Ask any self respecting introvert and they will tell you that being alone is not the same thing as loneliness. However, should you ask an extrovert they might think that the two are one and the same.
Theologian Paul Tillich brings clarity to the topic when he says “Language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone, and the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”
Whether you are introverted or extroverted, however, nobody wants to feel the despair that true loneliness impresses upon our souls. One type of loneliness is the isolated feeling we feel when in a new setting or community. This is usually temporary and leaves no permanent scar on our hearts.
Emotional loneliness, though, is different. It is the pain of being rejected by the world and living in total isolation. To be accepted is recognized in our world as one marker of being well adjusted. When we feel emotional loneliness we feel like a black cloud follows us everywhere we go. Trust in others is low, fear is high.We walk around in the world feeling different and somehow flawed.
Our need for connection is so strong that it can bring us tremendous joy in the face of great tragedy such as the camaraderie and deep enduring bonds that developed during the September 11 crisis and the mass destruction by hurricanes Katrina and others. But it can also bring us great despair when it fails to develop.
As I am writing this the thought occurs to me that many of you will think “wow, that’s depressing”. I don’t want to depress anyone, but I do want to emphasize to you that there is this debilitating loneliness out there eating at the hearts of so many people. If you are one of the fortunate ones who experiences temporary loneliness from time to time it is to you that I am writing this. I would like to heighten your awareness that there are those among us that really could use a hand extended with compassion and the offer of friendship. Sometimes we get so busy in our lives that we forget that others are suffering. It really costs us little to offer a smile or a pleasant word, or even extend an invitation to have coffee or share lunch with someone. Won’t you please look around you and see if you can identify someone in your sphere of influence that could use your friendship?
As an introvert, (I know it is hard to believe) I rather enjoy spending time alone. However, I have felt the sting of loneliness many times in my life and it just plain hurts! As a child we moved very often and it seemed that I was constantly the new kid on the block. We finally settled in a small town when I was in the 8th grade, but even then I felt that I never really belonged. It seemed that those who really belonged were those who had been born and raised there and many times their parents had been born and raised there. I made a few close friends, but always felt a little like the kid looking in the window instead of one of the group. Later, as a young parent, we moved to a new city and state. Again I felt the sting of loneliness until one woman took the time to reach out and help me connect with the community. That woman is still one of my closest friends, and she always will be. She took the time. She extended the hand. As a result we spent the next 13 happy years in that community.
Look around you and identify someone new in the community. By new, I don’t just mean a few weeks or months, sometimes it takes years to get plugged in. You can often find these people on the periphery of the natural circles that form in any gathering.
Go up to that person and extend you hand. Introduce yourself and try to find some common ground. If you can’t find common ground, introduce them to someone with whom that might find common ground.
Don’t let it end there, watch the person and make sure they get plugged in. If they still seem to be floundering, take another stab at it. Maybe you belong to an organization that might interest them.
Continue the above steps every chance you get.
One more thing, don’t forget to smile and greet people in the check out stand, at the dry cleaners, on the sidewalks, everywhere you go. That smile and greeting may be the only one that person gets that day!