The toxicity of loneliness

We are single. We are alone. That, in itself, is not a bad thing, it is the loneliness that makes being single hard. Being alone is OK, especially if you are an introvert. As a matter of fact, we should all be OK with ourselves being alone; it is a healthy state of mind in which to reside.

It is loneliness that sucks and you can feel lonely anywhere, at anytime.

We can feel lonely in our wards, with our family, in social groups. We can feel lonely in crowds of people, at work, or in meetings. Eating lunch alone, we can feel lonely at the same time. Loneliness is an emotional state. Being alone is a mental state.

I know what it feels like to feel lonely in marriage, one of the symptoms of why I am single now. It isn’t being alone that is hard: loneliness is the lack of human connection. We all need that, even I do, now that I understand it.

Loneliness can be a very toxic thing if we aren’t cautious. Loneliness is a creeping fungus that will eventually feed itself. As you increasingly become toxic from loneliness, you increasingly give reason for that loneliness.

This toxicity can manifest many ways. Snide commentary, bitterness, resentment, cutting sarcasm, rudeness, and lashing out at others. Sometimes we can become so consumed with our loneliness toxicity we don’t even realize that one of the reasons people don’t want to talk to us is because we lash out instinctually.

It can also become toxic to our souls. In an effort to appease the loneliness we may lower our standards, present ourselves uncharacteristically for attention, or go so far as to be someone we really aren’t. We may open ourselves to people that will use our loneliness as a weapon or for their own purposes, which actually increases isolation and creates a deeper loneliness.

For me, when I am lonely, I start becoming depressed and isolate myself from others. I can start feeling angry and resentful, sometimes lashing out when people are genuinely trying to help me not feel lonely. I know these things about myself, so I developed warning signs that I monitor and have developed tactics to combat it.

First, and this one is hardest for me: I ask for hugs. This is when I am at my most vulnerable, and thusly, most afraid, because I have only recently been comfortable with affection. It has only been in the last couple of years I can tolerate a hug from a dude. Only the last half decade that I am comfortable with women I am not in a relationship with touching me. But I know, that if I am going to dodge the toxic bear of loneliness, a hug is the quickest form of feeling that human connection.

I had to die to understand that, literally. Don’t die to learn it yourself, it is really unpleasant. Well, dying wasn’t, but the recovery afterward was.

I had just come back (it was my first death and only about 8 seconds) and I was freaking out. At this point in my life I only tolerated my wife touching me, definitely not men. It was this experience that told me something was seriously amiss in our relationship. I came back, I was terrified and weeping with fear. I couldn’t speak I was so terrified at what had just happened. I was in the larger ER room (now I know why they have different sizes and what a “crash room” is). A male nurse was standing next to me, my wife about three feet away. The male nurse asked me how I was feeling and all I could get out was “Please touch me.” To a male nurse stranger, not my wife.

He must have put in the notes because for the remainder of my stay in the hospital, every time someone who worked at the hospital came into the room, they would touch my arm. Every time I was relaxed. The second time I died (the more definitive hour’s worth of being dead), I was coming out of my coma and my vitals were not doing well. My heart was racing dangerously and my breathing was shallow and fast. A friend that was there asked to try something, the nurses and doctors gave the go ahead, and she touched my arm. Immediately my vitals relaxed.

Human connection can be as simple as a casual touch and that very well may be all we need. In the Five Love Languages, one of my primary languages is affection, but the affection I need to know I am loved can be as simple as a hand on my arm, holding my hand, a hug, or a hip bump. Just connection.

Human connection doesn’t have to always be physical, either. If hugs aren’t available, because they aren’t for everyone, my other tactics include being in nature, talking to a non-judgmental friend, seeing a movie, or choosing to be alone, instead of being lonely.

However, with all that being said, there was one tool I discovered in January of this year. One I had to be forced by circumstance to discover. It sounds trite, but I can promise you it is real.

Prayer.

I have learned that now, when I am lonely, to call on my Heavenly Father. I weep to Him, cry to Him, I ask for the Spirit’s loving embrace. I get it every time. I have wept myself to sleep asking for comfort from Heavenly Father because of the dearth of loneliness I was afraid was going to finally consume me, and I fell as sleep peacefully, feeling loved, not feeling lonely.

This one lesson, of asking for comfort from loneliness from my Father in Heaven has been the greatest discovery yet. Sometimes, someone is inspired to reach out, to send a text or drop by. Sometimes it is as simple as the Spirit resting with you. Regardless, by learning to assuage my loneliness through Heavenly Father, I have also learned a lesson that I believe will make me a better companion. I can heal my own loneliness instead of asking someone to do it for me.

Heavenly Father wants us to be whole people, he designed us to yearn for human contact and connection. But, through the brilliance of His perfect plan, and the gift of prayer, He can provide us the comfort we need, when we need it immediately.

If you are unhappy, feel bitter, angry, or notice that your interactions are toxic, it could very well be the root of it all is loneliness. Learn your triggers, discover your manifestations, develop your tactics to counter it. You will be healthier for it, and you will be more resistant to failure. Ultimately, include prayer in all of this, and you will see the loneliness kept at bay.