Love, Loneliness, and the Only Things That Work

In the last week alone, I’ve read three articles on combating loneliness. I could’ve read three hundred.

Articles about loneliness are cropping up all over the place. The reasons for loneliness seem pretty consistent: It’s the fault of social media, nuclear families, continuing education being exceedingly expensive, helicopter parents hovering over the children, children not learning how to play with others and have limited emotional skills as they get older. That’s the short list.

You’ve probably read these and several more. Most articles have some suggestions for treating loneliness, and most of these interventions make you scratch your head and wonder.

Many of the solutions offered are just awful.

Here’s a list of just some of the suggestions: “take an internal inventory,” “watch different TV programs” “make small talk with the cashier at the store (I especially love that one. They neglected to add, “…while you’re pissing off the people in line behind you.) Join a group, take a dance class, exercise, take a course at the Adult Educational Center, travel, find a hobby that involves others like cards, call a friend. ( Seriously? Call a friend? We’re talking about being lonely so you don’t really think you have any friends to call, but nice try.)

In each of these, the contact is cursory. The focus is not on one another, the focus is on the offering of the group. Companionship is at a distance. Connection is an accident.

Loneliness is a focus inwardly. When we feel lonely we tend to blame ourselves, repeatedly asking ourselves the questions, “Where is everyone?” “Why aren’t people calling?” “What did I do to make this happen?” “Am I that bad?” “How come nobody likes me?”

This inward criticism begins to grow. We establish a foundation of self loathing and discouragement. This emotional state develops and takes hold of our spirit by two of the most corrosive tenets known to humanity: Hopelessness and Helplessness.

In loneliness, we are bound an absence of hope. We cannot see past our own sadness. The choices we make become constricted, and our self assessment is darkened by thoughts of inadequacy.

Choices of change are discarded or ignored. Helplessness takes over. We second guess our decisions. Statements of “it doesn’t matter” and “I just don’t know what to do” take up residence in our thoughts.

And so you know, the words “helplessness” and “hopelessness?” They just happen to be the two psychological tenets that define the clinical diagnosis for Major Depressive Disorder.

Here’s the only two things that work.

Focus on the heart of another, share the energy and spirit with the person you’re with, and stretch your ability to listen and care for them. Your loneliness disappears, even for a moment.

We know this. This is not uncommon. We get outside of ourselves and sit with another human being, engage their lives, and give to them what, in turn, will be given to us: company, appreciation, contact, and love.

We are all familiar with this concept.

Secondly, take care of something outside of yourself.

In short, find something or somebody you can take care of.

Get a pet? Sure. If you can afford it and have the space, absolutely get a pet. You’re taking care of something. Paint, Sculpt, Mechanics, Gardening? Hell, yes. You are working on something that requires attention and care. I’ve known a woman for several years that tells me she’s “never had a lonely day in her life” because her gardening “keeps me company.”

And the whole “focus on the heart of another” thing.

Just start by saying, “hello.” You don’t have to ask a follow up question, but I generally do. Here’s the follow up: “How are you doing?” Sometimes I forget that one and go right to “What have you been up to today?” This one solicits a better answer.

Take care of one another. Call. Ask. Show up. Say “hello.”

With all these people on the earth, not one of us should be lonely. Let’s make loneliness extinct.

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