Loneliness is not a fun topic. But it is one that permeates our society. Last week we talked about how Loneliness is clever and dangerous because it is so common, but it has convinced us to not talk about it.
One of the biggest reasons we are afraid to open up about our loneliness is because of some of the things other people have said about it. So I decided to compile a short list of 7 Myths we have come to believe when it comes to loneliness in our world.
I hope at least one of these meets you on a personal, maybe even a painful, level and helps you feel more understood and less alone. If one of them does, please consider letting us know by commenting at the bottom. And if you disagree with anything listed here
I DON’T CARE!!!
No…totally kidding. I want to hear your input too! Open conversation is the beginning to dethroning loneliness.
So be brave and let’s get talking!
7 Myths We Believe About Loneliness
1. “Only certain types of people are lonely.”
- The elderly
- The socially awkward
- The shy or introverted
- The clinically depressed, anxious, or unstable
- The weirdos
Loneliness knows no boundaries. It is an epidemic and no type of person naturally carries an immunity to it, especially not based on their age, personality, or their ability to fit societal expectations.
The main reason this is myth #1 about loneliness is that loneliness is not a side effect of solitude. It is not something you experience when you don’t have a lot of friends, family, or much of a social life.
Loneliness is not missing out on the company of people. It’s an innate feeling that you are not truly known. It’s a lingering sense that everyone else is in on some secret that you are completely unaware of. It’s a constant wandering through the crowd feeling like no one sees you, no one understands you, and no one truly accepts or loves the whole you. How could they? They don’t truly know the whole you.
And this is a feeling shared by the shy, the introverted, the weird, the ugly, the pretty, the fun, the successful, and the charismatic alike.
Loneliness is experienced by those that are completely alone, and by those thronged by adoring fans.
2. “To overcome loneliness, you just need to…”
- Be more social
- Put yourself out there
- Find a significant other
- Have kids
- Get busy (not the same as having kids), find a cause to throw yourself into
- Get on social media
- Choose to be happy
Poor humans. We try really hard sometimes to help those around us.
And sometimes we don’t try very hard at all.
Kind of like anytime someone repeats one of these statements (or anything remotely close to it).
Yes, when we say things like this it’s typically that we genuinely think it will help the person in front of us. But what we fail to see (or do not bother to look for) is the years and years of pain piled up on someone that eventually led them to reach out to us in the first place.
To believe we can solve their deepest source of sadness with one sentence is not only insulting to who they are and what they are experiencing…
It’s just dumb!
Loneliness is a deeply pervasive part of our being. If it has been present long enough or experienced intensely enough, it becomes a part of our very identity woven into the fabric of who we are and how we experience the world. So to say anything short of “I love you and want to try to understand better” is to completely dismiss not only their struggle, but it’s a dismissal of them as a person and a friend.
Please, if someone you know is dealing with loneliness, or if you are yourself, do not give in to the temptation to quick fixes or oversimplified advice. Each of these listed above and the myriad of unlisted responses are helpful ideas, but by themselves are like mending a broken finger when you’re brain is hemorrhaging. It’s a minor fix to a life-threatening problem.
3. “Loneliness is just an emotion. It will pass.”
Nope. Nope. Nope.
Loneliness is not just an emotion. It is a cancer that spreads and takes over our natural identity. Eventually, it becomes all a person can see, feel, or think about.
This is especially important to remember when talking about teenagers. For I’m sure centuries “adults” have overlooked cries for help from the teens around them by brushing it off as “just a phase” or “just a hormone” or “that’s what teenagers do.”
Sure, there are stages in life where hormones do some crazy things and make life a little more unstable, but that does not negate the feelings.
My mentor used to say to me,
“Emotions are factual. They may be misled, but they are factual simply because they exist. You cannot argue with emotions, because at the end of the day they will still be there.”
As a “logical and rational” human being, this was hard for me to accept. But the more I listened to the people close to me, the more I discovered what he was really saying.
Discrediting the source or the cause of a person’s feelings does not make them go away. If anything, the reply feels more like a rejection and only amplifies the emotion.
So when it comes to loneliness, do not dismiss it as a phase, a cry for attention, or “just a feeling.” To do so greatly jeopardizes the relationship you currently have with that person.
4. “People create their own loneliness by being awful to be around!”
This one is difficult because, frankly, no one wants to be around someone who is always angry, always bitter, always arguing, complaining, or moping about their life.
I get it.
I have these people in my life, and I have definitely been this person in my past.
However, as usual, we wonderfully wise humans (there’s an oxymoron for you!) have put the cart before the horse.
The reality is, loneliness is cyclical. This is one of the reasons it is so cunning and difficult to overcome.
Anger, bitterness, rage, melancholy, and all their other super fun friends are not typically the source of a person’s loneliness, but rather a side effect.
The truth is that person that you can’t stand to be around, probably got that way as a result of their insufficient connection with God, with themselves, and with others.
So next time you are around them, let me encourage you to break the cycle for them. Any time they say, do or act in any disagreeable way, try imagining the experiences they have lived through that might have made them that way. Try to put your mind in their body for a second and feel what it feels like to feel utterly lonely, unwanted, rejected, and alone most of your life.
This is one small step toward being able to connect with the real them and help walk out of their loneliness together (like Jesus does!)
5. “It is my responsibility to help cure their loneliness”
This has been a difficult one for me throughout my life as a Christian.
I love people. Jesus has given me the ability to and thanks to Him I really do (thanks a lot…).
Because of this love and my ability to empathize with their struggles, I often feel pulled to save them from the loneliness they feel.
I try to do this by constantly inviting them to things, or by hanging out with them one-on-one, or by meeting with them regularly to talk about their loneliness.
These are all inherently fine and I believe it is God teaching me to love people well. However, there is a very murky grey line between trying to love someone as God has led me to and taking personal responsibility to fix them.
In my book, Giving Up Sunday, I said that one of the biggest things keeping people from church is that they don’t want to feel like someone is constantly trying to fix or change them. Simply put, they just want to be loved as they are right now.
part of truly being and feeling loved is learning to see yourself as loveable.
The truth of lonely people is that we stop seeing ourselves as loveable. After so many rejections, after too many years of identity crises, eventually, you come to the conclusion that you are just broken as an individual, and that there is nothing you can do about it.
I will say here and now, as someone constantly fighting through my own inner isolation, that until a person is willing to do the work within themselves and with their view of God; until they come to a place where they can at least see a glimmer of self-worth,
they will never get better in their battle with loneliness.
And you cannot help someone who does not want to be helped.
That is why Jesus often asked people what it was they wanted, even though he probably knew full well what they needed.
So yes, love someone who is lonely. Love them differently than you do most people. Be gentle and patient and very, very persistent to tell them how valuable they are to you as they are right now. But be careful you don’t take the work God is asking them to do for themselves into your own hands.
6. “I’m just different. No one else really understands.”
EVERYONE else really understands how you feel,
they just aren’t talking about it.
Everyone goes through profound feelings of loneliness at some point in their life. As I mentioned in my last article, The Reign of Loneliness, 54% of Americans report feeling lonely MOST OF THE TIME! And let’s be honest…how many people are really going to admit that they feel like they have no friends or close relationships? Not all of them! I’m surprised we got 54%, to be honest.
Everyone goes through loneliness.
But one of the most difficult things about loneliness is the fear of talking about it.
When you feel lonely, you want nothing more than to cry, scream, or even just casually mention how lonely you truly are to someone you think might care. It burns within you.
But what if they don’t get it? What if they laugh. Or worse…what if they shrug it off?
We are afraid to talk about our loneliness because past experiences have taught us that the majority of possible outcomes only leads to feeling more alone, more misunderstood, and more annoying to the people around you.
This is why vulnerability is so important. Because we can never break the cycle of loneliness in our lives if we are not willing to open up about it to someone we trust. I HIGHLY recommend checking out Brene Brown’s Ted Talk all about the power of vulnerability, and her book Dare Greatly.
Opening up can help us see that we are definitely not alone when it comes to feeling alone.
We may be unique, but we are not really that different after all.
7. “Jesus will cure your loneliness.”
Did he really just say that.
Yes, I did. Because while I believe only God can heal us, to say He cures it or takes it away immediately it is not entirely true.
As Paul Young, author of The Shack would describe it, in the world of Western Christianity (especially Protestantism) we often view Jesus as some kind of “cosmic magician.”
We preach, teach, and live like all you have to do is say the magic words, “Jesus, I believe” and suddenly all your dreams come true.
Sorry, y’all. But that’s not typically how He works.
Yes, God has the power to wipe away every tear and turn all our mourning into laughing. In fact, He promises to do that one day. But that does not mean that when you become a Christian you suddenly lose all that pains you and gain all that gives you life.
The Christian journey is just that;
There are things in my life that my relationship with Jesus has freed me of, things that were constant for many, many years. But almost none of them just went away because I prayed a prayer or because I believed with enough uumpf!
The way Jesus works is more like a companion for the journey. He comes alongside you in your greatest joys as well as your deepest pains. And rather than just giving and taking at random, He does something more beautiful;
He asks to work with us.
Just like the image in The Shack when Mack is in the garden with Sarayu (who represents the Holy Spirit), God longs to work together as friends, companions, and as equals in the life-transforming work He has set out for us.
And if you ask me, it is so much more beautiful when I can look back on a hard days work and say,
“I did that. I never could have done it without Him, but I am proud and grateful that I got to contribute.”
God most likely will not just take your loneliness away. But after years and years of consistently showing up to walk the journey with you, you will start to notice Loneliness moving further and further away. Because, while you may be alone in body,
you are never truly alone in spirit.
(Yes, I used this photo in another post already. The whole album is just that good! Check out the artist at anniespratt.com)