You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely...
Have you ever felt lonely whilst being surrounded by lots of people?
- Perhaps you are around people that you just don't feel accepted by or liked by and so you feel lonely. Lack of belonging can make you feel lonely even when there are lots of people around you. You can feel as though you don't belong in a group when you can't be your authentic self around the people in that group and you don't feel valued or understood by them.
- Or perhaps you've been so lost in your own worries, thoughts and fears that you have felt alone even though there are lots of people around you - because these other people don't know what you are worrying about/ thinking about or going through. This is how struggling with your relationship with food can often make you feel very lonely - you are likely to engage in behaviours around food that you try and hide from others and also you may spend a lot of time worrying about food which again stops you from fully engaging with those around you.
- Or maybe you've been in a friendship or relationship where the trust is broken or you feel taken advantage of. You can spend a lot of time with this person but still feel lonely because you aren't truly connected to them anymore or you don't trust them enough to share your thoughts and feelings with them.
It is mental health awareness week this week in the UK and the theme for the week is loneliness. We can see from the examples above that loneliness isn't really about being physically alone - because someone can be physically by themselves and not feel lonely. Instead loneliness describes how we feel about the quality of our relationships. The Charity Mind explains "One common description of loneliness is the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met. But loneliness is not always the same as being alone. You may choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while others may find this a lonely experience."
This is why:
- you can feel lonely in a job when you are not treated well by your managers or your peers;
- you can feel lonely in a relationship despite living with someone, if you don't feel valued or listened to;
- you can feel lonely in a new city if you have met lots of people but have not really developed meaningful connections with any of them; and
- you can feel lonely when you are struggling with poor mental health/low mood or dealing with something such as bulimia or binge eating disorder, because you may feel unable to connect completely with those around you or feel that there are parts of you and your life that you have to hide.
So if you reflect today on when you have felt the most lonely - has it been when you have been alone or when you have been around lots of other people but without those meaningful connections? We all have a human need to feel valued, appreciated and accepted when being authentically ourselves - and if we don't receive this from people we spend time with, we can. end up feeling very lonely despite having lots of people around us.
“When you're surrounded by all these people, it can be lonelier than when you're by yourself. You can be in a huge crowd, but if you don't feel like you can trust anyone or talk to anybody, you feel like you're really alone.”― Fiona Apple