by Terri Trespicio
You might cop to a lot of things before you admit to feeling lonely: being a procrastinator, bad with money, or even unlucky in love.
Because the social stigma around loneliness is deep and often avoided. And by and large, loneliness is mischaracterized as a neediness, a failure to find friends, a symptom of a personal problem. This may be why we're so quick to tell people how busy we are -- because how could we possibly have time to be lonely?
But here's the thing: it's okay to feel lonely. In fact, it's good for us! It's our body's way of telling us that we crave meaningful social interaction. "When you feel loneliness rise to the surface, it's no different than other signals your body sends you to alert you to its needs," says friendship expert Shasta Nelson, the author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness. "For instance, do you have a problem admitting when you're hungry?"
The key is to claim our loneliness without shame. Here are our guidelines for coping with this difficult feeling -- not if, but when it pops up:
1. Stop seeing it as a flaw. Throw out the idea that feeling lonely equals "something wrong with you." Loneliness is not a character flaw; its function is based on the deeply human need for connection. In fact, one study published in Cognition and Emotion found that loneliness actually has an adaptive function that serves the human race. In other words, we can thank evolution for loneliness -- it's what forces us to seek out and create authentic and loving connections. So the next time you start feeling lonely, change the script and ignore the inner monologue that says it's a weakness.
2. Give your loneliness the stage. You don't have to parade around announcing it to the world, but you must give it a chance to speak. When you do, it can tell you exactly what you need to do to satisfy its pangs. Say, "I'm lonely," let yourself have a cry, and then see how quickly your hand reaches for your phone with someone already in mind.
3. Acknowledge loss. Your pain may be caused by a hole that is not easily filled -- because the shape of that loss is a person who is gone or deceased. There will be aches you don't know how to quiet because they're too big, too loud, or created by something outside of your control -- and you're afraid they'll never go away. This doesn't mean you will feel notch-10 loneliness forever and ever. But again, you must mourn that loss and recognize it, rather than suppress or rationalize it away.
4. Don't tough it out. You're not "stronger" if you don't address your feelings of loneliness. When you try to ignore feelings of loneliness, you deny yourself the ability to meet your most basic emotional needs. And just as eating a bag of chips doesn't suffice when you are hungry for a substantial meal, be wary of resorting to cheap or shallow connections to scratch that itch. Reach out to someone who really knows you even if doing so seems a bit harder than, say, logging onto Twitter. The more often you reach out when you feel this way, the more you flex your resilience muscle and find strength -- instead of fear -- in the very thing that makes you human.