“The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.”
Many people feel lonely at Christmas. It is a profound experience that can occur to anyone irrespective of the number of friends that surround you and however gregarious you appear—the face of a clown, if you like.
Loneliness emerges quickly—unseen and challenging. Paradoxically, we understand Christmas is also a fantastic time, and it may be just that juxtaposition that magnifies the loneliness experience at this point. Christmas is a time for us all to take stock, think about connecting with loved ones and our communities and make changes to become more sociable in the new year. Also, definitions of the matter of loneliness are personal, and time and relationships are not linear concepts, but they have certain qualities dependent largely on culture and expectation.
Those in need hide in clear sight, and we simply don’t know exactly who the lonely are. Introverts and extroverts can all feel despair. In addition, loneliness is tricky. Generally, we developed with friends, naturally at school, so this isolated experience is alien to most of us.
At a personal level, I like my own company: for me, being alone is not the same as loneliness. I spend long hours working on my own and never feel lonely. I suspect I would feel differently, though, if I felt unwelcome in company on a Christmas day—or on any day. Loneliness is a subjective experience. It becomes a problem if you crave the company of others and just don’t get it, and of course, it becomes significant only if you attach meaning to the social importance of Christmas.
Once or twice, I have felt lonely in a crowded room, a powerful feeling of emptiness and self-consciousness overwhelms me, and I must leave. I definitely do not belong in certain places, with certain people and the only option is to get out. It can be overwhelming, accompanied by unhappiness and occasionally, a lack of hope. This might be described as normal feelings and reactions to weird events. So, it is not usually you, but the event.
This experience of not belonging is not reserved for the sensitive. It can make you feel weak, inadequate and lacking any worth. It can play with your confidence. A lack of trust is closely rivaled by a strong sense of self-awareness and powerful intuition that you are being judged or stigmatized. You sound pathetic as you comment on yourself, but emotions can be powerful and destructive tools. It can be almost impossible to decipher the difference between loneliness and being bullied, and there is nobody to ask. A great test is to ask yourself: Do I always feel like this, or under what circumstances do I feel like this? Then cut that event out of your life and replace it with something you might enjoy instead.
The problem of loneliness isn’t just affecting older generations, despite the popular narrative. Younger people are increasingly feeling lonelier towards this time of year, making this a growing problem. It is of course very easy to slip into loneliness. Dark nights, sitting in front of the computer, connecting with God knows who, can render you vulnerable to all sorts of fringe organizations, to people who do not have your best interests at heart, despite their enticing tones or messages. Duplicitous online types can make you feel good about yourself, compliment you, and leave you wanting more. This should sound a serious alarm bell. Look for more sociable, real-life outlets. Loneliness is triggered when you end up staying in your room as a place of comfort, avoiding any hostile or threatening situations that might come in the outside world. If you’re a minor, you need to observe yourself for this and think about reporting these feelings to a teacher or other responsible adult. And if you’re a parent, make sure to speak with your child about these issues and keep them engaged in real-life activities.
Loneliness is often a sideshow or symptom of other events in life and can be accompanied by a huge emotional burden placed on you by others. Coping with this is called resilience, and it is good that you can survive such situations. Nevertheless, it is an empty burden, and you should seek a way out with some help.
For younger people, bullying and unstable families are key contributors. For adults, finishing employment, getting old and less mobile, mourning the death of a loved one or no longer being the hub of the family are simple factors that contribute to isolation.
Christmas definitely emphasizes loneliness. The good thing is, once it is recognized, you can begin to resolve it. Self-worth helps us contribute to relationships, work, health, and overall well-being so it is important to develop some of these skills.
In my next article, we will explore the practical ideas that we can deploy on our own to get new friend networks and to approach the feelings of loneliness the holiday can inspire in healthy, productive ways.