There are a number of reasons for not interacting with people beyond what’s absolutely necessary. Perhaps you moved to a new city for work and never bothered to make new friends. Perhaps you’ve withdrawn from society for a while as the result of some trauma or period of depression. Or maybe you’re just not inclined to spend your time talking about things that seem trivial to you.
Still, strangers chat about the weather, sports and the price of bananas on a daily basis, usually feels just a little better afterward. It’s often not about the content of a conversation, but simply sharing a moment with someone else. Humans are social creatures, and we’re simply hardwired to want to be with our own kind.
“Loneliness acts as a signal telling you that you are not experiencing the amount of desired companionship or emotional support that you want and/or need,” wrote Jodie Eisner, PsyD.
However, if being alone has become an entrenched habit, it can be difficult to break the pattern. Just like physical objects, minds have momentum. We tend to keep doing the same things we already are. Past behavior is the best predictor of future actions. Getting out of a rut takes physical and mental effort. But if this is what you desire, the payoff can be well worth it.
Make a Commitment and Set Goals
People choose to break the cycle of solitude – which may or may not mean loneliness – for a variety of reasons. They may be looking for romantic love, start feeling that having a support network could benefit them, or just be bored.
Whatever the underlying motivation, this should be reflected in declared goals that you intend to stick to. These should be realistic as well as definite, such as “I will invite people for a dinner party once a week,” or “I will go dating two Saturdays a month.”
“One way to overcome loneliness is to get active and around others. Think about what activities you enjoy or hobbies that you used to be involved in,” wrote Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, LPC.
Not everybody is cut out to be the life of the party, and not everybody wants to be. Some individual’s personal goals may involve no more than being a little more approachable at work and making eye contact with other passengers on a commuter train, and there’s nothing wrong with this.
In any case, baby steps can help to build a person’s confidence and allow them to gradually develop or rediscover their social skills. Trying to build Rome in a day is not only likely to fail, but can serve to remind a person of why they tend to avoid people in the first place.
Someone who is struggling with a real psychological condition, such as an anxiety disorder, is in a more difficult situation than most when trying to break free of loneliness. In this case, developing or broadening a social network requires more courage and energy, but it can still be done.
Several exercises can be performed to build up a person’s level of comfort when talking to strangers, while talk therapy or support groups offer additional routes to pursue. Eventually, when it’s discovered that even a bad interpersonal experience is rarely an actual disaster, further gains can be realized.
Use Activities as a Catalyst
Especially for people who by nature prefer their own company, trying to be with people who have nothing important to say to each other can seem pointless and excruciating. Doing things with strangers, on the other hand, can lend focus and context to the group.
Whether your interests run to nature hikes, learning Russian or discussing Dan Brown novels, a little searching will most likely uncover a group of like-minded people close to where you live. When the object is to have fun or learn something rather than simply socializing, socializing follows almost inevitably.
Reach out Online
“We need ourselves, to find our own voices and activate our own ears. We will find connection in our disagreements as well as our shared interests, and we may well help to spread an epidemic of connection,” wrote Johanna Bond, LMHC.
Although digital connections aren’t equivalent to those made in the flesh, they do allow us to find people that share obscure interests or use the relative anonymity of the internet to open up more than we’re used to. Some care should be taken, though. A small percentage of people delight in insulting or otherwise degrading the digital personae of others. It’s also easy for some people to start seeing Facebook and other social media as a replacement for social activity rather than a supplementary form of it.
Avoid Bad People
This should go without saying, but lonesomeness or a lack of affection in someone’s life can often lead to the formation of friendships or relationships that are basically not healthy. A person who’s selfish, unstable or has the qualities of a narcissist should be avoided at all cost, even if they’re metaphorically speaking the last person left on earth. Certainly, friendship should never cost one party money.
It should be realized that being alone can be completely satisfying for introverts, while some people will feel lonely even though they interact with dozens of people every day. What is important is not how society and family thinks a person should live their lives, but what is more likely to make them happy.
Often, it is not the quantity and type of conversations a person has that make the difference, but rather the quality of the people they surround themselves with. Adding a horde of acquaintances with whom you have little in common with and little to say to may be good practice for the future, but is not very likely to improve a person’s quality of life right now.