Coping With Loneliness
JOANNA was an attractive 15-year-old and very popular with both boys and girls. She appeared to be happy, enjoying an abundance of companionship. Her life was cut short by the blast of a double-barreled shotgun—by her own hand. She left the note: “Love is not being lonely anymore. Boredom hurts.”
Why would a person like Joanna, so surrounded with friends, feel lonely?
Simply Being Alone Is Not Necessarily Being Lonely
Many persons cherish some solitude so they can reflect and meditate. However, all persons have a basic need to communicate their feelings to another who will indicate an interest. When this desire to share the intimate concerns of one’s heart is frustrated, loneliness is the result.
We can easily see, then, how one could be lonely in a crowd, or even with a multitude of superficial acquaintances. Loneliness exists when there is no response from others, when we feel that we are not wanted or must carry our emotional loads alone.
There are legitimate reasons for loneliness. A mate or an intimate friend may die. No question about it—you are going to feel lonely. Divorce will also spawn loneliness. One woman describes such agony:
“I am in the middle of a divorce that I did not want and never expected to happen. My husband has left me. My agony at this time is so great that sometimes I wish I were dead. I don’t feel I will ever get over this, especially at 4 a.m. when I wake up and realize once again that I’ve been abandoned and I am ALONE.”
If you move into new surroundings, perhaps far from close friends, loneliness may well follow. There is no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed. It is normal and to be expected. One authority said:
“Once you accept loneliness as a perfectly human feeling, the lonely feelings will almost certainly pass. They will be replaced by another kind of mood or feeling. It is a fact of life that these feelings will come and go. Not accepting this fact, expecting to live in a constant state of euphoria, will only result in disappointment or bitterness.”—Theodore I. Rubin.
It is not a matter of never feeling lonely, but of not being overwhelmed by it. However, knowing what causes loneliness is one thing, finding an answer is another.
Telling a Lonely Person to “Get Busy” Is Not the Full Answer
Often the typical response to a lonely person is: “What’s wrong with you? You don’t have to be lonely. Go out. Join a club. Get busy and do something!” The entire blame for the loneliness is laid on the victim’s shoulders.
However, staying busy simply for the sake of staying busy can be like a narcotic. It does not confront the real cause of the loneliness, but covers it over or dodges it. One researcher admitted:
“I have been told by countless widows that they have tried this formula [making themselves busy] only to find that they return home to an empty house exhausted and all the more vulnerable to the painful void of their lives.”
Nevertheless, some have found that keeping themselves busy doing things for others with an unselfish motive does ward off loneliness. It can help create the kind of relationships that lonely people lack. The Bible example of the Christian woman Dorcas illustrates this. “She abounded in good deeds and gifts of mercy,” according to the Scriptural record.—Acts 9:36.
At her death, she was apparently unmarried. Had she developed close relationships with others? The Bible says that “all the widows” wept over her death and ‘exhibited many garments’ that Dorcas had made for them. (Acts 9:39) She had reached out with acts of kindness to those who were also alone. This endeared her to them. It also helped her to repel loneliness. Similar generosity can assist you today to cope with feelings of aloneness.
But why is it that some single persons find happiness with their circumstances while others fail?
It Is Often How You Look at It
Naturally you may crave a warm family of your own and bemoan being single. Yet, a recent poll asked various persons whether they would change their life with another person, if they could, and, if so, with whom. Amazingly, both married persons and singles looked enviously at each other. One wife who wanted to change life with her single girl friend wrote:
“Her time is her own. She can travel and go places whenever she wants to. When you’re married and have children your life is never your own. You always have a husband and children to answer to . . . Don’t get me wrong. I love my family very much and they are the center of my life. But if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t get married.”—Psychology Today, August 1976.
Though your singleness may be forced rather than by choice, still look at the advantages. This viewpoint will help to prevent crippling self-pity. “There are worse things in life than never finding a man,” warned one single woman, who added: “There’s never finding yourself.” But that is not accomplished by spending one’s time thinking only about oneself.
Reach Out to Other Persons
The Bible suggests “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” (Phil. 2:4) Show an interest in others. Be willing to pay the emotional price to reach out to other persons. Work to form relationships that are not simply razor thin.
“It is not as easy as it sounds!” answer millions of lonely people. True. It takes cultivating what the Bible calls “fellow feeling.” (1 Pet. 3:8) The original Greek word literally means “to suffer with.” It involves sharing the experiences of others. So when engaged in conversation, rather than thinking of what to say next, genuinely listen. Concentrate on what the person is saying. Endeavor to feel his emotions. See things from his point of view.
Nothing will stimulate good conversation more than a few meaningful, yet considerate, questions such as, “Where are you from?” “How do you like the area?” “What do you do for relaxation?” “Do you have any hobbies?” If the person is a fellow Christian, a question that usually gets things going is, “How did you become interested in becoming a Christian?” Naturally, avoid prying or pressing a matter farther than your companion finds comfortable.
Soon you will be asked similar questions and have opportunity to talk. Besides merely talking, you will be taking the first step in establishing rapport with another. When you next meet, you will have something in common. He no longer is a meaningless face in the crowd. Neither are you to him. You have begun to share thoughts and experiences together.
Expect some awkward moments. Even the Bible says: “We all make mistakes in all kinds of ways, but the man who can claim that he never says the wrong thing can consider himself perfect.” (Jas. 3:2, Phillips) So do not expect perfection from either yourself or others. Often there is a natural shyness. It takes time and mutual sharing to build a genuine friendship. So do not imagine that such is formed after a few light conversations. The point is: Show an interest in others and you will find that, gradually, chronic loneliness will leave. However, will all your acquaintances make good friends?
Be Careful How You Choose Your Friends
The stories are endless about how lonely people, especially women, are befriended by persons who selfishly take advantage of them. “In her loneliness, she lost all reason. She still thinks she did the right thing,” lamented one Canadian law official about a lonely widow from whom $100,000 had been extorted by a man she confided in.
Money is not the only thing nor the most valuable thing that lonely people stand to lose by not being careful about whom they choose as companions. Personal moral standards, self-respect, dignity, a good conscience are but a few “valuables” taken from lonely people by so-called consoling friends. Hence, a true Christian should seek friendship among those governed by Bible principles. Practical wisdom is contained in the following Bible proverbs:
“He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.”—Prov. 13:20.
“Do not have companionship with anyone given to anger . . . that you may not get familiar with his paths and certainly take a snare for your soul.”—Prov. 22:24, 25.
“He that is having companionship with prostitutes [or immoral women and men] destroys valuable things.”—Prov. 29:3.
It is especially dangerous for married persons who cannot communicate well with their mates to look for an emotional response elsewhere. How much better to work at drawing closer to one’s mate. Learn to share, not merely a home, but your feelings.
Common sense and respect for marriage should tell us that we should not expect to have certain needs for companionship fulfilled by one of the opposite sex with whom we have no right to become emotionally involved. Of course, when a lonely Christian is going through a very difficult situation, it is only natural that others in the congregation, especially the elders, would be concerned. (1 Thess. 5:14) One Christian woman who was emotionally shattered by her divorce said: “A big help during this time was an elder who, along with his wife, took a real interest in me. They would stop by at various times just to say a few words of encouragement.” What kept improper emotions from developing? She said: “He always had his wife with him, so wrong feelings never entered my mind.”
However, merely having pleasant association with good friends is not the complete answer to loneliness. A person cannot spend all his time in friendly conversation. For a person to have self-esteem, which is so needed in overcoming loneliness, his life must have purpose and a genuine sense of achievement. What is needed to provide this?
A Relationship That Calls for Commitment
“Commitment was always a dirty word with me,” said one 24-year-old single woman. Yet her life was meaningless, as she said: “It was just day after day of depression and loneliness. . . . I spent a lot of years waiting—waiting for the world to hand me an envelope with my life inside it. Then I figured everything would be okay. I wouldn’t feel lonely or insecure.” It never happened.
Her experience is typical of many, for one researcher reported of many lonely teen-agers: “They didn’t develop depth, never learned the tools of survival, didn’t discover the importance of setting life projects.” The importance of “life projects” and commitment cannot be overemphasized if one is to conquer loneliness. But commitment to what? There are many pursuits available today. Which of these should be selected as one’s ‘life project’?
A wise king several millenniums ago had the means to pursue one goal after another—wealth, gardening, landscaping, building, musical interests, a lady, and many other things. After reflecting on all the various courses he had pursued, King Solomon said: “The conclusion of the matter, everything having been heard, is: Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.” He had considered everything then available. His experience in life helped him to conclude that centering his life around God and His worship was the only pursuit that brought lasting satisfaction. Many have found that Solomon’s “conclusion” is just as true in today’s world.—Eccl. 2:3-11; 12:13.
Does this mean merely going to religious meetings and becoming deeply involved in social affairs? Perhaps you have tried this. The Bible indicates that there must be a deeper commitment than merely to social functions or even to some noble work.
Jesus Christ showed that there must be a personal, intimate relationship with God. Anticipating his desertion by his disciples, he said: “I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” (John 16:32) He sensed his Father’s keen interest in him. God was not remote or distant. He knew his Father. This closeness is what strengthened Jesus during moments when no human was around to help.
Even though you may be involved in religious activities, have you really developed a personal relationship with God? Do you sense his keen interest in your life? Do you feel as did Jesus, that ‘the Father is with me’? Or does God seem remote and detached?
Really to get to know God requires first that one learn about him, about his personality. Such information can be found in the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses will be glad to assist you personally, and free of charge, to gain accurate knowledge about God.—John 17:3.
As you grow in this knowledge, you will be drawn closer to our heavenly Father. You will see how he provides the strength for you to face each day’s cares and apprehensions. All of this will help you to build a strong personal relationship with God, which is the finest answer to loneliness.
[Blurb on page 10]
As you grow older, are human relationships enough?