Let's Talk About Loneliness

By Rosie Barton, LMSW

Let’s talk about loneliness. In my opinion, it’s something that has remained taboo and shameful, especially for men and women living in New York City, who often feel like no one else feels as alone as they do. The truth is, everyone experiences loneliness at some point, or many points, in their lives. It’s not a personal defect. It takes tremendous courage to be able to say that you are lonely. It takes even more courage to initiate getting coffee with an acquaintance, instead of just following them on social media or waiting for them to reach out to you. 

We live in an age with increasingly superficial connections and more than ever, I see people arriving in therapy with various mental health issues that have their roots in loneliness and low self-esteem. I work from a relational perspective, which means that I believe our relationships with others (and the relationship we have with ourselves) are at the crux of mental health. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, it’s important to reflect on the relationships in your life and get curious if unhealthy connections, superficial connections, or simply not enough connections are playing a role. 

Having healthier relationships requires vulnerability and I can’t sugar coat this—it takes real work! Talking about loneliness in therapy is a first step, but it’s not enough if you want to feel different in your day to day life. Being vulnerable with others means being willing to risk rejection or disappointment. Those feelings are so often feared and catastrophized as the worst possible thing that they are avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, when we act in a way to avoid these emotions, we are also dulling our ability to experience pleasure and joy. Being vulnerable doesn’t guarantee that you will make a new friend or feel less lonely, but it certainly increases the likelihood that you will, much more so than remaining isolated out of fear of being rejected.

Earlier I mentioned that having a healthy relationship with yourself is something to focus on too, and this concept can be more difficult to explain. Try asking yourself how you feel when you’re alone in your own company. If you struggle to just sit with yourself and your emotions, any time alone can feel excruciating and indeed, very lonely. 

We as humans have become experts at distraction. We do this with food, alcohol, social media, constant scrolling, television, podcasts, and endless other ways. In order to begin confronting loneliness, it’s important to notice how the distractions might be preventing you from thinking about or feeling something else. In order to gain comfort with being alone, try to develop a loving and kind stance toward yourself first and foremost. Instead of judging yourself for being lonely, practice saying “I feel lonely and that’s ok.” Admitting you are lonely doesn’t mean you will forever be alone. It doesn’t make you weak or inadequate or unlovable. It’s simply something to acknowledge, accept, and talk about.

Rosie Barton is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing reception@cobbpsychotherapy.com, and see how therapy can help.

Elizabeth Cobb