⚠️ IMPORTANT 2022-11-15: Please help me find a job and move countries.

Re: How do I feel less alone?

I received the titular question. My reply is reproduced below. The identity of my correspondent shall remain private.


Hello there! You ask a difficult yet crucial question. You did not provide any further information on your condition, so I can only comment on the general theme.

Your question uses the word “alone”. There is a distinction to be made between solitude and loneliness. Solitude is when you are literally alone, isolated in some place with no kind of interaction with anyone. Whereas loneliness is a state of mind where we feel that no-one among those we otherwise interact with is actually close to us and truly understands us.

If you are in solitude, try to seek human interaction. This can be done by physically putting yourself in places where others are, such as by joining a club, or virtually by participating in communities that share the same interests you do. If you have relatives, friends, neighbours you can talk to, make an effort to that end. Other activities you can do, depending on the specifics of your locality, is to volunteer for social work. Even if you are not religious, go help with the maintenance of the nearby shrine, help the elderly with gardening, and the like. It does not really matter what you do, as long as you find that human connection.

In the past, I volunteered to help religious people with certain tasks. Not because I believed in their religion. I just wanted to return to a benign equilibrium of sociability (because of what I explained here: https://protesilaos.com/commentary/2022-09-11-dealing-with-depression/). I won’t go into the specifics, as I did not do it to brag about it. The point is that it worked: I no longer was in solitude.

Loneliness is harder to deal with. I am afraid I have no answer on how to “fix it”. If I knew, I would have done it myself: I have been lonely for a long time. What you can do is develop mental tools to cope with it. The core idea is to learn how not to worry about it.

Start by not blaming yourself. All sorts of people can feel lonely at different points in their life. There is nothing inherently broken or wrong with them. Remember that loneliness is when we are not understood by others or are not close to them. This can even happen to people who are super popular, pretty, et cetera. I guess you watched this closely related philosophical presentation I did on “the presumptive idol of you”, but I am linking to it just in case: https://protesilaos.com/books/2022-08-30-presumptive-idol/. Again, don’t blame yourself and think you are defective.

Secondly, be honest with yourself about things you can improve. For example, do you have good manners? If not, try to work on them. Do you stay clean? If not, make sure to take a shower each day and be on point with your hygiene. More generally, work on yourself. Treat your body as a temple: it is not a coal mine.

Thirdly, remove whatever stigma you still associate with loneliness. If you think that your condition is bad, you remain in that state of either blaming yourself or not working to improve what you can. You are thus violating the previous two points.

Fourthly, do not develop any false sense of entitlement or, anyhow, do not believe that you deserve attention, friendship, companionship, romance, or whatever. Human relations involve mutual feelings. Even if you work on yourself, it does not mean that others will treat you the way you want. In other words, acknowledge that this is an interpersonal phenomenon: it is outside your control and you should not think it is strictly yours (also watch my video about “harmony, tranquillity, and non-ownership”: https://protesilaos.com/books/2022-09-22-harmony-tranquility-non-ownership/).

Whatever you do, keep your expectations in check and be reasonable. Adopt an incrementalist method whereby you make small and steady changes. For example, on improving yourself: don’t say that you will start walking for an hour a day and go with that. If you are not already used to it, it is not sustainable. Go for 5 minutes instead, but do it everyday: the key is consistency. When that routine becomes the new normal, stretch its duration to 10 minutes, and repeat the incrementalist process. Then go for 20, and so on until you reach a realistic target that is contributing to your wellness and which you can maintain.

I sense that loneliness is something you cannot overcome because it does not depend only on you. You can learn to live with it and be okay with yourself. Is this a happy message? No. Is there no way to remove loneliness altogether? I do not know, dear. If there is a way, I am not aware of it. If you find it, please tell me as I need it too. Until then you must cope with it.