Shel Silverstein, an American writer and poet, wrote a book called A Missing Piece. The main character is a circle that is missing one wedge. The circle rolls along on a journey to find its missing piece. Along the journey it sings, smells flowers, and enjoys the trip. But once it finds a piece that fits, it can’t do those things it enjoyed anymore.
Many people are struggling because they are lonely. Just like the circle, many of us feel like we are missing something in our lives and we think finding that missing piece will solve our loneliness and end our struggle. We expect that finding another person will fill the missing piece and will make us whole. But that’s a problem. Instead of thinking that we can be completed, we need to be whole by ourselves and allow other people to add value to our lives.
“Lonely is not being alone. It’s the feeling that no one cares.”
Loneliness can feel like a lot of different things, and we can blame it in a lot of different situations. But loneliness is really about lacking a connection to people.
It’s also about lacking a meaningful connection to people. The problem for many of us is we have a lot of surface-level interactions with people all day long. We stop at the grocery store and say “Hello, how are you?” to the cashier, but we don’t want or expect an answer. And when we are asked the same, we don’t respond, or simply say “Fine.”
A few years ago, I had a party and around 40 people attended. Even though I had a lot of people around me, I remember feeling very alone throughout the evening. All of you have probably experienced this as well.
Loneliness and Depression
Loneliness is often connected to depression. Doctors and psychiatrists are careful to remind us that they are not the same thing. However, for many people they happen at the same time. We can feel lonely and depressed.
Because loneliness is most often about our lack of connection with other people, that’s what we need to focus on as we try to overcome it.
The first step is to make sure that we are not socially isolated. As hard as it may be, we have to put ourselves out there socially in order to overcome loneliness. If you are feeling lonely, you can start by taking small steps to not be isolated. This can be simple things like talking to coworkers during lunch, joining a meetup group that does an activity you enjoy, or getting coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
Once we are spending time with other people, if we are still feeling lonely, we need to think about how we are connecting with them.
What does it look like to connect?
I’ve had the same feelings of loneliness as other people. I’ve learned to ask myself a couple of questions when I’m with a group:
- Am I withholding myself from this group?
- Am I not connected?
The first thing that these questions remind me is that it is my responsibility to connect with other people. I can’t wait for people to connect with me. Even if it feels harder to connect when I’m lonely, I have to put in the effort.
When I ask myself if I am withholding myself from this group, it prompts me to consider my approach to the group or the event. Sometimes I go into a group and I’m still thinking about everything else that happened during my day. I wind up being less focused on the people who are right in front of me. Or I might go into a group and be thinking about the talk I have to give in an hour instead of focusing on connecting with the people around me.
The second question, am I not connected, reminds me that I need to put myself out there to be connected. I enjoy talking to people and I love the opportunity to help them, so it is really easy for me to spend a lot of time talking about others without saying anything about myself. That can leave me feeling drained and unconnected, because I didn’t share about myself.
For me, connecting means that I need to also share what is going on with my life. I have to be a friend rather than just an advisor. I make an effort to share information and to contribute my own stories and memories to the conversation.
Loneliness is hard and many people around us are struggling with it. We can make small changes to alleviate the feeling of loneliness in our own life. We can also make sure to take time to reach out to other people who may be feeling lonely. A simple conversation or invitation may make a person near us feel better.