Dealing with Loneliness Part 3: Options
The “loneliness cycle” is an isolating experience.
Even though loneliness is such a common experience, when we are in the midst of it, Satan works hard to make us feel as if no one could possibly understand what we’re going through. He leads us to believe the lie that no one understands and that no one has ever faced the challenges we ourselves are facing. This painful perspective on loneliness can make us feel even more isolated. Unfortunately, even people who have good social support and yet are feeling lonely may pull away from their close relationships. They easily get stuck in the cycle of feeling alone, pulling away from people, and then feeling even more alone.
The role of our thoughts in the experience of loneliness.
Proverbs 23:7a, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
Our thoughts and feelings are closely connected. How we think about and interpret a situation greatly affects how we feel about it. As illustrated in the diagram below, in each Situation (A) we encounter, the Thoughts we have (C) tend to be consistent with our Beliefs (B). For example, if an individual has a Belief that other people don’t like him/her, then his/her thoughts are likely to be something like, “They wish that I wasn’t here.” or “They probably think that I’m not very interesting to be around.” Negative thinking like this leads to negative emotional and behavioral reactions (D). Examples of emotion reactions include feelings of loneliness, sadness, discouragement, and depression. Examples of behavioral reactions include withdrawing from people, or trying to temporarily feel better by eating, shopping, etc.
Sometimes our thoughts do not align with truth which leads to base our reactions on distorted thinking. “Mind-reading” and “comparison” are two typical thought-distortion patterns that can contribute to emotional reactions of loneliness.
Mind-reading: Mind-reading occurs when we think that we know what other people are thinking about us and believe that they are looking at us negatively. When we feel as though no one could understand us, we find it difficult to reach out. Comments we hear from other people may increase our sense of isolation. Even close friends and family may make comments that we interpret (correctly or incorrectly) as insincere or insensitive. Someone may comment that you look like you have it all together and never struggle, which you interpret as meaning you should never admit a struggle. Someone else may mention an arbitrary preference about the right way to organize a committee, which you interpret as a standard that you too must meet. Individuals may state their opinions as facts, or we may interpret their opinions as true for us when they are not. We must use discernment when interpreting others’ comments.
Comparison: Our thoughts and feelings about the extent to which we “fit in” can increase our sense of isolation as well. Any one of us can easily look around and find something that can serve as “evidence” that we do not fit in. If we look around objectively, we can see that diversity abounds in the groups with whom we normally associate (e.g., personalities, interests). However, when we look through the clouded lens of loneliness, we only see our differences that separate us from others. We may notice differences in our family situation, life experiences, marital status, current or past struggles, standard of living, etc. While these differences are commonplace and make for a well-rounded group, we use them to prove that we don’t “fit in.” Our diversity is part of God’s design for the body of Christ.
Romans 12:4-5, “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”
Options for dealing with loneliness.
Seek support from God and His Word.
Particularly in times of struggle, seek passages of Scripture that will bring you comfort and encouragement. The Holy Spirit can minister to us as we read these comforting passages.
Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
Another way to seek support from God is through prayer. We need to be purposeful in acknowledging God’s presence and in actively believing that He can support and encourage us in times of need. Just as Jesus often did during his life on earth, we need to take time to step away from responsibilities and distractions and commune with God through prayer and meditation. During this time with God, we can thank him for who he is, we can pour out our needs before him, and we can sit quietly and listen, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us. In addition, lifting up spontaneous prayers throughout the day redirects our focus to God and acknowledges our reliance on him.
Mark 1:35, “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”
1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”
Find common ground.
Often only a small amount of effort is needed to find common ground on which to build a relationship. Instead of using differences as evidence of isolation, try instead to be purposeful in finding common ground from which a deeper friendship can grow.
Build your resiliency through relationships.
Realize that in the midst of struggles with loneliness, we need to seek God and people. Each one of us needs to identify trustworthy individuals to whom we can turn in times of struggle. We need to have these relationships established so that when we face a trial or struggle, we know to whom to turn and know who will be looking out for us when we have difficulty reaching out. Remember that time is needed to build relationships. Expecting relationships to deepen quickly or not keeping up with relationships that could potentially grow deeper will lead to disappointment.
Invest in meaningful activities.
Investing in meaningful activities can help fill the void that loneliness brings. To be able to invest your time and talents in an activity that brings you joy and gives glory to God brings fulfillment. Take time to explore your God-given talents and interests. Completing a spiritual-gifts inventory is one way to identify the ways God has equipped you to serve the Body of Christ. Identifying and then using your spiritual gifts and talents is an important component of the Christian walk.
Find your true worth.
Your “identity,” “self-worth,” “self-esteem,” and “self-concept” are all intricately connected and are not based on “self,” but rather on God. In order to understand our true worth and to form an accurate identity, we have to “put off” the thoughts and feelings that are not based on truth and “put on” what is true.
Ephesians 4:22-24, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
Many people inaccurately define their identity by what they do. Therefore, their work equals their worth. Many people also define their identity by their marital status. They inaccurately put their worth and identity in another person. This tendency is particularly difficult for singles; they feel incomplete without a spouse. Since our ability to do changes drastically over time and the fact that marital status is equally insufficient to define one’s identity, we must base our identity on something more stable and enduring. An accurate identity and worth is based on being created in God’s image and being placed in His family. The truth is that each individual is fully complete and whole in Christ. Who we are in Christ is steady and constant.
Psalm 139:14, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”
Many barriers can keep us from reaching out for help from others and thus keep us trapped in the cycle of loneliness. If you find that you have having difficulty overcoming loneliness, reach out for help from a mentor, minister, or counselor. You don’t need to fight these battles alone! Often, the longer we wait to reach out for help, the more difficult the task becomes.
In summary, remember that loneliness is a common experience: you are not alone in feeling lonely! God is near even when you don’t feel that he is. Review the listing of things that you can do to help work through times of loneliness and get started today. Finally, hold onto the promise found in Hebrews 13:5b, “for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” This promise is true!
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For Further Information:
Lonely But Never Alone This booklet describes the spiritual and interpersonal aspects of loneliness and offers biblically based guidance for dealing with those experiences. [ODB Ministries]