We’re All out Here Feeling Lonely, but No One’s Talking About ItHere's why you should actually say it out loud and how to do that.
Your friend group text is constantly blowing up and you have more plans on the calendar than you actually plan to follow through with. And yet you can’t help but notice a pit in your stomach after tapping through Instagram Stories or scrolling back to the beginning of your camera roll. Surprise! Despite being digitally “connected” to other humans 24/7 and having an overwhelming display of party invitations stuck to your fridge, you, dear friend, are lonely.
It’s pretty much a guaranteed symptom of living in a culture that worships individualism and in which social media and technology often leave us feeling less-than and make it way too easy to meet our basic needs without interacting with other people (alas, the downside of grocery delivery), suggests therapist Megan Bruneau, MA, RCC, author of How To Be Alone (And Together).
On top of being a person in the 21st century, all sorts of personal factors can leave us wallowing in loneliness, even if we have decent friends. “We tend to experience loneliness when we feel we have to hide parts of ourselves we worry might be rejected, when we feel we're not in the same place as our peers, or when we feel an existential or spiritual loneliness or disconnection from spirituality or faith,” Bruneau explains.
And though the literal point of friendship is to have people you can be real with, talking to your peeps about the fact that you’re lonely can feel really freaking awkward. Not only does it mean facing any shame you feel about your loneliness head-on, but it also means risking being judged by your friends or potentially hurting their feelings. Thanks, but no thanks!
Here’s the thing, though: Talking about loneliness is actually one of the most important things you can do to actually feel less lonely. Promise. “We tend to deepen intimacy and increase feelings of connection and decrease feelings of loneliness when we're vulnerable and share parts of ourselves we feel self-conscious or ashamed about,” says Bruneau. “When those parts are accepted, we ultimately feel safer and closer to those people.”
Oh, and the other thing? You’ll be giving your friends permission to share that they feel lonely too (because they probably do), adds Kory Floyd, PhD, a professor of communication and psychology at The University of Arizona who studies how people communicate in close relationships. “Simply realizing that we aren’t alone in our loneliness can make us feel less isolated,” he says.
Because it can be intimidating to tell your friends that you feel lonely, here are a few tips for getting through it.
Get clear on what you actually want from your friends.
So you’ve decided to tell your pals you feel lonely—and then what? In order for your friends to support you in the way you need, you have to tell them what you need, which means you have to know what you need. “Do you simply want to feel heard and validated and know you're not alone?” suggests Bruneau. “Do you want to be reminded you're loved and cared for?” By identifying your needs, you can plan out your convo to help ensure they get met. “For example, you could say something like, ‘Lately I've been feeling pretty lonely, and I think I could use XYZ. Are you up for a hang so I can get a hit of some connection and (insert needs here)?’" Bruneau suggests.
Choose your audience wisely.
Maybe this is obvious, but in the name of Beyoncé, be selective about who you share your feels with. “Choose a trusted friend to open up to,” says Bruneau. “Sharing with someone you experience as judgmental or dismissive can have the opposite effect [that you want].” Read: Telling that friend who’s been really half-assing their effort with you in hopes that it’ll bring you two closer? Not the move here.
Ease into the convo.
When cannonballing straight into the unknown feels like too much, test the waters by bringing up the topic in an indirect way, suggests Dr. Floyd. Mention a social media post you recently saw or a podcast you listened to about loneliness (the content is everywhere, after all) and see how that lands, he says. From there, you might even ask your friend if they ever feel lonely before sharing yourself.
Don’t expect your friends to “fix it.”
It’s tempting to use your friends to help you understand and overcome your loneliness, but that’s just not realistic (or fair!) to anyone. “Your friend very likely cares and wants to help, but they might not have the answers right away or ever,” says Bruneau. Only you (perhaps with the help of a mental health professional) can do the true inner work here, so express appreciation for your friend’s support and respect their limitations by keeping in mind that they’re not your therapist. And, honestly, just validating this experience with each other goes a long way.
Practice with a pro first.
If the prospect of talking to your besties about loneliness makes you want to literally crawl under your bed, start by opening up to a professional whose whole job it is to listen to you. “Practicing talking about loneliness with a professional can remove some of the stigma and give people more confidence about broaching the subject with loved ones,” says Dr. Floyd. “Like many other issues, loneliness can grow increasingly problematic because of concealment and shame, so the most important step is to find someone to talk to.”
Just. Freaking. Do. It.
Though finding a time and place that feels safe and not rushed is def a good idea, just spit it out. Being lonely alone is isolating AF, so don’t worry about the perfect delivery or perfect moment to tell a friend that you’re feeling lonely. “It takes courage to be vulnerable and you're not giving a TED Talk!” says Bruneau. “Conversations are meant to be messy and imperfect, especially uncomfortable ones.” That’s the beauty of being human, y’all, so out with it already. You’ll probably feel so much better once it’s out there.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.