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Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Learn about loneliness and how to deal with feelings of being lonely.

Growth and change over the years produces a variety of feelings in people. In addition to feelings of excitement and anticipation, there may also be feelings of loneliness. Loneliness is not necessarily being alone. We may be alone for long periods without feeling at all lonely. On the other hand, we may feel lonely in a familiar setting without really understanding why. The best way to begin to understand loneliness is to examine some of the ways people experience it. You may feel lonely when:

  • you're alone and you don't feel you have a choice not to be;
  • you feel that you're lacking attachments you had in the past;
  • you are facing changes in your life-a new school, town, job, or other changes;
  • you feel there's no one in your life with whom you can share your feelings and experiences;
  • your self-perceptions are that you're unacceptable, unlovable, not worthwhile even if others don't share those perceptions.

Misconceptions About Loneliness

Loneliness can be made more intense by what you tell yourself it means. College students and men are particularly susceptible to the following misconceptions regarding loneliness:

  • Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Learn about loneliness and how to deal with feelings of being lonely."Loneliness is a sign of weakness, or immaturity."
  • "There's something wrong with me if I'm lonely. These should be the best years of my life."
  • "I'm the only one who feels this way."

If these misconceptions ring true to you, you may believe that loneliness results from a defect in your personality. Research suggests that people who think of loneliness as a defect tend to have the following difficulties:

  • greater difficulty in taking social risks, in asserting themselves, in making phone calls to initiate social contact, in introducing themselves to others, in participating in groups, and in enjoying themselves at parties.
  • less skill in self-disclosure, less responsiveness to others, and a greater tendency to approach social encounters with cynicism and mistrust.
  • more likelihood of evaluating themselves and others in negative terms and more tendency to expect others to reject them.

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Lonely people often report feeling depressed, angry, afraid, and misunderstood. They may become highly critical of themselves, overly sensitive or self-pitying, or they may become critical of others, blaming others for their situations.When these things happen, lonely people often begin doing things which perpetuate their loneliness. Some people, for example, become discouraged, lose their sense of desire and motivation to get involved in new situations, and isolate themselves from people and activities. Others deal with loneliness by becoming too quickly and deeply involved with people and activities without evaluating the consequences of their involvement. They may later find themselves in unsatisfying relationships or over-committed to work, academic or extracurricular activities.

What To Do About Loneliness

The alternative to viewing loneliness as a defect or as an unalterable personality characteristic is to recognize that loneliness is something that can be changed. It is also important to know that loneliness is a common experience. According to a recent national survey, one quarter of all adults experience painful loneliness at least every few weeks, and the incidence among adolescents and college students is even higher. Loneliness is neither a permanent state nor "bad" in itself. Instead it should be viewed more accurately as a signal or indicator of important needs that are going unmet.

You, or anyone, should take action when important needs aren't being met. Begin by identifying which needs are not being met in your specific situation. Your loneliness may result from a variety of needs. It may involve the need to develop a circle of friends or a special friend. It may involve learning to do things for yourself, without friends. Or it may involve learning to feel better or more content about yourself in general.