On Being Lonely

Psychology

I sit here in bed in the early hours of what is a Monday morning. And there is no other way to describe what I’m feeling than sheer loneliness. There is a sense of emptiness and melancholy in the air and tonight there’s no escaping it. So naturally I turn to the best antidote and play one of the singles from Lana Del Rey’s latest album. Great start.

But after a while, as the piano plays and Del Rey’s soulful voice works its magic, I genuinely start to feel okay. What ultimately seems like the worst kind of music to play when feeling emotionally vulnerable, starts to be therapeutic and so I relax.

We’re often told that loneliness is an unbearable feeling that should be avoided by hanging out with other people and being true to our nature as ‘social animals’. However, I have come to believe that loneliness is invaluable in measured doses and that it builds character. For if we can handle ourselves in our own company, then when tough times arise, we are often more equipped to deal with them.

It is important, though, to stress the difference between loneliness and solitude. Solitude is a pleasant experience, where engaging in activities alone is fun, and we all need solitude to maintain a basic level of sanity. Doesn’t matter if you’re more introverted or extroverted, it’s just a fact. Loneliness, conversely, is the flip side of the coin, where being alone arouses feelings of isolation and an overall sense of disconnection from other people. People who feel lonely are eager to spend time with people and to have meaningful connections with them, whereas people who are enjoying their solitude are content in their own company.

So whilst solitude is a good thing, loneliness seems to be problematic at first glance. The thought of a lonely person or someone experiencing loneliness usually conjures sympathy, perhaps even pity, for loneliness itself is almost always regarded negatively. Need this be the case, I ask?

To put it bluntly, loneliness is something I have personally struggled with for much of my life. I have many friends and some people who are very dear to me, but this does not stop me from feeling, at times, completely alone in the world. And it must be stressed that I am by no means the only person who feels this way. In fact, I would argue that almost everyone feels this way from time to time.

The point is not that loneliness is universal (it is), but that it’s not always a bad thing. Learning to suffer with our own company is one of the greatest gifts we have and, as I said earlier, being lonely from time to time builds character. Life is shit sometimes and there will be times where you have to deal with it on your own. In dealing with things by oneself, you learn to be mentally strong and self-sufficient.

Before we continue to demonise that feeling called loneliness, let us step back and reconsider the stigma attached to being lonely every now and then and, perhaps, allow ourselves to be vulnerable in that way. It might just make us appreciate the important role people play in our lives and strengthen our resolve along the way.

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