Loneliness is a real condition that affects one out of every five Americans. It is a debilitating experience that makes its victims feel unworthy, misunderstood, and unseen. Most of us think the fix is to simply surround ourselves with people, but for for anyone who suffers from loneliness, you know all too well it isn’t as simple as that.
A new study has revealed that the feeling of being isolated—at least emotionally—is not just a symptom of depression. It’s an actual disease. Lonely people feel lonely even when they are surrounded by people. I know because I spent years being lonely. I thought it was a side effect of my depression, but even when I overcame it, the loneliness lingered. I began my own research and eventually discovered that loneliness is much more than a symptom of some other malady.
According to John Cacioppo (a pioneer in the field of social neuroscience and an expert on loneliness), “One can be quite happy being alone. Loneliness, however, is another story. It’s that feeling that you can be walking down a crowded street or have thousands of Facebook [friends] and Twitter followers, yet you still feel there is no one to relate to or turn to in times of need. Loneliness, essentially, can overtake you even when—and perhaps especially when—you’re not physically alone.”
In order to truly understand loneliness, we have to study it like the epidemic it is. People who suffer from loneliness feel unseen, unheard, and unappreciated. But it doesn't just go away when you focus on the problem. The most important thing to do is validate the feelings of a lonely person. Showing up consistently as a friend is the best thing you can do.
But there are certain things you should never say to someone who suffers from loneliness—some of which you might think could actually make a positive impact. Here are a few of the most dangerous statements, and why they might make things worse rather than better.