Loneliness is a state of feeling disconnected, forgotten, or without companionship. This can occur when we’ve moved to a new location, experienced certain life transitions, or have begun to withdraw from others.
Limiting socialization is a component of many mental health challenges, whether it is a result of low energy, anxiety, paranoia, or anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure. With anhedonia, a common trait of depression, one might still feel lonely despite being surrounded by people due to the lack of ability to connect, be present, and not fear rejection.
Feelings of loneliness can intensify around certain holidays, anniversaries, and milestones. Grief can exacerbate the feeling, sometimes causing us to think without that person, we’ll never feel deep connection again.
Processing a divorce or breakup is another reason the feeling might be intensified, losing “the one” after years of work and compromise. Some people may cut themselves off from dating, making new friends or building a chosen family due to pain their experienced in previous scenarios. Trauma absolutely plays a role in feelings of loneliness because one might feel there is little reward available for the risk of opening oneself up to hurt, manipulation or rejection again.
Loneliness can stem from feeling like an outcast, misfit, misunderstood or not fitting into any pre-existing box. Celebrate your uniqueness with others who feel similarly and dance to the beat of their own eccentric drum.
The first step to recovering from loneliness is to find small ways of connecting. I might work with someone to create a graduated exposure hierarchy, listing from least to most effort required, tasks that help one find “their people”.
What characters in pop culture do you relate to? What types of people do you feel most comforted and seen by? Is there an online space to connect? Are there accounts you follow on social media that helps you feel validated and supported? Are there any local meet-ups or gathering spaces? Are there niche co-working groups like there are for creatives with ADHD? Are there volunteering experiences that would enrich your life while introducing you to like-minded others? Is there a cause you feel very strongly about and want to align with an activist or advocate group? Would continuing your education or downloading a friend-finding app (they’re not just for hook ups you know!).
Another way to work on loneliness is to assess what feels badly about time spent alone. Especially for introverted clients, practicing solo self-care and appreciating time to themself can recharge their social batteries, making the small talk of meeting new people less triggering.
Loneliness can sometimes trigger unsafe choices when we’d rather connect with a problematic other than continue to be alone. Settling for poor fit relationships and social groups can worsen the feeling because we’re denying what feels bad or wrong, forcing ourselves to appreciate people places and things that are not in alignment, often resulting in dysphoria or feeling there’s something wrong with you that you’re not able to assimilate and enjoy the connection.
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Desiree W. B., LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and holistic health coach born in Brooklyn. She has provided Mental Health support in NYC for over 13 years serving as a community mental health counselor, group facilitator, researcher and program director before opening her private practice in 2017. Specializing in neurodiversity, chronic anxiety, depression and trauma, therapy with Desiree is a weekly commitment you'll be looking forward to. You'll find yourself able to deeply explore, with increasing ease, the feelings, thoughts, fears, blocks and limitations that have been preventing you from growth, authenticity, security and joy. You can contact Desiree on her MyWellbeing profile or directly on her website here.