Of all the sites I’ve seen, articles I’ve read, comments and letters I’ve seen, more than 99% say to those feeling lonely: get off the computer and go out, get a hobby, volunteer, take a class, play more sport, find new friends, join things, talk to strangers, engage in the world. All of which is fine advice, but it all misses the absolutely crucial point:
You can’t rely on anyone outside yourself to solve your problem.
If you don’t fix the hole inside your self and feel whole, nothing else you try will stick. The fattest address book in the world won’t stop you feeling lonely if there’s a void at your centre.
The one critical first step you must take if you’re going to be free of the crippling burden of loneliness, is to be able to turn to the one person who you can trust to be there for you, your whole life long. The one person who knows you best, the one you can talk to day or night, the person you know best.
I’m talking about you. You are the one person who’s never going to desert you, the one person you can rely on, the one person guaranteed to keep you company and talk to you, and the one person who knows exactly what you need, and how you can get it. You are your best friend. You’re also your own worst enemy, sometimes.
Other people are amazing, generous, kind, trustworthy, dependable, wise, loyal, and good company. We want other people around ; it’s lovely to eat together, laugh or cry together, go out or stay in together, swap stories, keep each other’s secrets, like or love each other, just be together. Of course it is. We’re sociable mammals, pack animals, family animals. We do best in a small group, be that a family or a community.
But… but… Sometimes it seems that when we need other people the most, that’s exactly the time they let us down. Stuff happens, life changes, and even though our family, friends or helpers may truly want to help us, they just can’t, for a million different reasons. Not right then. And it feels crushing. After they’ve said to you, with every good intention: ‘Any time. Call and I’ll be there. Anything I can do…’ You need them. You phone. They’re in the middle of a crisis too. The cat’s throwing up, the car’s broken down, there’s a big deadline, the phone line’s dead…
If you have a faith, then you have God to turn to, but sometimes even the strongest believers feel that even God isn’t listening. You, however, are always available to yourself, by default. Make a friend of yourself.
The second most important point is that we are all connected. Life on planet Earth is one comprehensively linked web, and we in fact we can’t ever be truly alone. It’s important to remember that humans are not the only life on the planet. If there isn’t another person around, it doesn’t mean we’re alone. Look outside and look for life going on. Observe and enjoy what you see. Get out of your own head and feel your connection to the whole world that’s living out there.
One of the big important things we miss – and a huge element in the loneliness equation – is touch. Simple, kind touch. Our skin craves touch – it’s the largest organ in the body and the most ignored. It’s a barrier between us and the wider world, but it’s so much more. It’s the receiver of vast amounts of crucial information: temperature, weather, air pressure, and much subtler signals: impending danger, for instance, and the intentions of others. In industrialised societies, and particularly English-speaking cultures, we have lost all but the most basic of touches. Even babies are left untouched in plastic boxes for the first days of their lives, allowed restricted time with their mothers; for infants, touch is vital for brain development, amongst other things. Later in life touch is still essential – and feeling lonely is a warning sign that we are out of touch, out of contact, deprived of touch. We are mammals – and all mammals except humans spend time touching, grooming, or simply standing close together. It’s what we mammals need. But humans have forgotten this – almost deliberately left it behind.
So get more touch. The skin doesn’t mind where the touch comes from, although the no-strings, simple kind touch of another human is what it best understands.
If there’s no person around to give you a pat on the arm or a good hug, you can go and find someone: look for a good masseur or bodyworker, one who suits your style. There are even professional cuddlers now, who will give you a session of simple (non-sexual) cuddles. Give yourself a massage – putting moisturiser on your hands, face, legs, arms is a massage; brush your hair, brush your skin, let the warm water of a bath give you a bit of a massage. Your skin will love it all. Dogs and cats are top alternatives to humans – most love being stroked and love to snuggle up to you. Why do you think so many people have pets?
Fill the inner void
Have you ever felt that you’re empty inside, that there’s a great void inside you? Maybe you’ve read famous people using the expression. That empty feeling is a very common part of feeling lonely. And if you have that feeling, you need to fill the emptiness, close up the void, before you do anything else to remedy the loneliness. Otherwise you’re like a bucket with a hole in the bottom – however much you pour into the bucket, it will always be empty.
The empty feeling is an illusion: we’ve lost access to our own life-force, forgotten how rich we are, bursting with life and love and energy. We’ve lost the key to our inner world, even forgotten that we had it in the first place.
Humans, mammals, birds, trees, insects, microbes, flowers… all life on Earth is thrumming with life. The force of energy that roars through us from conception to the moment of death is fabulous. It’s the mythical fountain of life, but real and part of every one of us. The whole web of existence runs on this energy; without it Earth is a dead rock. If you’ve seen a dead animal, let alone a dead person, you’ll know the difference between life and death – it’s a primal instinct. The life-force has gone. But until that moment, we’re full of it, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
We can recover it, with a little help. You can follow a lead to your inner world and rediscover all that energy and enthusiasm so you are once more full of life and feeling great.