For this week’s Q&A I am reflecting on loneliness. I have had several questions that involve loneliness. Loneliness has also been a theme in my readings and counseling sessions this last month. So, in this article I will look at what loneliness is, where it comes from, why we feel it, the effects of loneliness, and how to heal and work with loneliness.
While it’s true that witchcraft can be a lonely path to walk, you’re not lonely because you are a witch. You are lonely because you are human.
Humans exist in a perpetual state of loneliness. Loneliness is essential part of the human condition. It is a natural drive that aids our survival. But sometimes, loneliness becomes contorted and overwhelming. Sometimes, our isolation becomes a sickness with serious and potentially fatal consequences.
In war, if you want to torture a man, don’t hurt him, isolate him. Force him to taste the relentless march of time. Let him keel and rip and freeze and cry through the eternal winter that lives in his soul. Let him feel the faulty architecture that rattles under his skin, turning his bones black and filling his veins with a heavy-leaded nothing. Force him to choke down every lonely hour… minute… second.
Assault any person of any office with time and isolation and you will break them.
We’re all lonely. And it hurts. Loneliness has its own unique brand of pain. The pain of loneliness is heavy, dark, and vast; acute and diffuse at the same time. It is an emotion we all share. We are alone in our loneliness together.
Learning about and working with your loneliness is your responsibility. Facing your existential aloneness is one of the primary and necessary tasks along the path to wisdom and peace. It is a spiritual quest of sorts that everyone will face at least once in their lives.
However, loneliness is not the same as simply being alone. It is easy to find peace in solitude. It is harder to find peace in loneliness.
Real, chronic loneliness cuts us off from the world and other people. Loneliness can make us feel numb, like we are aliens trapped inside the cage of our skin with no hope of escape. Loneliness pushes us out into the dark, leaving us cold and aching. Loneliness will convince you that rejection is all you’re worth; that you deserve to be alone. Real, chronic, loneliness is corrosive, it eats away at your heart and soul and festers in your gut. Loneliness voids all of our light and joy. Loneliness steals the spark from your heart and the light from your eyes, packing your ribs with emptiness and flattening your gaze.
Loneliness is not fast, it is slow and insidious. Loneliness slowly envelopes you with a comfortable shroud of ghosts and regrets. This shroud is both a prison and a cocoon; it’s easier to ruminate on past pain as opposed to focusing on the challenges of the present. Loneliness is an excuse. Loneliness steals you away from the world and cuts you off from opportunities and blessings. Loneliness feeds off your self-worth and sanity. Loneliness will eat your spiritual potential and you won’t even feel it happening.
Chronic loneliness is a stagnant state, it thwarts both our growth and our peace. Humans were never designed to sit in square, plastic offices for fifteen hours a day, assaulted by stale fluorescent lights and dry, wilting air. We were never designed to plug ourselves into a flickering screen, craving and chasing any opportunity to be distracted from the world. We were never designed to be this isolated. But that is where we are. Loneliness is our truth. Thanks to technology we are more connected and more alone than ever. And if science is right in its predictions, humans and technology will continue to merge and in turn, increase our isolation.
Loneliness can be defined as a profound longing for a real, deep, honest, connection. Loneliness yearns for acceptance, understanding, and closeness. Humans are complex social animals. Connection is a primal need in us. When that need is not met, we hurt emotionally, physically, mentally, and spirituality. Loneliness is a normal and healthy emotion that motivates us to seek each other out in order to attend to our social needs. However, aspects of modern society are exacerbating our feelings of loneliness to dangerous levels. Dangerous enough that governments across the world are funding research into how to deal with this worldwide epidemic.
We are all lonely and it is killing us.
Where does loneliness come from? What is the point of being lonely?
Loneliness actually serves a number important functions. Before talking about the purpose of loneliness, I want to touch on where our loneliness comes from.
The sensation of loneliness can come on suddenly or it can creep in over time. It can be caused by environmental factors such as a sudden loss, an unexpected upheaval triggering a shift in perception or world views. Loneliness can also be cause by bullying, and toxic or abusive relationships, etc. However, research has shown that loneliness is also partially genetic. Some people are just born with loneliness in their bones. Science also suggests that if you are raised by people that are lonely, there is a high chance you will be lonely, too. We can be born lonely and/or learn to be lonely.
Loneliness is largely considered to be a response to separateness. Many psychological, social, and philosophical theorists argue that in order to experience some thing (e.g., the world and each other) we must be separate from it ergo, we need to be apart from the world in order to experience it and appreciate it.
Our sense of self exists, and is largely bounded by, the human body. Some empaths and psychics have different experiences, but in general our sense of self is inherently connected to our bodies. While this can be frustrating, our bodies and their ability to translate our experiences into systems of meaningful thoughts and sensations is nothing short of a miracle. Our bodies are what gives us life and meaning. Our relationship with our body often shapes our loneliness.
While our bodies allow us to experience the world and other people, our bodies also prevent us from ever truly knowing what its like to live in another person’s skin. No matter how close we grow to someone, or how much we love them, we can never fully know another person.
Like most emotions, loneliness is a feeling that alerts us to change and then assigns a value of either good or bad to that change. From that point, it is up to us to decide how to attend to that change. However, when someone is suffering from chronic loneliness they will do anything to avoid feeling lonely. Their denial is entirely understandable given how painful loneliness is and how exhausting it is to live with it daily. However, this process of denial and avoidance often leads to people pushing their feelings down which in turn means they fail to attend to the change that caused their loneliness in the first place. And because they never take action to heal their loneliness, the loneliness continues to grow unabated.
Loneliness is not something you can ignore and hope it will go away.
It is easy to understand the desire to repress loneliness. Loneliness hurts. Loneliness is sometimes defined as ‘social pain’—a kind of pain that people rate worse and fear more than their own death. However, the key to understanding loneliness rests precisely in the pain it causes.
Loneliness is a drive and a hunger just like thirst, sex, sleep, love etc. Loneliness is a hunger for connection and understanding. Humans are social animals. We need connection in order to survive. So, the pain of loneliness tells us that our need for connection is not being met and that this problem needs to be resolved. Loneliness drives us to reach out and connect with others. Our primal need for connection aids in human bonding and therefore, helps us live and work alongside each other in a society. Loneliness is one of the drives that lubricates human social interactions, thus aiding and sustaining communities.
We are all lonely, but we are united in our loneliness. No matter how our individual experiences of loneliness differ, it is our compassion for and understanding of this essential human trait that unites us. Our compassion for each other’s’ essential loneliness is the key to our healing.
The aloneness in me acknowledges the aloneness in you.
When you realize that everyone you meet is striving to just feel less alone, it can help you feel less isolated. Responding to loneliness with compassion can make it easier to live in the world.
It is a profound act of love to hold a safe space for someone as they sit in a painful emotion like loneliness, whether they are trying to fix it or whether they are just overwhelmed in the moment and are waiting for the disconcerting emotions to leave. To bear witness to and hold compassion for someone’s loneliness is a sacred honor. It is soul work.
Humans are not always good at being compassionate towards themselves. Our heads are full of negative self-talk. But through showing compassion for others and experiencing the healing that can occur, we often develop greater compassion for ourselves.
Like anything in life, helping others will help you, too.
The effects of loneliness. Why are humans so innately and profoundly lonely? Is there any hope?
The detrimental effects of loneliness cannot be overstated.
Chronic loneliness kills.
Loneliness is as dangerous as cigarettes for our health.
Loneliness is a quickly growing global epidemic. Chronic loneliness threatens our emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. People can die from loneliness. Loneliness causes the body temperature to drop, it suppresses the immune system, and stresses the adrenals. Lonely people have higher blood pressure and cholesterol. Lonely people are a greater risk of dementia, alcoholism, suicide, heart disease and stroke. Loneliness is associated with a vast number of chronic diseases, in particular chronic inflammation and pain. Loneliness also predicts are higher rate of mortality.
Loneliness poses a very real threat to society.
Loneliness is both socially insidious and contagious. Lonely people eat more, sleep more, and exercise less. Their perception of the world becomes skewed and overcast with hopelessness and negativity. Lonely people hold their relationships and other people in a negative light. They regard themselves more critically than others. This can lead to a lack of confidence, prompting them to withdraw from the world. The very symptoms that loneliness causes also ensures that the feelings of isolation, ostracism, and sadness grow.
Loneliness is hard to heal because it is so effective at taking root in the human psyche and propagating itself there. Loneliness is a normal human need that has been exacerbated and twisted into an acute, dysfunctional emotional wound.
Loneliness is contagious. Lonely people can cause the people around them to become lonely. If you have a lonely friend you are at risk of developing loneliness. The science in this area is limited, but one might assume that if someone is sad, lacking confidence, and in the process of withdrawing from others, that it is not hard to see how being around someone who is chronically lonely might lead others to feel alone, too.
I would encourage you support your lonely loved ones, don’t turn away from them because you are afraid you will become lonely, too. Giving into fear is often what leads to isolation over time. A better suggestion might be to adjust your expectations and do what you can to support them while also caring for yourself, because one day you may be the lonely one. We are each other’s only hope.
However, some people are drawn towards loneliness. The slow silence of loneliness can be addictive. Loneliness can protect you by keeping your focus on the pain of loneliness in the past, as opposed to the loneliness of the present. By keeping your attention off the present, loneliness ensures a lonely future. It hobbles you before you can even think to start remedying your pain and make brighter plans for the future.
Don’t let your loneliness consume your future.
Because loneliness is a part of the human condition it can’t be ‘fixed’. It would be like trying to heal and fix hunger or thirst. But there are ways you can work with loneliness that are healthy, growth orientated, and effective. This is about taming loneliness.
The first step in working with your loneliness is to understand it. Everyone’s loneliness will be different and unique. Work out what makes you feel lonely? What makes you feel less lonely? What do you do when you are lonely? Does your loneliness drive you to achieve more, or reach out to loved ones? Do big crowds and parties remedy your loneliness, or do you respond better to one on one connections? Where does loneliness sit in your soul and body? What does it feel like? Is your loneliness comfortable? Is it tempting to just stay lonely? Or is it too painful to look at? Are you running away from yourself and your needs? Is loneliness filling your head with negative self-talk that spews lies about your unworthiness and your shame?
Be courageous and take the time to know yourself and your loneliness.
Then, accept your loneliness, just as it is.
As the adherents of Radical Acceptance urge, it is far more productive and healthy to accept the world as it is. Don’t bemoan things you can’t change. Don’t live in a fantasy. Reality can be painful. It can be tempting to look the other way, but denial feeds dysfunction. If you really want to change your reality and your loneliness, the truth is the only effective place to start. What is your truth? Why are you lonely? Where are you in your life? Where would you like to be? What brings you a sense of connection? Does the structure of your life invite loneliness? How does your loneliness serve you?
You can’t solve loneliness by numbers. If you have thousands of friends but you don’t feel connected, the numbers fail to help. In fact, being surrounded by a lot of people that you don’t feel connected to can make you feel worse. Loneliness is caused by a lack of subjective quality connections. People who report vast numbers of friends are often more lonely than those people who had a handful of close, quality friendships.
A friend is someone who helps you feel heard, seen, understood, accepted, and wanted. Neither fame or popularity will inoculate you against loneliness.
In order to start healing chronic loneliness, specialists in the field offer recommendations that are similar to the recommendations for working with depression. This is because depression and loneliness often present together. In order to combat loneliness, specialists recommend; exercise, a healthy diet rich in good fats and vitamins, and pets. Animals are particularly good at reducing feelings of loneliness. Patting animals helps meet the human need for touch. Most lonely people are starved of touch. Other suggestions include; hypnosis, acupuncture, yoga, and meditation. Finally, specialists encourage a return to nature. Time in nature is a powerful salve for the lonely soul.
The specialists also recommend seeking out people to connect with. But this can be harder than it appears, especially if you have social anxiety, fears of being hurt again, fear of rejection, or simply no idea where to start.
Loneliness is often hidden from the world because we are ashamed of being lonely. This is often accompanied by intrusive thoughts about not being good enough, being an outsider, and a sense of being broken. Loneliness can lead to fears that others can see what is ‘wrong’ with you, forcing you to withdraw from view. But the truth is, we are all broken. We all doubt that we will ever be enough. We are all faking it. We all feel unworthy. We all feel lost. We all have a darkness in us that we don’t want anyone to see. We all think we are the exception—that no one could be worse, or feel worse than we do. I promise you, we all think that. Be careful of the lies you tell yourself to justify your loneliness.
Expectations are important to manage when you are lonely. If you enter a social situation with the expectation it will go horribly and that you will be more alone than ever, then it is highly likely that will be the outcome, partly because you are subconsciously sabotaging it, and partly because when you hold negative thoughts and energy, it repels people. Before throwing yourself into a social situation and having it go wrong because of your expectations, work on managing your expectations. Reflect on how you self-sabotage. Are you afraid of connecting with people because it may lead to hurt or disappointment? Loneliness can be a defense against getting your heart broken. But over time, loneliness will break your heart worse than any one person could.
An important task in dealing with chronic loneliness is taking the time to find a way to enter social situations with an open and compassionate mind frame. At the same time it is important you are gentle on yourself at the start because there will be mistakes. Some days are just worse than others. You will get hurt again at some point, but you will be stronger then. You would have already fought a battle with loneliness and won. Take all of these social experiences, good and bad, and learn from them. Give yourself permission to fail, but don’t stay there. Give your self permission to fail, but give yourself the directive to keep trying.
Healing chronic loneliness takes time and a lot of courage. In order to heal your loneliness you need to live with it, really get to know it and observe its patterns. Take the time to understand what triggers your loneliness as well as what helps you feel less alone. Understand your needs so you can meet them.
It takes time to develop the kinds of relationships that counter loneliness. It doesn’t matter if you have different interests or opinions to someone else; if being with them feels good and helps you feel seen, heard, and held—these are the relationships you should nurture and hold on to.
As we grow older it can become harder to make friends as evidenced by the explosion of ‘Tinder for Friendships’ Apps that are flooding the online world. Online friendships are just as valid and fulfilling as real life friendships. Both online and real life friendships have their pros and cons. Both online and real life friendships require nurturing and attention. This is often where things break down. Most people are time poor and simply don’t have the resources to develop and hold onto deep social connections outside of their immediate family. This isn’t by chance, society has been built and designed to isolate us.
Capitalist society is built on the back of competition, it is designed specifically to isolate us and pit us against each other. Capitalism feeds on our aching absences. When we are lonely we buy things to fill the empty hole inside of us. Even in the most affluent areas, the majority of people are trapped in low-paid jobs that work them into an early grave. A lack of time and energy means that chronic loneliness has become the new normal. The fast pace of the modern western world can make it hard to slow down and take time for ourselves. There is no time for friendship. The majority of people find it almost impossible to give themselves permission to slow down and make space for healing and joy. But that is exactly what you need to do in order to heal your loneliness. The first step has to be giving yourself permission to heal.
Making the choice to work on feeling less lonely is just that, a choice. You have to want to feel less alone and you have to take steps towards feeling less alone. It’s not pretty and it’s not easy, but it is the truth. What do you choose?
As well as all the life changes the specialists’ suggest above, my advice for healing chronic loneliness is to focus on yourself and your passions. This is because most chronically lonely people are daunted and overwhelmed by the idea of just jumping into social situations. Whereas working with aspects of yourself that you like and enjoy eases you into the healing process. Through building up confidence and strength on your own, it will be easier to reconnect socially later on.
In order to heal loneliness, you have to live in the world and ensure you are taking care of yourself. If you are depressed, seek treatment. Are you eating healthily? Are you exercising? How much time do you spend outdoors in nature? Take responsibility for yourself and take control of what you can in your life. Make healthy decisions. Chronic loneliness is a commonly cited reason for entering therapy.
If you find yourself withdrawing from the world, take notice of this tendency, look at what triggered it and work on stopping it. Withdrawing from the world feels nice in the moment but it will cause more problems over time. Try to replace the urge to withdraw by focusing on what excites you.
Following your hobbies and passions is a growth mindset that propels you out into the world. As well as observing your loneliness, observe your passions and what activities bring you joy. Find the things that you like doing, whether they be hobbies, gaming, music, sports, etc. Find ways to actively engage with your passions regularly. By pushing yourself to engage with activities that bring you happiness, you are also practicing a growth mindset and the art of being engaged in the world.
Depending on how long you’ve been withdrawn in your loneliness, being involved in the world again can be intense. Be gentle on yourself. There is no need to rush. Through focusing and engaging with things that give you joy such as hobbies or sports, you are already beginning to heal your loneliness. You are practicing the art of reengaging with your life and slowly de-sensitizing yourself to being in the world again—think of it like your eyes readjusting after being in a dark room and stepping into the sunshine. We can feel very raw when we first decide to help ourselves. Honor that. Give yourself time to readjust to the speed of the world.
The idea and goal of ‘meeting new friends’ can be overwhelming and seem almost impossible. It can be easier to meet people who have similar interests. It gives you something to talk about and takes the pressure off the need to make friends.
In order to heal loneliness you need the courage to look at yourself and face your truths. But you also need the courage to be open to meeting other people. It is only natural that humans fear one another, we are the greatest predator on earth. Other humans are often the source of our joy, but they can also be the source of our suffering. Lonely people know how dangerous people can be because most lonely people have been severely socially wounded. As such, it takes great courage to open yourself again. Be courageous. Do the work. But don’t underestimate the enormity of what you’re doing. Loneliness has been a central existential concern for humans throughout recorded history. Working with loneliness is a profoundly sacred task. Don’t under estimate it. Don’t under estimate yourself.
As well as being open minded, in order to tend to your loneliness it is important you know what you want in a friendship/connection/relationship. Be honest about what you need from these connections. Having an idea of what you want will help you visualize your goal and move towards it. At this point you may wish to look at how you contributed to your own loneliness so that you can start healing those patterns. Look at how you contributed to creating your own chronic loneliness? Do you have traits or patterns of behavior that push people away? Are you a chronic people pleaser? Are you good with boundaries and saying ‘no’? Are you able to speak up and ask for help, or are you just wishing your life away in silence? Do you find it easy to give up on people and withdraw into your own lonely but comfortable fantasies? Have you ever known a time where you didn’t feel lonely?
While it is important to address our loneliness, loneliness is no excuse for staying in toxic relationships.
Finally, for some people, the idea of being around other people overwhelms them to the point that it is not helpful. CBT and antidepressants can help with this. However, another way to connect with others without necessarily being around people, is through art. Language can often feel clumsy and reductive when trying to communicate about such emotionally vast concepts such as loneliness. As such, some people heal their loneliness through art. Art offers another way of expressing loneliness and connecting with others. Although more abstract than establishing a friendship, art has still proven to be a powerful way to address loneliness.
Art reminds us that while our bodies make us feel separate, our souls are still connected. Art reminds us that everything is woven from and back into the same web of life; humans, plants, animals, rocks, the angry sea and the blustering sky—we are all one. Reconnecting with this truth and really feeling it in your soul, is often the key to healing loneliness.
To be human is to be lonely. Loneliness is a healthy need, it pushes us to connect and bond with others in our community. But when loneliness becomes chronic, it becomes a serious and sometimes fatal disease that has to be healed from within. This healing takes great courage. If you are still reading at this point, know that you have the courage needed. Your curiosity has driven you this far. You are still hungry for answers and healing. Through the simple act of reading this article on loneliness shows that you are already healing your loneliness. You are fighting the urge to withdraw from life by following your curiosity. You are still hopeful. Use the wondrous power and momentum of that hope to expand, unfurl, open, and live in the world again. Let your heart be touched.
The lonely witch.
Reports of feeling alone and isolated are common complaints for anyone following a magickal path. Moving into a new community is always uncomfortable and confronting. It takes time to find yourself and your place in a new community and that’s okay.
It is important to find friends with similar interests. However, it is far more important to find friends you trust and can talk freely and openly with. Don’t be afraid to reach out and share your journey with friends who are not on the same spiritual path. If you have friends you trust, they can be just as helpful as any witchy friends. Being heard and accepted by someone you trust is far more healing and helpful than just being around people because they are witches.
My greatest magical friendships entered my life when I wasn’t looking for connections. These relationships didn’t start off magickal. Indeed, our spiritual connections came long after we had established a friendship. All of the witches I love and respect came into my life either way of beauty/art and/or humour. Simply by following things that I enjoyed, I had opened myself to connecting with other people. And because I was focused on something else, I didn’t have the time to overthink and sabotage these relationships. I was able to meet people on an even level without expectations.
Have I ‘healed’ my loneliness? No. Not by a long shot. But as I work at healing the hole in my soul, I can feel my hope and strength building.
We are all lonely. We are all hurting. Our pain is the key to our healing. Pain urges response. You can let the loneliness consume you and turn away from the world. Or, you can decide to understand your loneliness and work towards healing it. When you choose to focus on healing your loneliness, you’re not just healing yourself but you are also healing the people around you.
Loneliness is lethal and contagious. Love is just as contagious. You have the energies of love and loneliness inside you. Which energy will you choose to nurture, loneliness or love?
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For this week’s Q&A I am reflecting on loneliness. I have had several questions that involve loneliness. Loneliness has also been a theme in my readings and counseling sessions this last month. So, in this article I will look at what loneliness is, where it comes from, why we feel it, the effects of loneliness, […]
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