They feel LONELY

Written by Violaine Guéritault, Ph.D.

What is it?

Loneliness is an emotion experienced by all of us from time to time. Although each and every one of us experiences it differently and for different reasons, a well agreed upon description of it is the feeling that our needs for social contacts and meaningful relationships are not being met. Certain life events are well known for triggering a deep sense of loneliness, such as a breakup, the death of a loved one, moving to a new area, or going to college. However, by experience we know very well that loneliness is not necessarily the same as being alone. Sometimes we are surrounded with plenty of people and yet we still feel lonely and isolated.

The problem is that when we are lonely we tend to feel empty, alone, and unwanted. We crave meaningful social contacts but because of our state of mind, we can find it difficult to connect with other people. Loneliness is a painful emotion that shouldn’t be dismissed or overlooked because of the negative consequences it can have on our mental and physical health, such as depression, anxiety, altered cognitive and brain functions, and substance use.

What is loneliness telling your young person?

This emotion is telling them that their needs for closeness and belonging are not being met, and that their relationships are not emotionally fulfilling or are inadequate. Loneliness alerts them that it is time for them to take necessary action to cultivate relationships that are more in tune with who they truly are, or that it is time to let go of the pain associated with a loss, such as a breakup. It is easier said than done of course, but your young person should be reminded of the Chinese proverb that says “A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.” Whether they need to let go of a painful situation or meet new people, it’s important that they choose to take that first step. They might be surprised how easily the next steps will follow.

Suggestions for your young person on how to manage loneliness?
  • Encourage your young person to spend more quality time with those they love and who are already in their life.
  • Help them take the first step to meet people who share their values, interests, and attitudes. They could join a group of people who practice an activity that resonates with who they are, such as photography, art, sports, or volunteering. Remember that quality is a lot better than quantity, and that just one or two close and caring friends are enough to repel loneliness and its negative impact on their health.
  • Welcome the kindness of others. Remind them to keep an open heart and embrace the love people around them want to give them. Love is very healing, and if they let it, it will effortlessly shatter the walls loneliness can build around them.