonely and pull back from the connections we do have.
If you have a variety of friendships and connections, you might feel that your friends aren’t being open and honest with you. You wish that your friends were connecting with you in deeper ways, but you don’t feel that connection. This stems from your emotional intimacy roots.
Another reason for loneliness related to emotional intimacy roots is when we expect friends to relate to us about life changes, and they don’t. We can feel very lonely when we reach out to a friend expecting them to connect with us, but they can’t relate to our new stage of life.
Our shared experience and interest roots can be the reason we feel disconnected. Although we feel closely connected to our friends when we spend time together, the infrequency of these connections can make us doubt our beliefs. Perhaps it’s not lack of frequency, but rather that you always feel like you are initiating and therefore feel the investment in the friendship is imbalanced. This can cause a disconnect between our beliefs and what we experience in reality, leading to feelings of loneliness.
Finally, people are often lonely – especially in a large circle of friends – when we aren’t showing up as our authentic selves. It can be incredibly hard to show up and have people tell you how much they enjoy you, but know that you aren’t being your authentic self, and it can lead us to feel incredibly lonely.
Social Media and its Impact on Loneliness
Loneliness can be greatly affected by social media. Think about it – we sit on our couches and scroll through photos and videos that have been curated, edited, and fine-tuned. Captions have been written and rewritten. We then compare our friendships to these highlight reels and question why our relationships don’t look the same.
Where do the expectations of our real-life friendships come from? How many are from social media? Do you often feel envious of what others have or feel that your friendships are inadequate?
Parasocial relationships can also be a factor in our loneliness. Parasocial relationships are the one-sided relationships we develop with people online and on tv. Online influencers share all sorts of details about their lives! If we ever met these people in real life, we’d know all sorts of intimate details – their favorite food, their vacation last year, the details of their divorce.
However, if we met them… they would know nothing about us, and we might suddenly feel lonely to realize that this connection has a deep imbalance.
Working Your Way Out of Loneliness
Take time to evaluate your roots –
- Do your friendships not align with the overall vision of how you expected they’d look?
- Do you feel like a burden to your friends?
- Do you feel like you are opening up to your friends, but they aren’t opening up to you?
- Do your close connections not feel how you’d expect them to feel?
- Do you hope to be connected with a close friend about a new stage of life but can’t relate?
- Do you show up authentically as yourself?
- Do you feel like your friendships are one-sided?
- Do you feel like seeing your friends so infrequently that you wonder if you are even friends?
- Do other people’s highlight reels make you believe your connections aren’t what they should be?
PODCAST EPISODE! Learn about Social Wellness. Listen now!
Once you have some sense of the reasons you feel lonely, you can start to make a plan to reevaluate your expectations and/or build the types of connections you desire.
- Evaluate what you bring to your relationships. See the unique skills, qualities, and interests you bring to your friendships are worthy of being there.
- Don’t hang all your enjoyment of activity on social interactions. Instead, engage in activities that are fulfilling on their own.
- Work towards focusing more on what is fulfilling in your relationships instead of focusing so much on what is lacking.
- Practice self-compassion for your expectations – society has given you a lot of messages. Where did those come from?
It is essential to recognize that everyone experiences feelings of loneliness at some point, and it is not a reflection of personal inadequacy. Practicing self-compassion can help alleviate feelings of shame and self-blame.
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Strategies for Building Stronger Social Connections
One way to start building social connections is to focus on the various types of root and diverse support systems you are building.
Read more about the roots here.
This framework can help you understand the mechanics of friendships and build stronger relationships.
Seeking Professional Help for Loneliness
If feelings of loneliness persist, it may be necessary to seek professional help. A mental health professional can help identify underlying issues contributing to loneliness and provide effective treatment options, such as therapy or medication.
Loneliness is a common feeling that can affect anyone, regardless of the size of their social circle. It is essential to understand why you might be feeling lonely so that you can take proactive steps to address these feelings and either reevaluate your expectations and/or work towards building the connections you desire.
Listen to our most popular podcast episode on the Friendship IRL Podcast – “How to Make Friends as a Grown Up,” to learn more about building social connections.