Loneliness is the unspoken epidemic that affects the internet generation. While the internet allows us to connect with people worldwide, it also keeps us apart from people who live under the same roof. Why is that? Isn’t our generation supposed to be more connected than the older ones? What went wrong? Why do we feel lonely even when surrounded by people?
There are a few reasons for feeling lonely even when surrounded by friends and family:
- You hide your true self.
- You have a history of being misunderstood or judged.
- Perhaps you feel insecure about certain aspects of your personality.
- You try hard to be perfect, so your imperfections never get accepted.
- You never give other people a chance to accept (or reject!) you.
Feeling Alone Despite Having Friends
Loneliness has gotten worse, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while social distancing can cause physical loneliness, there is a more subtle kind that has been sneaking into our minds for several years, and it is called emotional disconnection.
Why do you feel lonely even when you are having fun with a group of friends? Why do you feel lonely even though you are participating in conversations at a party? That kind of loneliness is fundamentally different from being physically alone.
One of the most common causes of this feeling is putting on a mask when you engage with people. That primarily stems from the fear of not being accepted by others around you. If you have faced a lot of rejection, you likely came across this solution. Maybe the mask helps you feel less inadequate. Moreover, when you put on the mask and appear more confident, other people see the change in your attitude and are more likely to like you.
Pretending to be Someone You Are Not
However, putting on a mask creates another problem. When you pretend to be someone you are not and people like you for it, you show yourself that you have to pretend to be someone you are not so that you can make friends. Every time you have a positive social interaction, you reinforce the thought that people will only like you if you hide your true self.
As a result, you never truly open up to anyone. Every social interaction starts to feel shallow and fake because you never express your inner feelings to anyone. You keep reinforcing the belief that people don’t like your authentic self. That creates a strong sense of emotional loneliness, and you feel lonely even when surrounded by people.
Moreover, you never tell people how you feel. You never talk about your insecurities or your struggles. We truly connect with people when we can talk about both our successes and our failures. Only talking about one of them and ignoring the other is a recipe for emotional isolation. Putting on a mask merely reinforces a mask and results in emotional distance.
Check out this video about being your authentic self
Perfectionism is Another Kind of Mask
The more insecure you are, the harder you try to be perfect. Think about this — if you are happy with the person you are, would you feel the need to be someone you are not? Perfectionism is a way to cope with feelings of inadequacy. If you are afraid that people might not like you because of your flaws, you might try to work hard to hide them and increase your chances of being accepted.
Similarly, while being self-reliant is generally a good trait, if you hesitate to reach out to people because you want to address your issues on your own, it might be worth exploring why you do that. It may stem from a sense of low self-value, and you feel the need to prove to yourself that you can achieve and accomplish things on your own without needing help from someone else. Your perception of your competence dictates your sense of self-value. As a result, you portray yourself as an independent person, making other people respect you. That is another kind of mask, which reinforces low self-esteem, and makes you feel lonely even when surrounded by people.
Click here to read about being true to yourself.
The Nature of Lonely Thoughts
The feeling of loneliness usually accompanies thoughts such as “I don’t fit in” or “Nobody likes me”. Another conventional solution that people use to combat these thoughts is to reject them. We think things like “No, I fit in. I should feel more included in the group.” We try to deny the thoughts to take away their power.
However, that does not work. Thoughts are like water; the harder you push them away, the harder they push back. The more you try to deny your thoughts, the stronger they get. That is why fighting your thought processes is an ineffective strategy. They will create a firmer resistance, making it harder to come to terms with your feelings.
Thoughts Follow Feelings
Moreover, we tend to think that our feelings arise because of specific reasons. For example, if you walk barefoot and something pokes your foot, you will check the ground to see what poked you. You felt something sharp under your foot, and your brain immediately makes you look for a reason. That is just evolution wired our brain. In our evolutionary history, the people who looked for reasons for their feelings were less likely to die to environmental dangers. If you checked under your foot to check out the object that poked you, you were more likely to survive an injury than the person who walked on as if nothing had happened.
While this ability was a life-saver when we had to escape tigers and avoid poisonous plants, it becomes maladaptive in an environment that lacks the dangers of that kind.
For example, if a person stops talking to you, your mind will make you look for a reason. If you don’t feel accepted by people around you, your brain is more likely to think it is your fault for getting ghosted. We look for definitive reasons in situations where we don’t have enough information to conclude. Our mind would rather have a conclusion from incomplete information than no conclusion at all. That is especially true if our sense of self-value depends on the conclusion. However, we don’t realize that the feeling comes first, not the thought. The thoughts arise to justify the feeling and not the other way around.
Click here to learn more about negative self-talk and the nature of our thoughts.
How to Feel Accepted by Others
The first thing to recognize is that the mask serves a purpose. When you put on the mask, people like being around you. That is why it is hard to take it off. It makes people like you, which makes it easier to navigate life. It helps you move forward in a way that being your authentic self does not.
However, recognize that your sense of self-value will never increase if you continue to hide your authentic self. To feel accepted, you need to give people a chance to accept you. However, that also means exposing yourself to the risk that they might reject you.
Moreover, it is crucial to find the right place, the right time, and the right people to be authentic. If you try to take off the mask all at once, people might be surprised, and your brain will interpret that as rejection. Therefore, if you can slowly reveal parts of yourself that you are not the proudest of, such as insecurities, flaws, and feelings, then you’d be surprised at how people treat you. It is incredibly empowering to realize that you can be your authentic self, and people don’t mind.
Also, keep in mind that some people not liking you does not mean that you are a terrible person. However, your mind will try to interpret it that way. When that happens, notice the mechanism via which your mind makes that connection. Observe it, and realize that it is a feeling that may not arise from fact. However, don’t deny or judge the feeling, as it will just make it worse and you will feel lonely even when surrounded by people..
Check out this interview about why you don’t feel accepted
If you are around people and feel lonely, the part of you that connects to them is not the real you. It is the mask that you put on. As a result, how can you feel connected to other people when you only show them a piece of who you are?
We need to put on a mask because we’re afraid of what other people will do if we don’t put on the mask. We need it because we lack confidence in who we are in a person.
The solution isn’t to “just become confident.” Instead, attempt to explore where you learned that people would not accept you if you show them your true self. Most likely, at some point in your life, you learned that when people see your true self, they don’t want to associate with you.
Over time, try to take off the mask a tiny bit with people you trust. You will see that they will not reject you in the way you think they will. That will also open you up to the possibility of rejection. It is a terrifying feeling and for a good reason. However, over time, as you get used to taking the mask off, you will realize that your authentic self is worth showing to other people, and your sense of self-value will increase. That will take care of your emotional loneliness, and you will truly feel connected to people around you. You will not feel lonely even when surrounded by people.
Check out the full interview on loneliness