There is a difference between solitude and loneliness. In solitude, you find a sense of peace and calmness. You feel centered; your life is full and happy. Loneliness, on the other hand, often hurts. You feel empty with a deep longing for connection. Your focus is on searching for something outside of you to relieve the pain and to fill the void.
In both solitude and loneliness you are alone. The key difference is how you feel about being with yourself. In solitude you enjoy being with yourself while in loneliness, you don’t know what to do with yourself. When you’re lonely, being alone feels like its not enough.
People are different when it comes to enjoying time alone. Introverts often crave alone time. They have rich inner lives, revel in quiet contemplation, and can easily entertain themselves. When given a choice, they will often choose to be alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, may be uncomfortable being alone. They love having people around and feel stimulated and alive in the company of others. When given a choice, they will choose to be with others.
Most people tend to be more introverted or more extroverted. You have a preferred way of being in the world. While extroverted people may be more susceptible to feeling loneliness, each person’s experience of loneliness can and does change with different times in the course of life.
If you have a lifelong pattern of loneliness, the source of your loneliness is likely to be a deep and pervasive problem that you need to look at. These enduring patterns are difficult, but not impossible to change. If you are truly tired of being alone and want your life to be fundamentally different, you can do something about it. Consider entering into counselling to discover how you’ve ended up being so alone and to find healthy ways to connect with others.
If your loneliness is due to a change in life circumstances like the loss of a relationship, a move, the death of a loved one, or an abrupt or gradual change in lifestyle, then you can take positive steps to rejoin the social world. Here are some ideas for you.
First and foremost, start taking care of yourself. It is true: if you don’t love yourself, others will find it more difficult (if not impossible) to love you. By treating yourself well, you can also be practicing how to treat others in a relationship.
Your primary relationship is with yourself. Take the time to get to know and define yourself. Discover what you like and don’t like, what you value, and what gives meaning to your life. Don’t be so afraid of offending others. Develop and express your personality. You will become an interesting person to be with.
Second, develop your social skills. Take a course, read a book, or study others who seem to be at ease with people. Find out what works for you. It can be as simple as saying, “Hello, how are you?” to the people you meet during the course of your day. Remember to put a smile with your words.
Third, join a club or a group or sign up for an activity where you can meet people with a common interest. Don’t sign up for a ski club if you hate being outdoors in winter. Make sure that the activity is something you enjoy and you will find like-minded people.
Fourth, take the focus off of yourself by giving to others. Volunteer for a worthwhile cause. You will not only be helping others, you’ll be feeling good about yourself, getting out into the world and meeting other people.
Fifth, be physically active. Go for a walk, take a Yoga class, learn to rollerblade, or just get busy in the garden. An active person is a person full of life. You will feel physically healthier, have more energy, and you’ll look younger too. Physical activity is nature’s antidepressant. You can’t help but feel happy and connected to life after a good workout.
Finally, spend time in introspection and contemplation. Learn to meditate or pray, or read books on philosophy or spirituality. Life is more than just what you see in the world around you. Struggle with the bigger questions about meaning and purpose. Fill out the larger context of your life. Become a person of depth and substance.
You are not the only one alone. There are so many people who are seeking a connection with others. You can wait for someone else to do the work and to find you, but you may have to wait forever. If you put in the effort and follow these suggestions, you will be amazed at how good you feel. Your life will become fuller and richer and you will find others who will want to share themselves with you.
Shirley Vandersteen, Ph. D., R. Psych.