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Single and Lonely: The Loneliness Trap & How to Break Free in 2024

Person who is lonely
You are not alone

Single people can often feel lonely. This can impact our perceptions and behaviours in self-defeating ways, making us feel 'trapped' in an unhealthy cycle.

Feeling lonely?

First things first: you are far from alone.

Many people report feeling lonely at times: it's a natural human state. In fact, half of all people - whether they're in a relationship or not - report feeling alone either some of the time, or most of the time.

Unfortunately, the painful realities of single loneliness are rarely discussed. Add this to the social pressure to 'embrace our loneliness' or put a positive spin on everything, it can be hard to open up about the ways that single loneliness truly affects us.

Although the feeling can become all-encompassing, it is important that we don't allow it to trap us, or become part of our longer term identity.

Why loneliness is a trap

Being lonely can affect people in lots of ways. It can reduce confidence, make you feel less optimistic - even make it harder to identify with others. Single loneliness can feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy because the longer you go without having a partner, the harder it can be to take the steps to move forwards and search for one.

Loneliness fosters a self-defeating psychology that makes it difficult to escape its clutches. Complicating matters, lonely people are likely to encounter a variety of societal responses that marginalise them even further.

The longer our loneliness lasts, that more challenging it can be to break the mindsets and judgments (both ours and others’) that contribute to maintaining our isolation.

The good news is that we can emerge from our loneliness - but we have to do several things, all of which involve taking risks to some degree.

Here are a few points to bear in mind when navigating through our feelings of loneliness or disconnection.

1. Know that there's nothing wrong with you

For some of us, loneliness begins gradually. One friend moves away, another has a child, a third works a seventy hour work week, and before we know it the social circle that had sustained us in the past ceases to exist and we find ourselves spending most of our weekends alone.

For others, loneliness is a result of life transitions such as leaving for college, enlisting in the military, losing a partner to death or divorce, starting a new job, retiring and losing the daily company of colleagues and associates, or moving to a new town or country.

The truth is, that change happens - it's just part of life. But it's important not to feel individually 'unlucky' or victimised: loneliness can impact our perceptions of ourselves so that we're more likely to view both ourselves and our existing relationships more negatively and pessimistically.

2. You can break the cycle

This is where a vicious cycle can begin. We assume people aren’t interested in our company and that if we reach out to them they will reject us and turn us down - but this simply isn't true. Sadly, as a result we take little initiative and find excuses to turn down invitations when we do get them.

Our negativity and reluctance to give our friends the benefit of the doubt creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in which our own reactions and avoidance pushes them away even further.

Because we remain blind to our part in creating the distance, we see their withdrawal as confirmation of our fears and become even more convinced they no longer care about us.

3. You need to show up, and stay positive

Loneliness is very visible to others who are likely to label us as less interesting and less appealing as social prospects. Although this is a somewhat shallow view, the more you get out there and show up, the more you will be perceived as someone to include in the future.

If you tend to talk negatively about your status or show that you find socialising a slog, this stigma - combined with the negativity and suspicion you might project in social situations - makes it challenging for us to establish new social and romantic connections.

4. Social skills can diminish - so keep them up

The more socially and emotionally isolated we are the more our social skills and relationship ‘muscles’ tend to atrophy. Skill sets often weaken when unused and our ability to connect and relate can easily get rusty after a period of isolation.

If things happen to go badly when we try to use these ‘muscles’ we don’t attribute the failure or rejection to our skill sets being rusty but see it as further evidence of our fundamental undesirability.

5. You may need to step out of your comfort zone

If you want change, you will need to take the initiative. If you feel isolated, consider taking on an activity you enjoy, volunteering or joining a club for like-minded people. If you've been comfortably hiding in your lounge for many months then this idea may scare you - but these are the best ways to meet new people.

We all have contacts who we may have become disconnected with. so why not try going through your phone and social media and make a list of people you haven't seen or spoken to in a while?

Maybe you've been chatting to a prospective date online and have reached that delicate stage where the online conversation has reached its limit. Why not take the plunge and ask if they fancy meeting for a coffee or a walk?

Who knows, you reaching out to them may be just the cure they need for their own feelings of loneliness? Taking the first step with instigating conversations is the best way to break the cycle of disconnection and silence.

6. Don't let fear of rejection stop you from connecting

Understand that people are busy, and might not have been in touch for a while or returned your phone call from two months earlier, but - give them the benefit of the doubt.

Approach people with optimism. It’s perfectly normal to fear rejection, but you have to get yourself in the right frame of mind when you contact people so the vibe you put out is positive and inviting.

Being single can be lonely, and that can manifest differently in everyone. It's important to identify how you might be feeling - as this often provides a clear opportunity for change and growth.

Sometimes, we use distractions to avoid thinking about our loneliness. No matter what being single and lonely feels like for us as individuals, it’s hard to deny that it has a real impact on our lives.

Having a romantic relationship with someone else is an important part of life for many people, and when you don’t have that, facing the ups and downs of life often feels scary and lonely.

But being single, whether for a few months or decades, isn’t a waste of time. It's better to wait for the right person than to plunge into unhealthy relationships.

Be sure to enjoy the best parts of your life right now, and allow yourself to feel the loneliness that comes with being single, but don’t fall into the trap of making this who you are.

If you're feeling lonely and need further support, you can visit The facts on loneliness | Campaign to End Loneliness

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