Despite being such a common emotion, loneliness remains a taboo subject. To break down the barriers and misconceptions, we asked our experts to share some surprising truths about loneliness…
1. You can have a lot of friends and be lonely
Loneliness has nothing to do with popularity – social butterflies feel lonely, too. Having a few good quality connections is more important and has a more positive effect on our wellbeing than having lots of poorer-quality ones.
Successful people might be surrounded by people all day, but are particularly prone to loneliness, because friendships are difficult with people under your supervision. ‘Loneliness goes much deeper than not having someone to “hang around with”, it’s about not feeling seen, heard, loved and appreciated,’ says Psychologist Dr Audrey Tang.
2. Loneliness can be a symptom of other problems
Many women around their mid to late 40s are experiencing peri-menopause, which often affects mood and sense of wellbeing. Dr Tang says that it’s not unusual to suddenly feel exhausted, flat, teary or depressed – all of which have a knock-on effect for relationships.
When you’re exhausted and your mood is low, you don’t tend to feel much like socialising. When you do go out, if you don’t have a goodtime, you start to avoid it by cancelling arrangements, or turning down invitations. ‘This can easily spiral into loneliness,’ warns Dr Tang, who recommends anyone experiencing emotional health problems around mid-life talk to their GP about peri-menopause.
Other life events that commonly affect women of this age like grief, divorce and ‘empty nest syndrome’ can all cause feelings of loneliness. Talking to others in similar situations about what you’re going through will help reduce feelings of isolation.
3. A lot of lonely people are married
A marriage where you no longer feel appreciated or heard will lead to feelings of disconnection and loneliness. Unfortunately, familiarity can breed complacency, and it’s often not a conscious thing. If this sounds familiar, relationship expert Anna Williamson, author of Where Is The Love? (Bloomsbury, £12.99), says the most important thing you can do is communicate.
‘If we’re not telling our partners that there is a problem, then how are they supposed to know? You could write a letter, a poem or email, or leave a voice message – all are good ways to get the conversation flowing and kickstart any changes that might need to take place.’
4. Men get lonely too
Men are more prone to loneliness in midlife than women. ‘While women tend to base friendships on social and emotional support, men are more likely to do so on shared activities, including work and sport,’ says Arthur C Brooks, author of From Strength To Strength (Bloomsbury, £17.99). This matters a lot for wellbeing, especially in later life.
Men are also less likely to admit to feelings of loneliness or talk to their friends about it. If you think your partner might be feeling lonely, help him by encouraging him to talk about how he’s feeling and to do things together to forge more intimate bonds with friends.
5. Talking about loneliness makes you feel less lonely
‘We don’t feel shameful when we say, “I’m hungry”, but we might when we say, “I’m lonely”,’ says Cheryl Rickman, a Positive Psychology practitioner. ‘Yet loneliness, like hunger, is simply a feeling that flags up that we’re deficient in nutrients – of connection.’
Often, by revealing something about yourself and making yourself vulnerable, you find yourself connecting with people on a deeper level. Talk about how you’re feeling, whether it’s with your friends, on an internet forum, or with a coach. You’ll be surprised by how much better you feel.
6. You won’t be lonely forever
‘The good news is that while loneliness is unpleasant, it is resolvable, so you needn’t remain feeling this way,’ says Rickman. ‘The first step is to cultivate the ability to be alone without feeling lonely, and the second is about connecting with the right people, so you spend time with those who make you feel good.’
If you spend time with people who don’t make you feel great about yourself, it can exacerbate feelings of loneliness. ‘The better you know yourself, the more authentic relationships you’ll develop with people you feel the deepest kinship with.