Why Most People Misunderstand Feeling Alone

“Because nothing sucks more than feeling alone... No matter how many people are around.”
— John Dorian, Scrubs

You feel alone. Empty. No one in your life really gets you or understands what you're going through. Feeling alone can be so isolating, especially when people in your life don't seem to understand what you mean by "feeling alone"...How can you feel alone when I'm right here? they might ask. How can you feel alone when you are surrounded by people? There are several reasons feeling alone is hard for others to understand.

Feeling alone is, by its nature, hard to understand.

At the core of feeling alone is the sense that no one truly understands what you are experiencing. They may see you on the outside, they may be able to say the words "I hear that you're saying you feel alone...but you aren't really alone," which almost makes it worst. They just don't get it. Sometimes the harder they try to understand, to figure out what you mean, the more it becomes apparent they really don't get it, and the more alone you feel. Even as a seasoned therapist, I sometimes miss the mark when I'm trying to understand what my client feels in that moment. The pain and frustration of being misunderstood by the one person who is supposed to understand you can make us want to push people away and stop trying. This is an extremely painful cycle to be caught up in, feeling like no matter what you do and no matter how hard the other person tries, they will just never get it. In this way, feeling alone can be self-perpetuating or a self-fulfilling prophecy. You feel alone, and because people don't understand you stop trying, and then you really are alone.

You can feel alone even when in the presence of others.

This is often an extremely hard thing for people to understand. For people who don't struggle with feeling alone, being around other people is an instant fix to a moment of loneliness or disconnection. For you, being around other people just heightens your sense of feeling alone. You're surrounded by people, but you still feel empty inside. Because people don't get it, you have to hide what you're going through and pretend to be and feel something different, putting on a fake smile and going through the motions. This too can sink us deeper into the pit, because when we engage with people in this way, we tend to feel more disconnected, not less.

"You just have to learn how to like being alone."

People who say this  don't seem to understand what feeling alone is really like. For them, being alone is a spiritually "superior" place to be, learning to be totally independent from others and self-sufficient. If you only camped out in the wilderness or traveled to another country and spent several months or a year learning how to be alone, everything would be great! The aloneness would be permanently solved! Unfortunately, this is a limited and narrow view of what feeling alone truly is. Certainly, learning how to tolerate being alone might be part of the journey, but you crave closeness, not aloneness. You already know quite well how to be and feel alone and you don't want more of that in your life, you want less. People who misunderstand feeling alone have actually got it backwards--the solution to feeling alone is not to be alone more often, it's to learn how to connect with people in a meaningful way to feel less alone, so that the moments when you have no choice but to be alone feel more manageable.

It's hard to let people in.

Feeling alone is sometimes a constant state of being. You feel alone all the time, even when you are with people you love and doing something that should be fun or enjoyable. Others can react to this with reassurance ("It's okay, you're not alone, I'm here!"), guilt or regret ("I wish I could make you feel less alone"), judgment or hurt ("I don't understand why you feel alone when I'm right here"), and eventually frustration, anger and withdrawal. They don't know how to understand, and we don't know how to make them understand. The easiest solution to avoiding the pain, confusion, and conflict from that comes from this is sometimes just to shut everyone out. Over time, this shutting down and shutting out can become automatic and we don't even realize we are doing it. It becomes nearly impossible to let someone in, and when we do, sometimes the emotions we experience are so intense it hurts and we wonder why we even bother. And of course, the more we shut people out, the harder it becomes for them to understand what it's like for us. 

So...what can you do about feeling alone?

There are things you can try to manage feeling alone on your own, but the paradox of feeling alone is that it's not something you can deal with alone. One option is to find other people who also struggle with feeling alone. Knowing there are other people with the same issues, who also experience feeling alone, can bring a sense of relief on its own. Finding an online forum, looking for group therapy, or simply talking with your close friends or loved ones about whether they have ever experienced feeling alone are great places to start. Getting a therapist on board can also help you work on understanding why you feel alone and learning some ways to reduce the negative, destructive cycles that feeling alone creates. 

Check back next week to check out our post on other ways to cope with feeling alone!