Young People Ask . . .
How Do I Make My Loneliness Go Away?
ARE you worried when you come down with a cold? Probably not. You know that you will get over it. But what if your cold symptoms persist? Then you may have something more severe than a passing cold, and you do well to be concerned.
The same holds true when you feel lonely. Most bouts of loneliness are temporary.a But sometimes the gnawing pain of loneliness persists. There seems to be no way out.
Ronny, a high school student, relates: “I’ve been going to school in this district for eight years, but in all that time I’ve never managed to make one single friend! . . . Nobody knows what I feel and nobody cares. Sometimes I think I just can’t stand it anymore!”—Preparing for Adolescence.
Like Ronny, many teenagers experience what is often called chronic loneliness. Perhaps you also feel this aching emptiness. If so, do not despair. True, chronic loneliness is not a trivial problem. It is more serious than temporary loneliness. In fact, say researchers, the two are “as different as the common cold and pneumonia.” But just as pneumonia can be cured, chronic loneliness can be beaten too. But how?
Whether being lonely is an occasional thing or a sad way of life for you, the first step in finding a cure is understanding its cause. Ancient King Solomon observed: “A man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction.”—Proverbs 1:5.
Sixteen-year-old Rhonda pinpoints the most common cause of chronic loneliness in saying: “I think the reason why I feel very lonely is because—well you can’t have friends if you feel badly about yourself. And I guess I don’t like myself very much.”—Lonely in America.
Rhonda’s loneliness comes from within. Her low self-esteem forms a barrier that keeps her from opening up and making friends. Do you share her sentiments? Says one researcher: “Thoughts such as ‘I’m unattractive,’ ‘I’m uninteresting,’ ‘I’m worthless,’ are common themes among the chronically lonely.”
Low self-esteem, in turn, may result in fear of being rejected. Recalls Steven: “I wanted to talk about my lonely feelings, but I just did not know the words to express it. I was afraid that people would laugh at me or not take me seriously. It was just hard to open up.” Thus, some teens close up, and suffer in silence. How can this be reversed?
Build Your Self-Respect
The key to overcoming loneliness lies in building self-respect. The apostle Paul wrote: “For through the undeserved kindness given to me I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think.” (Romans 12:3; compare Matthew 19:19.) This indicates that a measure of self-respect is necessary. The Bible, therefore, warns against not only thinking too much but also thinking too little of yourself.
After all, Jehovah endowed man with godlike qualities. (Genesis 1:26) So to some extent you have those attractive qualities within you. Are you humble, modest, teachable? Or generous, compassionate, kind? Do not blind yourself to those assets. Perhaps you can also develop other useful skills and assets. True, there may be things about you that you do not like, your looks for example. But why put yourself down for something that you cannot change? Work, instead, on unfavorable qualities that you can change, such as impatience, a bad temper, or selfishness. Take the time to develop what the Bible calls “the new personality,” characterized by kindness, lowliness of mind, and mildness. (Colossians 3:9-12) Your self-respect will grow!
Furthermore, as you learn to like yourself, others will be drawn to your appealing qualities. But just as you can only see the full colors of a flower after it unfolds, so others can only fully appreciate your qualities if you open up to them. ‘But how can I do that?’ you may ask.
“Widen Out” to Others
‘The best advice for a lonely person,’ says a recent publication from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, is ‘get involved with other people.’ This advice harmonizes with the Bible’s counsel to “widen out” and show “fellow feeling,” or empathy. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13; 1 Peter 3:8) It works. One study, published in the journal Adolescence, reveals that ‘teens who show concern in the welfare of others are not as lonely as teens who do not.’ Why? Caring for others not only gets your mind off your own loneliness but motivates others to take an interest in you. People will often respond by giving you kindness in return. (Proverbs 11:25) How, then, can you start?
Breaking the Ice
Nineteen-year-old Natalie decided that she would do more than sit back and wait for people to say hi. ‘I have to be friendly too,’ she says. ‘Otherwise people will think I’m stuck-up.’ So start with a smile. The other person might smile back.
The next step, striking up a conversation, is harder. Lillian, age 15, admits: “Going up to strangers for the first time was really scary. I was afraid that they wouldn’t accept me.” How does Lillian start conversations? “I ask simple questions,” she says, “like, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Do you know so and so?’ We both may know a person, and before long we’re talking.” Shared experiences can also serve as icebreakers. Eighteen-year-old Anne adds: “I don’t start off with talking about something intimate because the other person gets embarrassed or scared and will avoid me.” Yes, it is not wise to plunge into a deep conversation right away.
What, though, if at times you simply do not know what to say? Well, there are always things you can do. The Bible tells of a woman named Dorcas who “abounded in good deeds and gifts of mercy” for needy widows. When she died, the widows wept out of sorrow. (Acts 9:36-39) Dorcas’ acts of kindness had endeared her to them. Kind acts and a generous spirit will likewise help you to build precious friendships.
But be realistic. Learn to accept that some people will not respond to your smile and friendly hello. In that case, they have a problem—not you.
Getting Over the Rough Spots
Still, most teens suffer from loneliness at times. Remember that it may be temporary and caused by circumstances beyond your control. The passing of time will often help you to get over the rough spots. Loneliness will fade.
Chronic loneliness, however, comes from within and can be caused by low self-esteem. In that case, take action! ‘Make your mind over’ and ‘put on the new personality,’ says God’s Word. (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23, 24) Yes, build your self-respect by amplifying the appealing qualities that you have within you. Do things for other people, and they will usually respond to you.
However, no matter how people react, you can have a friend who never turns you down. Who is that? Jesus Christ told his disciples: “You will leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” (John 16:32) This close relationship with Jehovah strengthened Jesus during moments of isolation. Jehovah can become your closest friend too. Get to know his personality by reading the Bible and observing his creation. Strengthen your friendship with him by prayer. Soon you will discover that friendship with Jehovah God is the finest answer to your loneliness.
a See the article “Young People Ask . . . ‘What Makes Me Feel So Lonely?’” in the June 22, 1987, issue of Awake!
[Pictures on page 23]
Your appearance can affect how others feel about you