How to stop feeling lonely even when you’re not alone

lonely
Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

Many of us feel lonely even in a crowd of people. In fact, you might withdraw because you feel more lonely with others than you do on your own.

This is why the common advice to get out there and make connections isn’t always best for complex trauma survivors.

If you grew up with emotional abuse or neglect, you’ve probably learned to hide your true feelings. You needed to minimize your needs in order to survive, and that prevents connection.

So, when you’re in a social setting, you feel as though you have to wear a mask. You monitor everyone’s facial expressions for cues that they’re displeased with you.

This is a holdover from childhood when you had to keep an eye on your parent’s moods to keep yourself safe. As a result, you may misinterpret neutral expressions as negative and fawn to keep others happy.

Healthy people sense the dishonesty inherent in this people pleasing behavior and may pull away. Of course, this confirms your belief that others will reject you and you’re unlovable.

And so the cycle continues. Rather than feeling connected, you feel more empty and alone than if you’d stayed home.

That’s because proximity to others does nothing to increase intimacy. First, you have to connect with yourself to stop feeling lonely.

Why you feel more lonely when you’re not alone

1. You wear a social mask.

You don’t reveal the real you because you’re too busy figuring out what other people want. This comes from a childhood in which self-expression would have gotten you punished, rejected, or abandoned.

As a child, any of those outcomes would have felt life threatening. Now, even though you’re grown, your inner child still feels compelled to keep you safe through people pleasing.

2. People trigger you.

You may have been forced to suppress your emotions to keep others happy. You never learned to navigate or express emotions in a healthy way.

Since no one can push their emotions down indefinitely, they will come out somehow. Often, this happens when drinking lowers your inhibitions.

You risk feeling triggered by something someone says that will result in you having an emotional outburst. And it may have nothing to do with the issue at hand, but relate to something from your past that never got addressed.

3. You feel misunderstood.

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Feeling misunderstood is common among complex trauma survivors. As a youngster, no one seemed interested in you or your needs.

You never learned how to express yourself so that other people would get to know you better. And you take on the listening role because you feel convinced others will find you as uninteresting as your parents did (Pete Walker).

You may have trouble understanding yourself because your parents never helped you with self-discovery. In addition, you’ve been forced to look outward at others instead of tapping into yourself.

You feel disconnected from yourself which makes it difficult to connect with others. And you feel frustrated and exhausted from hearing other people talk about themselves and never ask about you.

However, when they do ask you don’t know what to say. Or you feel terrified because talking about yourself seems dangerous. You’re used to hiding and appeasing because drawing attention meant punishment in the past.

What can you do?

You can start getting to know yourself better. Help your inner child heal by tuning into your needs and wants and taking care of them as best you can.

Rather than looking outward for validation, turn your gaze within. Pay attention to your breathing and ask yourself what you need in this very moment.

Begin to process your emotions by taking time to journal about them. Or use mindfulness practices like meditation to allow them to come to the surface.

Instead of pushing your feelings down, get curious about them. Allow them to be there without judging them and see what they’re trying to tell you.

Begin to volunteer information about yourself rather than waiting to be asked. Assert your opinions when appropriate and restrict time with people who only want a one-sided conversation.

Move along when someone dominates the conversation. Or use it as an opportunity to practice interjecting with your own voice and point of view.

Of course, none of this takes the place of support from a professional. A trauma-informed coach or counselor can guide you through the process of getting to know yourself and feeling less lonely.

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