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A Therapist, coach, supervisor and neuroscientist

Deep loneliness blog post cover image by Bobbi Banks
Picture of Bobbi Banks
Bobbi Banks

Therapist, coach, supervisor and neuroscientist

Understanding deep loneliness – signs, causes and solutions

Short-term loneliness happens to all of us throughout our lives and is completely normal. These types of feelings are typically brief and don’t affect us too much. However, when feelings of loneliness and isolation are experienced over a long-term, chronic loneliness can set in.

Chronic loneliness is the constant feeling of separation from other people, inability to connect with others in a meaningful way, and feelings of deep loneliness. They can affect us and change the way we see and think about ourselves.

Most of all, this type of loneliness can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.

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Signs of deep loneliness

Before we delve deeper into understanding loneliness, it’s important to know what the common signs are, and differentiate between feeling alone versus feeling lonely.

The key difference between the two is emotional attachment and connection. Being alone is a state of being, while loneliness is a feeling. We can be perfectly happy being by ourselves, but we can also be lonely even when we’re surrounded by people.

This is why some of the signs of chronic loneliness point to a need for connection:

  • Oversharing when there’s someone to listen
  • Feeling like the “disposable” person in a group
  • Putting people’s needs before your own
  • Feeling the need to be overly helpful or nice
  • Feeling isolated and like no one really sees you
  • Feeling like you don’t belong anywhere
  • Becoming obsessive with friendships
Bobbi Banks - Signs of deep loneliness image

You're not alone in feeling lonely

Did you know that 3.3 million people across Britain reported to have felt chronically lonely between September 2021 and November 2021. The Campaign to End Loneliness has also shared a worrying trend that younger people between the ages of 16 and 29 years old were more likely to experience feelings of loneliness than older people.

But the problem is not just in the United Kingdom, it’s all over the world.

📈 33% of all adults across the world reported they felt lonely in 2021, with Brazil being the top country. (Source: Statista)

📈 36% of Americans reported feeling “serious loneliness”. (Source: Making caring common project)

Even when I asked the question of “Do you feel lonely?” on my Instagram story 84% (4,323) of the people who responded said yes and only 16% (823) said no.

I hope this goes to show that you’re absolutely not alone in what you’re feeling, because as author and artist Kristen Radtke said: 

"Loneliness is often exacerbated by a perception that one is lonely while everyone else is connected.” - Kristen Radtke

Ways we suppress loneliness

Despite knowing that loneliness is a wide-spread problem, it doesn’t make it any easier to experience and sit with. 

Most us know just how painful and uncomfortable it feels, so it’s not surprising that we search for ways to numb and distract ourselves from this feeling. This can show up in many ways:

  • Constantly checking our phones and spending a lot of time on social media
  • Compulsively shopping online and spending beyond our means
  • Overworking
  • Excessive drinking or eating
  • and much more!

The root cause of long-term loneliness

Loneliness is often associated with a lack of friends, not having a partner, or family around. So of course, if we think this is the cause, the logical solution would be to go out, be social and surround ourselves with people. 

This, however, can only soothe the feeling of loneliness temporarily. It acts as a distraction because the moment we’re alone again, the feeling will return.

I’d like to offer a different perspective that deep loneliness is rarely created by what’s occurring in our current reality, but rather it is a feeling which we’ve carried for a long time, one which simply gets “activated”.

For example, if you’re by yourself away from people, it wouldn’t be the situation itself causing the loneliness, but the situation is activating the buried feeling.

This buried feeling, which is normally linked to unsafety, disconnection or fear, can normally be traced back to childhood experiences such as:

  • Experiencing emotional or physical neglect
  • Being made to feel like your feelings and needs didn’t matter
  • Being made to feel invisible because your parents were too busy to notice you
  • Having to meet your emotional needs without support
  • Not being seen, heard and understood by your parents
  • Not getting care, attention and unconditional love

None of us know how to deal with all of this at such a young age, so we find the most efficient way not to feel them – by building a wall around them, disassociating or developing defence mechanisms. When this happens we turn off the emotional side and switch on the cognitive (thinking) one.

This is when we start to look for distractions and people outside of ourselves to resolve the pain we carry inside. The problem, however, is that we not only disconnect from the pain, we also disconnect from pleasure and pure feelings.

Over time this can make it really hard to connect to others, to feel seen and to feel heard, thus resulting in living with a constant feeling of loneliness and disconnection, whether you’re surrounded by people or not.

Reflective question: Did you experience genuine connection with your parents growing up where you felt heard, loved, seen and supported?

How to overcome loneliness

I believe that healing and overcoming loneliness isn’t reliant on external things or people. Yes, it may help short-term but it will never be something within our control which we can receive consistently.

The way to start healing is to look internally and begin with what we call “inner child healing“.

    What is Inner Child Work?

    It is a trauma-informed approach to working with people who have experienced various forms of trauma, abuse, and neglect (either within the family or outside the family) earlier on in life.

    Technique #1 - Guided visualization

    Step 1: Sit somewhere comfortable, focus on your breathing, close your eyes and begin by acknowledging that you are in control of your healing and that you are open and ready to meet the feeling of loneliness.

    Step 2: Once you have relaxed your body and have made that commitment to yourself, gently invite the loneliness to come to the surface. 

    To help you bring it up, think of the story that activates your loneliness such as “I am all alone”, “No one cares about me”, “I am not important”, “I have no one” etc. Think of what you say to yourself normally when you feel lonely and disconnected.

    Step 3: When you notice the feeling of loneliness, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that this is simply a feeling, not who you are. 

    You exist when it’s there and you exist when it’s no longer there, so this feeling is not you. Simply acknowledge its presence and do not let it take over you. Try to see it as a friend, not an enemy you want to escape from.

    Important: If it ever starts to feel too overwhelming, stop. You can practice over time until you’re able to slowly progress and sit with the feeling. If you decide to stop, thank the feeling for coming and thank yourself for being brave enough to invite it in.

    Step 4: Now imagine the loneliness as the child version of you – scared, alone, unheard, not seen…

    Step 5: Instead of rejecting it try to meet this feeling with love. Ask the child what it needs to feel better, to feel safer, to feel calm and listen. Don’t try to change the answer or make it better.

    Step 6: Now visualize giving the child (you) what you weren’t given. This could mean witnessing the pain, listening, holding the child, caressing, giving love and kindness, allowing the child to express themselves. Simply ask what it needs and listen.

    Step 7: Notice what happens and how it makes you feel. You may start to feel comforted, nurtured, seen, loved. Allow whatever feelings arise to exist. 

    Please note that you may also feel resistance if you have not been there for yourself before. The child may not trust you yet or be angry – acknowledge and accept those feelings, and be patient.

    You can do this whenever you start to feel lonely, or when you have a need to search for external relief. The more you ignore that voice inside you, the more you reaffirm abandonment. 

    This way we can begin to build a foundation of safety and love within ourselves, so anything external will only be a plus rather than something we fully rely on.

    Technique #2 - Write a letter

    If the visualization is not something you feel comfortable with, you can try writing a letter to your inner child instead.

    You could write about childhood memories from your adult perspective, offering insight or explanations for distressing circumstances you didn’t understand back then. This can help soothe some of the pain. You can also include messages of comfort, reassurance and love.

    This can be another way to give yourself what you didn’t receive when you were younger and to acknowledge the pain you carry.

    Of course it’s a process so it may take some time and multiple tries, but it’s something worth exploring if you’re open to it.

    Additional resources

    If you are interested in working with your inner child or exploring loneliness further you can take a look at the following resources:

    Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on loneliness. Follow me on Medium for more writing content or check out my blog.

    Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links and I may earn a small commission if you use them. This comes at no additional cost to you and my goal is to provide the very best reviews and recommendations.

    Please note that this content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not replace therapy. You can read my affiliate disclosure and disclaimers in my privacy policy.

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