Why Do I Feel Alone?
Updated: Jan 6
The feeling of loneliness is something we all have struggled with at some point in our lives. Whether it was when you were young and vulnerable or as an adult trying to survive in this scary world. Loneliness is a feeling, therefore it is hard to put into words what is happening when you are feeling this way. Especially because you can feel lonely even when you are surrounded by others. It’s confusing. And confusion often gets a negative rep- it gets paired with the feeling of fear.
Why Do You Feel Alone?
It’s part of your biology actually. You are wired to fear being alone. When humans were hunters and gatherers about 12,000 years ago, we depended on each other for survival. We didn’t have houses or cities that kept out predators. We had strength in numbers. If you were ever physically separated from others, you’d be in danger for your life. Your body would respond accordingly and your alarm system, or fight or flight response, would be turned on. The alarm system would only return to normal when you found protection in other people.
Thousands of years later, we are far less dependent on each other to survive. An adult can live alone for years and survive just fine. However, evolution takes a long time… Our alarm system still gets triggered when we think, feel, or are physically alone, even if we are not under threat. This feeling can be overwhelming if not understood as a reaction our body is having to the way we lived a long time ago.
Learning to Self-Soothe
While we can’t change the fact that our body responds by fearing physical separation from others, we can teach ourselves that the feeling is just a reaction and learn to self-soothe. The idea is to teach yourself how to de-escalate the stress response by lowering your heart rate and slowing your breathing. If you learn that you can depend on yourself to calm your nervous system, you also learn that you don’t need to fear being alone. Below are a few ways to practice self-soothing.
Breathe: Take 10 long, slow breaths through your nose and into your abdomen. Breath in for 5-7 seconds, hold for 3, and out for 7-10 seconds. This will help slow your breathing and lower heart rate.
Touch: Wrap your arms around you as if you are hugging yourself. This releases hormones such as oxytocin in your body that indicate you are safe and connected.
Sing: Singing, playing an instrument, or chanting helps slow down breathing. While you sing you exhale longer than you inhale.
Stretch/Yoga: Yoga helps connect the body and the mind. The poses don’t have to be perfect, complicated, or intense. Just breathe with the movement of your body.
Meditate: Do nothing, just sit. Put your electronics away. Just observe your breath, thoughts and feelings from a distance without judgment.
Loneliness and Trauma
Another aspect of feeling alone stems from experiencing trauma. A common result of trauma is a feeling of shame about what happened and why. You might begin to feel like what happened to you was your fault and therefore you have to keep it inside because you are ashamed. This is the trauma brain speaking. Keeping what happened to you inside only intensifies the feeling of loneliness. It is isolating to carry that memory alone. Sharing your experience with someone safe, whether it’s a therapist, family member, friend, or journal, signals to your mind and body that you are not alone in your experience and from there you can begin to heal.
Reconnecting with Yourself
The common interpretation of loneliness is that it starts with lack of connection with others. As said earlier, this interpretation has historical validity, but it is not always the true reason for feeling disconnected. Often, the real disconnection we feel is with ourselves.
I remember having the thought “I have to live with myself forever” every so often when I was young. How scary that thought was. I had better like myself if I am stuck with her forever. Recently when this memory came to my mind I was able to see it from another perspective. Am I the “I” that has to live with myself forever? Or am I the “myself” the I has to live with? Am I one or am I two? Am I both or am I neither? Having this thought showed me how disconnected from the self I was. The answer for me is: it doesn’t really matter. As long as I’m not listening to the thoughts as truths. Knowing that my thoughts are not who I am helps me reconnect with my true self. The true self cannot be described by thoughts. I believe the true self is just a feeling that we all share.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic I recommend these two books listed below. Both taught me a lot about the feeling of loneliness, why we feel lonely, and how to reconnect with yourself and others.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Good Chemistry by Julie Holland