What does loneliness feel like?
I have categorized nine different feelings associated with loneliness. I will discuss each of these in turn.
Loneliness is painful. Without a doubt, this was the most frequently mentioned experience of loneliness. Words that have been used to describe this type of pain include, hurt, sorrow, ache, sadness, depression, torn up, bleeding, and broken. Clearly the pain is one in which the lonely individual feels damaged, as though someone their spirit was crushed. It hurts to feel lonely and it hurts even more because we don't have anyone to share it with.
Very interestingly, lonely individuals described a feeling of being lost, and not knowing where they are going. Other metaphorical words include things like darkness, night, blinded, drowning, clueless, and lack of meaning. Why would we feel so lost when we are lonely? I think it's because other people help give us a sense of meaning and understanding of the world. When you have a problem that you can't figure out for yourself, what do you do? You go and talk to someone else about it. People help us to figure out what talents we have, we our good points and our bad points are. In other words, people help us maintain a sense of identity. When we are lonely, and no one is around to give us support, we can begin to lose our sense of identity, no one is there to point out our mistakes, to give us a different point of view, to praise us when we do a good job. We can become encircled in our own delusions and thinking without the benefit of others to break us out of the vicious cycle. It is no wonder then that lonely individuals report this feeling of being lost and confused, it's because there is no one out there to maintain our sense of identity, our sense of self.
Another frequent feeling is that of nothingness. It has also been described as a void, a black hole, an abyss, hollow, and empty space. Basically there is a feeling that something is missing. When we break up with someone we didn't want to break up with, or we are missing someone we love dearly, we often describe that we feel a hole in our heart, an emptiness somewhere in the space of our chest. What is this emptiness that we feel? This emptiness is a hunger for others, for others to be close to us, for others to love us. When we are hungry for food, our stomach growls, we get an empty feeling in the pits of our stomachs, we can't stop thinking about food, and sometimes it even hurts. In much the same way, loneliness is a hunger for others, a psychological need that must be satisfied. Aristotle called us social animals, in that we need other people. When people are isolated, abandoned on a deserted island for example, they make pseudo friends, in the case of Robinson Crusoe he made friends of the animals there, and in the case of Castaway, he made a friend out of a football. The need for people is a very real need, and therefore when it is not satisfied, the feelings of hunger, of nothingness, of a void is bound to occur as well.
For some individuals, loneliness has been an affliction that has been going on for a very long time - one of the poets described it as going on for years. In a previous section I made note of the difference between state and trait loneliness. These individuals therefore experienced trait loneliness. Why would someone experience loneliness over such an extended period of time? There are several reasons. The first reason is that the person is in an inescapable situation that is by its very natural isolating. For example, a person whose job requires constant moving from place to place, will probably not find the time to make secure friendships and may experience loneliness. A second reason is that a person grew up in a rejecting and/or abuse environment. In such cases, I believe, that individuals develop certain mechanisms to help cope with loneliness. These mechanisms usually involve put up personal blocks that protect one from getting hurt by others by maintain a safe distance between all people. These individuals learn not to trust anyone lest they get hurt. Because they have developed these mechanisms, when they are older, they treat new individuals and new circumstances in much the same manner. They construct their social worlds to be one that is very isolating and lonely, but also very protected from feelings of hurt. A good trade off? I don't know.
In some cases, loneliness can be overwhelming, so overwhelming in fact that lonely individuals feel like they are about to burst! There is a feeling of despair, not knowing how much more of this painful loneliness one can take, feeling as if one is going to break apart at any minute. How agonizing this must be! It's like blowing up a balloon past its normal capacity. Lonely individuals may feel this way because very often one is experiencing a wide variety of emotions and experiences, and yet there is no one to talk to, no one to share it with. Imagine having a problem with no one to discuss it with. Imagine making the greatest discovery of a lifetime, and yet there is no one there to share it with. These feelings may just be pushed down inside our minds, pushed into a bottle as it were. But there is only so much the bottle can hold, there is only so much our minds can handle. If we don't tell others, if we don't share, if we don't let it out somehow, we may indeed burst. This is why I feel that loneliness can be one of the most creative times in our lives. It's because without the avenue of talking or sharing, we are left mechanisms that are solitary. Such avenues include things like writing poetry, artwork or even writing in a diary. These things may help to subside some of our overwhelming feelings. No wonder therefore that I was able to find 180 loneliness poems on the Internet. At these times we can take the wonderful gift of art and communicate our feelings in ways more vivid than ordinary conversations.
Some poets describe being unable to take control over their loneliness. Sometimes loneliness is objectified into a person, and loneliness takes on a personality all of its own. In this way it has its own whims and fancies, it behaves in whatever way it feels like. Other poets describe it as a jail, a prison cell, an inescapable reality, anywhere they turn there is loneliness staring them in the face. In these ways loneliness has grown greater than the individual. Individuals who feel this way are probably not facing something important in their lives, they are avoiding dealing with something. Several authors have suggested that this type of loneliness has its roots in childhood, with feelings of unfulfilled love and attachment, experiences so deep inside the person now, that the demon that manifests itself as loneliness seems to have a life and personality all of its own. Other times though, it may be that the individual is trapped in a situation they would rather not be in. Such is the case of the lover who has lost his/her love, the object of affection is gone. These situations require us to accept the situation and move on (more easily said than done!). In both cases though, loneliness can feel like it is more powerful than you are.
Cold, frozen, void of true emotions. These are some of the descriptions that have been associated with feelings of loneliness as well. It is almost as if we have shut down our emotion center and perhaps may be we have. I have already discussed the fact that loneliness can be very painful, overwhelming, resulting from rejection and/or abuse. At some point in time, we may decide not to feel anymore, we may become so overburdened with all the pain, the hurt, the sorrow, the loss of control that we shut our emotion center down. We don't want to feel anymore. In these instances, lonely individuals put themselves in cold, frozen places where they don't have to feel anything.
Several other emotions have been mentioned by the poets as well. These include feelings of being scared and afraid, or angry or hatred. For some people who have known what it is like to have close friends and family around, being isolated and alone can be very frightening and scary. There is a desire for comfort and security. Children, for example, sometimes use their parents as a supportive base, and when strangers or danger approaches they run back to their parents for security. In much the same way this can continue throughout a person's life. When that security is gone, and loneliness appears, it can also be a frightening time as well. For other people though, there is a lot of bitterness and resentment. Usually it is against the people who lonely individuals perceive have hurt them in the past or present. It could be a ex-relationship, or people in general or the world, but the underlying theme here is that the world has hurt them and they are angry that it did. And so, in addition their feelings of loneliness they also respond with feelings of anger.