Loneliness is defined as a painful feeling of inner emptiness and intense longing for relationship. A survey of 20,000 Americans found that half – especially young people – describe themselves as lonely.
“Loneliness itself is a painful awareness that we lack close and meaningful contact with other people,” says Dr. Kristen DeWitt, professor of Psychology at Cedarville University Ohio. Despite the intense desire to reach out, people suffering loneliness often don’t know how to. “The more they isolate themselves then the less courage they have to reach out to someone.”
Circumstances can trigger loneliness at any age, such as when a child attends a brand-new school, a senior loses a long-time spouse or a 30-something professional takes a job in a new city. Sometimes loneliness can lead to health problems or trigger addictions. Low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence can also lead to feelings of emptiness and chronic loneliness could be the result of years of avoiding social situations. Seasons, like the short dark days of winter can also play a part in making the emotion more intense. Also, research shows social media can play a negative role in our sense of connection with other humans. “It’s a great way to keep up with friends,” DeWitt grants, “but there can be pitfalls.” Comparing your life to lives online can lead to a feeling of insignificance. She is also concerned about something she calls, “social snacking,” where people simply browse social media to read profiles and comments but never interact with anyone.
As a college professor Dr. DeWitt is greatly troubled by heavy reliance on electronics among her students. “They are missing what’s going on around them, not developing social skills and building relationships that would ward off those feelings of loneliness.” She believes young adults must be taught to have face-to-face conversations. “They are spending more and more time online and less time building friendships that lead to satisfactory feelings about oneself and encouraging others and building one another up verbally” due to FOMO – feel of missing out. “Yet in essence, they are missing out on life.”
Pastor Bill directs Pastoral Care for K-LOVE Radio and he sees reaching out to God as the first step to relieving loneliness. “If you have a knowing and growing and relationship with Jesus Christ, we’re never alone,” he begins, but quickly acknowledges the painful emptiness so many Christians still feel. He blames the American tendency to be individualistic for feeding our feelings of isolation. “We don’t even know it, we just absorb it from the culture,” he confesses. “I don’t think oftentimes we don’t even realize how isolated we can be -- you can literally stay in your home and get groceries delivered, prescriptions delivered, you can never even have to get outside your doors.”
"It’s in our heart, soul and it’s in our desires to belong to a group."
Both Dr. DeWitt and Pastor Bill agree the only real and lasting remedy for loneliness is to make the necessary effort to be around other people. “Most of the time when we walk into a room, we look for somebody we know,” reminds Pastor Bill. They suggest you find a local church, join a club, or volunteer to serve so you’re giving those human connections a chance to develop. DeWitt assures us “feelings of loneliness usually dissipate when we get our eyes of our circumstances and onto others.”
If you don’t want to join a big group, “develop one friendship,” says the doctor and further suggests loneliness can be embraced as positive. “Purpose to be around people, people of like faith,” while also “recognizing the pain of loneliness as a sign that something needs to change."