Loneliness is part of being human.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. Oftentimes, it’s a feeling that we try to avoid. But what happens when we take the time to sit down and really acquaint ourselves with loneliness – if we take the time to not just feel lonely, but to feel loneliness?
Like all feelings, loneliness doesn’t exist in isolation. When we feel lonely, it’s a response to a number of factors in our lives: we feel lonely because of the environments we’re in, the people we’re with (and not with), the thoughts we have, and the things we say. Our behaviours, in turn, are oftentimes a response to the things we feel. Put simply, loneliness is both a cause and an effect.
Can understanding and acquainting ourselves with loneliness actually make a difference in how we perceive and cope with it?
Understanding loneliness as a cause of our behaviours helps us understand that whether consciously or not, our behaviours and habits are related to how we feel.
When we recognize loneliness as a driving force behind our actions, we become more aware of its impact on our choices and decisions. This awareness can inspire proactive steps to seek social connection, engage in healthier behaviours, and reduce the emotional distress associated with loneliness. When we acknowledge loneliness as a catalyst for change, we empower ourselves to think deeply about the patterns in our lives, enhance our wellbeing, and foster meaningful relationships.
Thinking of loneliness as a cause gives us a reason to think critically about why we do the things we do and choose our actions accordingly.
Understanding loneliness as an effect of our behaviours helps us understand the role our actions and choices have in shaping our emotional state. When we recognize that our behaviours, such as social withdrawal or isolation, can lead to loneliness, it emphasizes our agency over feeling lonely.
Loneliness will always come and go – it’s part of being human. Seeing loneliness as an effect lets us see that loneliness doesn’t come out of nowhere and it doesn’t go for no reason. It comes as a result of certain behaviours, environments, or people in our lives. It goes because we’ve made a decision to take action (whether it’s an act of processing, coping, or an act of avoidance).
We can’t snap our fingers and stop feeling lonely. It isn’t that simple. But when we think of loneliness as an effect, it gives us a reason to look for causes. It gives us a reason to think critically about our habits, our behaviours, and our environments. Maybe we feel lonely because we scroll too much. Maybe we feel lonely because we’re away from home. Maybe we feel lonely because we’re having conversations all day long, but we’re not really connecting with the people in our lives.
No matter the reason, thinking of loneliness as an effect gives us a reason to take action, to introspect, and to search.
When we feel lonely it isn’t just cause and it isn’t just effect. It’s cause and effect. Next time you feel lonely, before you try to remedy your loneliness and rid yourself of the discomfort. Try to really feel lonely. Is loneliness a cause in this moment – is it driving you to take action? Or is loneliness an effect in this moment – is it a feeling that’s arisen because of a decision, an action, or a thought?
By recognizing that loneliness is a cause, you gift yourself with foresight. You can pause and think about what sorts of behaviours and habits have emerged from loneliness in the past and think about where those behaviours led you. Then, you can make an informed decision about what you want the outcome of your loneliness to be.
By recognizing that loneliness is an effect, you gift yourself with hindsight. You can identify that loneliness didn’t emerge spontaneously but instead came about for a reason. Was that reason a thought, a behaviour, a habit, or something else? You may even start to find that the behaviours and habits that arise from feeling lonely are actually the same ones that cause you to feel lonely in the first place.
The things we do and the things we feel aren’t detached from one another. Causes can be effects and effects can be causes.
When we understand the relationship between the things we do and the things we feel, we empower ourselves to start making real, tangible change.