As the current health pandemic stretches longer and longer, the resulting isolation and social distancing may be causing feelings of loneliness to feel stronger than ever. We innately crave human connection, which means loneliness can strike at any time, with or without a global health crisis, but there’s something about words like “isolation”, “lockdown”, “social distancing” and “quarantine” that seem to be bringing these feelings to the fore.
One of the tell tale signs of loneliness is feeling desperately alone, even when surrounded by people. Your desire for true connection, companionship and oneness may not match your reality, and, as a result, you may feel unsettled, unpleasant, sad and even distressed. In fact, you may find that being “blue ticked” hurts more than ever because the connection and engagement you crave just isn’t there.
Loneliness is described as a feeling of sadness because one has no friends or company.
More formally, according to the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology, loneliness is defined as follows:
loneliness (n.): (i) affective and cognitive discomfort or uneasiness from being or perceiving oneself to be alone or otherwise solitary; (ii) the emotional distress that results when inherent needs for intimacy and companionship are not met; (iii) the unpleasant and unsettling experience that results from a perceived discrepancy (i.e., deficiency in quantity or quality) between an individual’s desired and actual social relationships; (iv) an inevitable, painful aspect of the human condition that nevertheless may contribute to increased self-awareness and renewal.
Why are we lonely?
There are many reasons we can feel lonely during this time. These include, but are not limited to:
- Feeling misunderstood or that no one can relate to you
- Being afraid to reach out to form new bonds
- Having difficulty adjusting to the digitisation of relationships
- Confusing being alone or bored with loneliness
- Feeling far away from God
We’re going to walk through each of these reasons and provide relevant solution strategies.
1. Feeling misunderstood or that no one can relate to you
Feeling misunderstood can definitely lead to feeling emotionally isolated. The underlying reasons may be hidden hurts, past or present sins, feeling like the black sheep of the family, grief or self-centredness.
You may be going through something so personal and hurtful that you feel you simply cannot reach out to anyone: “Will they even understand?” “I don’t want anyone to look down on me.” Or, you may feel your sins and wrongdoings are so dark and heinous that you have to hide them, and also yourself, from others. You may feel no one can see past what you’ve done or that your sins make you unrelateable or even unworthy of friendship. It’s important to understand that God is always with you and that no sin is too great for His grace. Centuries before Jesus’ came to earth, he was considered Immanuel, “God with us”. At times when you feel like you can’t turn to anyone, know that Jesus is always there.
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:33)
Others may feel like the black sheep of the family. You’re stuck at home, unable to go anywhere, with a house full of people who don’t appear to relate to you at all. Your attempts to be “known” or understood may seem like complete fails and you have retreated internally, accepting loneliness as your fate. It is important that you find ways to disconnect to reconnent. Do your best to reconcile with your family to keep the peace. Find ways to de-stress and connect with your friends via audio/visual platforms like WhatsApp video calls, Facebook video and Zoom.
Some may have lost loved ones during this period or are still grieving the loss of loved ones who passed on prior to the pandemic. Grief is a very unique and personal experience. Your mind may be filling with a series of “no ones!”: “No one knows how I feel!“, “No one knows what I’m going through!”, “No one understands me!” This may very well be true, but only in part. Grief is a unique experience, yes, but when we open up ourselves to others and share what we are going through, we may find that there are similarities across experiences. I may have lost my mom at 12, and you may have lost your dad at 30, but there are similarities between the two. We both can relate to elements of our individual losses and find common ground for bonding.
2. Being afraid to reach out to form new bonds
Betrayal in past relationships can wreak havoc on future relationships, but only if you choose to allow fear to reign. In the past you may have been gossiped about, lied on, and misused, but leave that situation with Wisdom, not Fear. The Bible says in 1 John 4:18 that there is no fear in love. Fear should not operate in our relationships. Again, fear should not operate in our relationships.
But how do we prevent the fear of being hurt again from causing us to shy away from forming new friendships? Three words: prayer, trust and discernment.
Pray for God to send you meaningful relationships and true godly (purposeful, positive, sharpening) friendships.
Trust that God has your best interests at heart and that He would never give you a snake when you asked for a fish (Luke 11:11). And even if you are hurt again in another relationship, trust that He will work all things together for your good. Sometimes pain is necessary to purge our hearts of the mess (harmful thoughts, toxic patterns, etc.) we have accumulated over the years.
Secondly, when selecting new friends, discernment is always key. If you observe a person long enough before you invite them into your inner circle, you’ll be able to spot their character traits. Are they kind? Do they gossip? How do they treat their enemies? Are they loyal and trustworthy? Are they a good influence? These are just a few of the questions you should ask before forming any relationship.
Knowing who a person truly is before you label them your friend, much less your “bestie”, will help you to walk confidently into the new relationship.
3. Having difficulty adjusting to the digitisation of relationships
No lie, this is a tough one! COVID-19 caused the almost immediate shift from face-to-face engagement to primarily digital interaction. For some this shift proved to be incredibly difficult.
It’s great to have a virtual tribe but it can also create a sense of false confidence. As your followers and follower engagement grows, you may think you have hundreds of actual “friends”, but in reality how many of these can you call when you’re sad? When you’re happy? When you just caught a big break?
Still, on the flip side, many wonderful relationships (even romantic relationships!) have their foundations in social media. But the key thing is for the relationships to leave the app. Connect across multiple platforms, exchange contacts and truly deepen the relationship. Some influencers have found that interacting with their followers via email (e.g. subscribers or mailing list) verses social media platforms (e.g. Instagram) has created more meaningful conversations. If you are an influencer, you may observe the same. If you’re a regular guy or gal and just want to deepen your cyber relationships or simply navigate this season of digital-only relationships, then let social media work for you. Try voice or video calls (Instagram and Facebook offer these), schedule a cyber date or family gathering on Zoom or, if the relationships are based on social platforms, simply exchange numbers and chat over WhatsApp or traditional phone call instead. Get creative and remember, you operate in Wisdom, not Fear! (See #2 for context.)
4. Confusing being alone or bored with loneliness
As we have seen, being surrounded by people (whether at home or in cyber space) doesn’t mean you’re not lonely. And conversely, just because you’re alone right now, doesn’t mean your lonely. Said another way, being alone does not mean you’re lonely. There is a distinct difference (remember the definition of loneliness?).
Some people are just not used to having this much time on their hands and it may be leading to feelings of anxiety and distress. The truth is, you may just need a hobby. Go for a walk, develop a new routine, read a book, Netflix and chill with just you, you and your family or via a Facebook watch party, schedule cyber dates with friends, and the list goes on!
I personally suffer with an overactive mind that seems to be programmed to navigate to depressive content and thoughts. I know that about myself so I do my best to stay engaged. I am very rarely not busy. Either I’m creating content, engaging with friends, reading a book, cooking, exercising, playing with my pets (which have really helped me by the way!) or spending quality time with my husband. (Note: Just because I have a husband to quarantine with, doesn’t mean I can’t be lonely. Many spouses are experiencing deep-rooted loneliness, especially now.)
If you feel you just cannot be alone, it may be time to do some serious self-evaluation. Try to identify the root cause. Do you struggle with abandonment? Do you crave attention? Do you not know who you are when you’re not with someone? Do you not know who you are when all of the extras are taken away: work, social gatherings, clubbing, smoking, drinking, etc.? It’s time to really face REAL YOU and do the self-work required to free yourself of people bondage.
Jonathan McReynolds seems to understand loneliness and people bondage on a personal level. Here’s a short playlist for you.
Sidenote: What if God took away all of your distractions and influences so that you can hear Him, spend time with Him, learn about Him? That brings us to #5: feeling far away from God.
5. Feeling far away from God
It can be said that all forms of loneliness are linked to this very experience: feeling distant from God. Silent seasons – moments when you feel that God has hidden His face and covered His ears from you – are some of the hardest seasons to experience. However, quite often, we are responsible for the silence.
Feeling far away from God can make one feel empty, depressed, lost and purposeless. The word of God gives us a solution:
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
It is literally that simple. Go back to God. Find your rest and contentment in Him. It can be argued that that is what COVID-19 is all about: holding onto God, resting in Him and rebuilding the relationship that may have gotten so broken and lost due to busyness.
Secondly, it is important to ask yourself, is sin separating us? Is my lifestyle pleasing to God? Am I honouring the Holy Spirit living within me? It may be that we have followed our own lusts and desires so long that we became deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that His sheep know His voice and the voice of a stranger they will not follow (John 10:27). Number one, are you His sheep? Would you consider Jesus your shepherd, guiding you across life’s terrain or are you leading yourself? Are your lusts leading you? Are your friends leading you?
If you find you are serving God, you are praying, you are reading your Bible and still feel far away from Him, then I offer you this. What is the last word God gave you? Quite often God gave us a word that we have failed to act on. Maybe it seemed too simple, maybe too hard. But the point is, He gave you something to act on. It’s important to start there. God responds to obedience. You’ll be amazed at what He can do with an obedient heart.
My mind instantly gravitates to a man called Naaman who we encounter in 2 Kings chapter 5. Naaman was a wealthy man who had a prominent position as a commander of a king’s army, but he had leprosy, a dreaded skin disease in his day. Lepers had to live separate from others and so it can be inferred that Naaman was no stranger to the concept of isolation.
One day, he sought out the prophet Elisha to be healed and was angered when Elisha told him to dip seven times in the Jordan river. Why was he angry? This seemed simple enough right? Well, that’s the point. He was angry because he felt the solution to his problem was too simple. He felt his healing should require more effort and thought the River Jordan was inferior to rivers in his own homeland. Funny how we can often look down on the simple. Naaman’s servant finally convinced him to listen to the man of God. He did and guess what? He was healed! Skin like a baby’s bottom! But what did it require? Listening, acting, and obedience. Sometimes the cure for our loneliness is right there in our obedience.
Sometimes the cure for our loneliness is right there in our obedience.
Ways to Combat Loneliness
Below is a summary of the solution strategies discussed above.
- Know that no sin is “too great” and that you will never be “too far gone” for God.
- Know that God is always with you. Jesus is “God with us”, and He left His Holy Spirit with us to be our friend, advocate and comforter, always.
- Feel like the black sheep in the family? Try to let peace reign in your home. Reconcile where possible. Try to obtain peaceful distance where not.
- Take time to step away. Take a walk, listen to music, take a bubble bath or exercise to clear your mind and then attempt to connect again with a clearer mind.
- Find common ground for bonding.
- Remember that even though experiences differ, there are always commonalities.
- Leverage social media (e.g. Facebook video, Instagram video, Zoom, Skype, etc.) and schedule cyber dates.
- Choose to operate in Wisdom, not Fear when seeking new relationships.
- Pray, trust and use discernment when seeking new friendships.
- Use discernment when selecting friendships and when opening yourself up to others.
- Observe his or her character before you invite him or her into your inner circle.
- Find “your tribe”. This may be a single person or even a group of people (e.g. a Facebook group).
- Have a tribe? Opt for a voice call or video call over just text messages and DMs. This will deepen the relationship and help you both to feel connected.
- Find ways to engage your body and mind: a hobby, exercise, reading, etc.
- Feel like you just can’t be alone? Perform a self-evaluation to identify the root cause.
- If you feel far away from God, ponder on these questions: Have I moved? Is there sin separating us? Did I act on the last word God gave me?
Bonus: Adopt or foster a pet! Adopting a pet (well actually four!) really improved my quality of life and works to combat feelings of loneliness. There is always a fury friend around to love on.
Purpose for Loneliness
Even though loneliness may seem painful, it’s important to really evaluate the purpose of the season. Maybe you need a new group of friends. Maybe this season is stretching you to creatively find ways to connect with others. Maybe it’s time to truly get to know the real you. Maybe God wanted to remove all of the distractions because He wants your attention. Maybe He wants relationship with you.
I remember when I first became a Christian. I started to crave sisters in Christ and desperately yearned for fellowship. You know what God did? He sent two newly saved women my way (via social media) to truly grow and walk with. One of those friendships did not last very long, but those friendships were God-anointed and helped to fulfil a desire for companions on the journey. But before those friends came along, what did I do? I waited in faith and learned who God was, and reaped all I could from that season of being alone with God.
Reap everything you can from your current season: locked down during COVID-19, single with no kids, single with young kids, married with no kids, married with older kids, married with an empty nest, in school and unemployed, graduated and working, etc. Every season brings it’s own challenges, much like seasons of loneliness do, but there is much to learn and glean from each stage and season of life. Don’t waste the time by simply waiting for the days to pass on by.
Know that lockdown is temporary. There is life during this and there will be life after this.
Know that lockdown is temporary. There is life during this and there will be life after this.
Memory Verses for Combating Loneliness
Here are a few scripture verses I cling to in periods of loneliness (or just low moments in general):
- “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
- “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
- “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.” (Psalm 46:5)
- “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14: 18)
- “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
- “You are my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me.” (Jeremiah 8:18)
- Psalm 23 (I recite this often!)
- Psalm 139 (Special attention to verses 7 to 10.)
- “‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”).” (Matthew 1:33)
Until next time, I love you. Be well.
Struggling with negative thoughts? Check out my video on Adjusting Mindsets & Thought Patterns.