Am I lonely?

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We hear a lot about loneliness these days, perhaps because so many Americans are experiencing it. Studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicate that 1 in 5 Americans report feeling lonely or isolated. A Cigna/Ipsos poll revealed that nearly half of Americans feel alone or left out. The Brits have even deployed a new government Minister for Loneliness (can we get a minister for the other emotions, too?).

So while Branden has been v-logging about loneliness and community, I’ve been down here in Central America, spending hours alone in coffee shops. I have my local favorite, which serves a great Americano alongside a solid soundtrack of English language hits. My introversion cherishes these coffee shop hours, as do my employers—because I actually get work done under the influence of caffeine. 

But I do spend a lot of time alone in these coffee shops. Indeed, I spend a lot of time alone in general now that I live in Guatemala. Which makes me wonder: Am I lonely?

If we’re going to take seriously the experience of loneliness, then we need to develop methods of measuring this emotion. While there is no clinical classification for loneliness in the United States, there are some academic scales for testing loneliness. The questions in these diagnostics can be helpful reflections for assessing your own levels of loneliness. 

To help us build out our own understanding of this emotion, I’ve listed a few of my own characteristics of the experience of loneliness:

·      Feeling disconnected from others.

·      Feeling physically or mentally distant from people.

·      Feeling like there’s no one to share your deepest feelings with.

·      Feeling like no one can understand you.

·      Feeling isolated, even sometimes when you’re in the presence of people.

I think I’ve felt all of these at some point in my life. You probably have too.

Here we should note an important distinction between the emotion of loneliness and the state of being alone. We can be alone and content at the same time, just as you can be surrounded by people and still feel disconnected, lonely, or isolated. Time spent alone to recharge and build out your world-view is vital for healthy human beings, and a desire to be alone at times is not a defect but a normal part of our human needs.

I realized that my coffee shop time rarely leads me to affirmative answers on the above diagnostic, and for that, I’m grateful. Instead, it’s a chance to work, to reflect, and to practice my Spanish verbs. But certainly, there have been times in Central America when I’ve answered yes to one of the above bullets.

Before we can think about ways to combat loneliness, we need to be able to name it. And for some, admitting an experience of loneliness can be the hardest part. In a world where success is measured by number of followers and “normal-ness” is measured by social cohesion, an admission of loneliness can feel like an admission of weakness, something even more isolating for the already isolated.  

If anything, be heartened knowing that loneliness is a human experience, common enough that half of Americans are willing to self-report it on a survey. And once you can name your experience, your feelings, you’ll be ready to address them in healthy ways.

So don’t be afraid to ask, “am I lonely?” And don’t be afraid to keep listening to Branden’s v-logs or reading these blog posts as we tackle this topic.