Being Alone Isn’t the Same as Feeling Alone

May 29, 2020
If you're reading this, you've probably felt alone at some point in your life or you may even feel alone now. You know that feeling alone and being alone aren't the same, as they have very different consequences for your well-being.

The current societal changes are making people spend more time alone. Some examples are an aging population, changes in social dynamics, an increase in single-parent households, an increase in the number of people who want to live alone, or crises that involve isolation. However, being alone isn’t the same as feeling alone.

Loneliness doesn’t necessarily imply objective social isolation. According to some authors, loneliness has an emotional component (it’s an unpleasant experience) as well as a cognitive component (you notice that you have fewer social relationships or the ones you have aren’t enough).

Studies show that the level of subjective satisfaction with your relationships is a better predictor of loneliness than how often you’re in contact with other people.

A sad woman resting on her arms.

What’s the difference between loneliness and solitude?

  • Being alone. In this case, an individual is physically alone but doesn’t feel lonely. You can voluntarily choose to be alone, perhaps because you prefer being alone to being with other people. In other words, solitude is physical isolation by choice.
  • Loneliness. In this case, you feel the need or desire to have contact with other people but you can’t for some reason. Your conditions might allow social contact but you feel insecure, which causes or contributes to your loneliness. You might also feel useless, rejected, unmotivated, hyperactive, and even find it difficult to make eye contact. In other words, feeling lonely isn’t by choice. It happens because you don’t feel capable of socially engaging.
  • Positive solitude. Sometimes, people need to be alone to recharge and rest. In that case, solitude is pleasant. It’s an opportunity to be creative and re-connect with yourself.
  • Alienation. This is the most extreme kind of solitude, in which you feel an emptiness inside that separates you from your very identity. It’s like disconnecting from yourself, which leads you to disconnect from others as well.

What are the consequences of feeling alone?

Feeling alone is an unpleasant emotion that can happen even if you’re surrounded by people who love you. It can also be a sign of a more serious problem and is often overlooked.

People who feel lonely tend not to talk about it or admit that it’s the root cause of their mood. It’s hard to recognize and accept that you feel lonely because it’s an undesirable thing. It usually makes people feel embarrassed, and it’s a difficult thing to overcome.

The main complication of feeling alone is that, when you feel that way, you usually don’t ask for help. People usually believe it’s a normal part of life, not a pathology.

Loneliness has physical implications as well. Researchers have found that feeling lonely is a risk factor for potentially fatal or very harmful pathologies.

In other words, there’s a relationship between loneliness and physical health. Some concrete examples are cardiovascular illnesses, eating disorders, and sleep disorders. In terms of mental health, loneliness is a risk factor for depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and even suicide.

A woman outside holding a flower feeling alone.

What’s the solution?

It can be incredibly difficult to accept that you feel lonely, and finding a solution to this problem can be even more difficult. The key lies in changing what you think about loneliness.

First of all, you have to identify the root cause of your feelings. One way to do that is to think about what would make you stop feeling lonely. Once you identify the reasons, it’s time to come up with a solution. Do you need to improve your social skills? Find new friends? Socialize more in groups?

One great strategy is to invest time in helping others by volunteering. This has the potential to make you feel useful and that your presence is important to others. Staying busy will also give you less time to dwell on your loneliness.

Another option is to sign up for some group activities. Take a dance class, learn to paint, sign up for a book club… These are all great ways to do something enjoyable while you interact with other people.

One advantage of the world we live in today is that you have the opportunity to meet people online. There are many platforms for meeting new people who share your interests.

In conclusion, the first step to ending your loneliness is to accept it. After that, it’s time to take action to involve other people in your life and fill that inner void.

  • Carvajal-Carrascal, G. & Caro-Castillo, C. V. (2009). Soledad en la adolescencia: análisis del concepto. Aquichan, 9(3), 281-296
  • Rubio, R. (2001). Un estudios sobre la soledad en personas mayores: entre el estar solo y sentirse solo. Revista multidisciplinar de gerontología, 11(1), 23-28.