Many thanks to the over 750 people who responded to the survey on loneliness. One of the questions was about what emotionally sensitive people see as the reason for their loneliness. Fear was mentioned by many of you: Fear of rejection, judgments, vulnerability, and of not being perfect. Some were afraid of their reactions to other people.
There’s a lot of truth in these fears. When people are together, the situation can be like a minefield. Banter and ribbing that is all in good fun for others can be painful for the emotionally sensitive . The way others see you may not be the way you want to be seen so you want to run, hide. Sometimes when others express what they like, what they don’t like is clearly implied. In addition, statements such as you need to watch that late night ice cream or that yellow isn’t your best color, even made in a caring way, can wound. In addition, emotionally sensitive people may be nervous about interacting with others and thus naturally hyperalert to any negative statements. It’s natural to be on the look out for whatever you fear.
Emotionally sensitive people who isolate because of the unpleasant emotions they have when with others are unfamiliar with normal teasing and repartee that occurs in most relationships. They may take seriously what others let slide off as unimportant or just “par for the course.” They haven’t developed a sense of those interactions being meaningless chatter –it isn’t meaningless for them.
Another reason many experience loneliness is because they don’t live close to family. In our highly mobile society, most family members do not live in the same town or even state. In the past holidays were usually celebrated with family and when you needed help family members were there. Now family members may not live close enough to visit regularly.
Some grieve for family members who have died.
Some people said they were lonely because they put on a facade in social situations and pretend to be less anxious or more outgoing than they actually are. The problem is that the relationships they make that way don’t feel real or satisfying, as the other person doesn’t really know them.
Not trusting others enough to get close was mentioned by many, sometimes because of past experiences. Others said that cultural differences form a barrier that is difficult to overcome. Being different and feeling different from the people around as well as having a mental illness were listed as barriers to establishing closeness.
Other reasons included people being too busy and preoccupied and always finding something not acceptable about potential friends. Some said they were lonely because they had been rejecting of most everyone who came into their life. Some talked about the loneliness of missing one special person. Being invalidated and misunderstood led to feelings of loneliness for others.
Many of you have found ways to cope with loneliness. You suggested finding a deep spiritual connection or a meaningful purpose. Some of you keep busy with activities and schedule special events to look forward to, such as going to a movie or reading a special book. Reading was a primary way of easing loneliness (71.6%) and television was seen as a companion by 48.9%.
Hobbies, therapy, volunteering, helping others, pets, creative activities, and not discounting relationships that you have are helpful. Online relationships help (45.4%), gardening, finding pleasure in small things and learning to accept yourselves worked for some of you. And finally, many mentioned meditation and mindfulness.
Almost 60% of you said that you believed that if you weren’t lonely you could be content or even happy. You said you didn’t feel lonely when you were with family, having meaningful conversations, with pets, being authentic, and when you were fully engaged with life. Though some said they liked being alone, most of you felt less lonely when you felt you belonged, when you could be yourself with others.
Independence is highly valued in our culture and at the same time the need to connect with others in a genuine way remains an important part of having a contented life. Connecting with others is not simple and requires complex skills. We’ll look more at loneliness in a future post, as well as the skills necessary to form connections.
Note to Readers
Thanks to all of you who took the survey on loneliness. If you have not yet taken the survey and are emotionally sensitive, please consider answering the questions about understanding loneliness. I appreciate your time and your contribution to better understanding emotional sensitivity.
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Last reviewed: 30 Nov 2012