We can all relate to feeling isolated whether by choice or circumstance. I'm sure that you've heard someone say or you have said yourself "I'm lonely", "I want to be alone". These words are often used interchangeably but there is a difference. Knowing the difference between being alone and being lonely can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of others as well as yourself.
Humans are innately social beings. Of course, there are people who are less social but overall, an integral part of our existence is intertwined with others. Some of our basic daily tasks are of a symbiotic nature. Imagine trying to go grocery shopping, to work school or the doctor without interacting with others. It's impossible! However, there are some instances where not being around others is essential to maintaining a balance between autonomy with yourself and harmony with others.
"I'm alone...I want to be left alone"
Being alone refers more to the physical aspect of not being coupled or in a group with other individuals. Being alone can be a choice or by distinction. For instance, telling someone that you want be alone is a decision that you can make as a method of self-preservation. Being alone isn't necessarily a bad thing. Choosing to be alone means that you recognize the need for taking time for yourself to focus on a task or regroup after dealing with a difficult situation or when you need to make a decision that you feel can only be reached when no one else is around. By distinction, being alone can be representative of a quality or ability that you posses that places you in a category of excellence or innovation. Think of some of the most influential change agents that have ever lived. Many of them were alone in actions or intentions that exhibit a uniqueness unparalleled by others.
Loneliness refers to the aspect of a person's emotions . Loneliness can have a profound impact on a person's mental, spiritual and physical well-being. Feelings of despair are often associated with loneliness and can affect someone's self-awareness and self-esteem. I can attest to the feeling of loneliness. When I was going through a divorce, I found myself struggling with loneliness frequently. At that time, being able to separate my feelings and my decisions were extremely difficult. That is to be expected when going through a major life change or trauma. My mind was swimming! I was put in a position where I was questioning my relationship and where things went wrong. I had to come to grips with knowing that finances, the lifestyle I was used to, and relationships with friends and family would forever change. The loneliness at times was unbearable and I often felt weighed down by that feeling. My issue was mixing up what being alone and being lonely was. The two can most assuredly exist independently of each other, but in some instances, the chances of the two blurring the lines between what affect they have on you or your situation are very real. For some time during my divorce, the loneliness I felt overshadowed my judgement of being "left alone." I felt like being alone was helping me regroup, but in reality, it was causing me to isolate at a time when I needed support the most. After much prayer, mindful meditation and therapy I was able to distinguish the difference between the two and how to handle being alone and being lonely.
So, why the confusion between the two words? To be honest, no one ever taught us what both words really meant. Think about it. We live in a society that cast out people who don't act like lemmings. People are given mixed messages on how to act and the more you push the envelope and give traits of uniqueness or take an initiative to do more than others, you don't fit the mold of social normalcy. That's a funny thought because we have all heard someone say:
"If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you too?"
It's like telling someone you have to do what everyone else is doing, BUT, if you're going to do something different, Don't, because you won't be like everyone else. Can you say confusing?
If you think back to some of your life experiences and measure what being alone and lonely really means; you will be able to find a pattern in decisions that you made. Whether it was something as simple as buying a new outfit to choosing to be in a relationship with someone, the decisions (or lack thereof) were in direct response to being alone or lonely.
How to benefit from knowing the difference being alone and being lonely
Establishing an intimate relationship with yourself is first and foremost. A person can never truly be alone. You can't be alone if you are spending time with yourself, so why not appreciate the being that you are regardless of if someone is right next to you or if you are thousand of miles away from anyone.
It's also important to be able to:
1. Discern when you feel the need to be left alone and when you are experiencing loneliness.
2. Develop coping methods for allowing yourself to experience being alone or lonely
3. Develop a plan to move forward from that experience and TAKE ACTION! Follow through is a tool in succession, so the next time the topic comes up, you will be better equipped to deal with being alone or lonely.
It is important to know that being alone and experiencing loneliness is inevitable whether for a brief or extended period of time. It's OK to be alone and lonely, it just important to experience them but not dwell on the experience.