Loneliness is a hot topic these days. In a digital world that allows for global connections, people are often less connected to the community immediately around them. While the issue of loneliness has bubbled up in the consciousness of society, the real problem is likely more one of ‘aloneness’. That is, they might be fine – and even enjoy – occupying themselves in solitary activities, but they struggle with a lack of feeling connected.
My experience as a therapist has shown that people feel the greatest sense of well-being when they feel understood, valued, and validated. Interactions that accomplish these things are more than just basic communication – the people actually feel connected.
Don’t misunderstand. You can bond with a friend by bantering about your favorite basketball players, or dissecting your date last night. Just shooting the breeze can be enjoyable. And a quick text message or even liking someone’s Facebook post can let them know you are thinking of them. These are all good things. But when these conversations, posts, or text interchanges do not tap into a deeper connection in which you have shared your genuine self, you can still basically feel alone.
By talking openly and honestly about personal struggles and values, you are offering a direct pathway into your heart. You are inviting the other person in to truly understand you. But along with that, you are also making yourself vulnerable. These can be the most fulfilling relationships, or lead to the most painful ones.
Given the differing ways people approach using social media, it’s not surprising that there are mixed results in research that looks at the effect of social media on people’s emotions and sense of connection. People with established friendships often find that social media supports those relationships, and it can create happier moments in their days. More isolated people who use social media as a “safe” way to connect often experience their social media friendships as less fulfilling.
If you struggle with feeling disconnected and alone in the world, the problem is not social media. It might be that computers and technology have enabled people to live more insular lives, adding to a sense of aloneness. But in your daily life, technology can help or hinder your sense of connection. So look at how you connect with others – or, more accurately, how you maintain your distance. You can “cure” your sense of aloneness by nurturing supportive, caring relationships in which you and the other person feel safe in sharing your “true” selves.