Young People Ask . . .
What Makes Me Feel So Lonely?
It is Saturday night. The boy sits in his room thinking about the kids in school who have gone bowling at the mall. He had mustered up the courage to ask if he could join them. But even now he can hear the taunting laughter as they walked away.
“I hate weekends!” he shouts. But there is no one in the room to answer. He picks up a magazine and sees a picture of a group of young people at the beach. He hurls the magazine against the wall. Tears well up. He clamps his teeth on his underlip, but the tears keep pushing. Unable to fight it any longer, he falls on his bed, sobbing, “Why am I always left out?”
DO YOU sometimes feel like that—cut off from the world, useless and empty? Do you ever wonder, ‘What makes me feel so lonely, and why does it hurt so much?’
If you do, do not despair. The teen years are rough for many. You may feel lost and unsure of yourself. No wonder, then, that during the teenage years loneliness often hits the hardest.
Though feeling lonely is no fun, it is not some fatal disease either. One expert compared loneliness to the common cold—“easy to catch, . . . rarely fatal but always unpleasant.” Yet, there are ways to overcome it.
What Loneliness Is
Simply put, loneliness is a warning signal. Hunger warns you that you need food. Loneliness warns you that you need companionship, closeness, intimacy. We need food to function well. Likewise, we need companionship to feel well.
Have you ever watched a bed of glowing coals? What happens when you take one coal away from the heap? The glow of that single coal will die away. But after you put the coal back into the heap, it glows again. Similarly, we humans cannot “glow,” or function well, in isolation for long. It is natural to desire company.
This was even the case with Adam, the first man. The Bible book of Genesis says that Adam was placed in an environment that met his basic needs. There was plenty of food to eat, fresh air to breathe, a sparkling river to bathe in, interesting work to do, and, above all, the enjoyment of a close relationship with his Creator. Yet, Jehovah God said: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself.” Adam needed someone like himself to communicate with and share his feelings. God fulfilled that need by giving him Eve. (Genesis 2:18-23) Yes, the need for companionship is built into our makeup. But does that mean that being alone always leads to feeling lonely?
Alone But Not Lonely
Essayist Henry David Thoreau wrote: “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” Do you agree? “Yes,” says Bill, age 20. “I like nature. Sometimes I get in my little boat and go out on a lake. I sit there for hours all alone. It gives me time to reflect on what I’m doing with my life. It’s really great.” Adds 16-year-old Rafael: “There are three other kids in my family. There is always commotion in the house. I have a four-year-old brother; he acts crazy. Sometimes all I want is to be by myself.”
An English poet further remarked: “Solitude is the audience-chamber of God.” Twenty-one-year-old Steven agrees. “I live in a big apartment building,” he says, “and sometimes I go to the roof of the building just to be alone. I get some thinking done and pray. It’s refreshing.” Yes, if used well, moments of solitude can give us deep satisfaction. Jesus, too, enjoyed such moments: “Early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] rose up and went outside and left for a lonely place, and there he began praying.” (Mark 1:35) Yet, why were individuals such as Thoreau or Jesus not lonely even though they were alone?
First, because they were alone by choice. And second, they were alone for only a short period of time. Jehovah did not say, ‘It is not good for man to be momentarily by himself.’ Rather, God said that it was not good for man “to continue by himself.” Prolonged periods of isolation may lead to loneliness. Thus, the Bible warns: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.”—Proverbs 18:1.
At times, though, being alone is not by choice. Then it can really hurt. Such loneliness is often imposed on us by circumstances beyond our control, like moving to a new location, away from close friends.
Recalls Steven: “Back home James and I were friends, closer than brothers. When I moved away, I knew I was going to miss him.” Steven pauses, as if reliving the moment of departure. “When I had to board the plane, I got choked up. We hugged, and I left. I felt that something precious was gone.”
How did Steven make out in his new environment? “It was rough,” he says. “I had a difficult time learning a new job. Back home my friends liked me, but here some of the folks I worked with made me feel as if I were no good. I remember looking at the clock and counting back four hours (that was the time difference) and thinking what James and I could be doing right now. I felt lonely.”
When things are not going well, we often dwell on better times that we had in the past. However, the Bible says: “Do not say: ‘Why has it happened that the former days proved to be better than these?’” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Why this advice?
For one thing, circumstances can change for the better. That is why researchers often speak of “temporary loneliness.” Steven could thus overcome his loneliness. How? “Talking about my feelings with someone who cares helped. You cannot live on in the past. I forced myself to meet other people, show interest in them. It worked; I found new friends.” And what about James? “I was wrong. Moving away did not end our friendship. The other day I called him. We talked and talked for one hour and 15 minutes—long distance!”
Thirteen-year-old Peter is in another situation that may cause loneliness. He lives in a one-parent family. Says Peter: ‘I come home from school and stay all alone. I’ve got nobody to talk to. When my mother comes home from work, it’s just as bad. She’s tired and she goes to sleep.’
Eighteen-year-old Nancy also lives in a one-parent home. In addition, she has to cope with attending a new school. But Nancy is not lonely. She set out to meet new friends. “It helped me get myself together,” she says. Loneliness disappeared. It was temporary.
Sometimes, though, loneliness is the result of tragedy. “Derek had been my buddy in Florida ever since we were 11 years old,” relates Bill. “We used to go to the mall, eat pizza, and play football together.” What happened? “I got a call one Sunday night,” Bill continues. “Derek had drowned. It was too hard to accept. After that, there were moments I felt so lonely that I dialed Derek’s phone number. The phone kept ringing, and then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, Derek is not there anymore.’ I could not grasp it. When you’re 17, you’re just too young to die.”
The Bible tells of a woman named Naomi who similarly experienced tragedy. Her husband and her two sons died one after another. When she returned to her homeland as a widow, she said: “I was full when I went, and it is empty-handed that Jehovah has made me return.”—Ruth 1:21.
Although the sorrow of losing a loved one may never fully disappear, loneliness can fade with the passing of time and the developing of new relationships. In the case of Naomi, changed circumstances and the forming of new relationships helped to ‘restore her soul.’ (Ruth 4:13-15) One can also immerse oneself in doing things for other people. Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
But what if your loneliness persists? Then you may suffer chronic loneliness. What is that, and how can you overcome it? A future issue of Awake! will answer.