When you don’t feel like you fit in, yet you’re part of a team, family or community, it can feel lonely. The single square peg in a neat round hole, surrounded by other round holes with happy round pegs in them. 

The feeling of loneliness is usually described as “an unpleasant feeling when you don’t have others to speak with” or as “a reaction to perceived isolation”.

Loneliness can be caused by active exclusion or discrimination and situations where we don’t know others well and feel we must hide our true selves. It can occur around major life changes, like divorce, bereavement and illness. It can be fleeting in one part of our lives or feel more pervasive across several elements.

It can also come with a cluster of other emotions – sadness, shame or embarrassment, frustration or hopelessness. It can also be paired with physical symptoms and mental wellbeing. The pandemic, social media and geographic mobility for work have all be researched as “modern day” causes of loneliness. I can certainly relate to all three of those having lived and worked overseas, watching others hit life goals, that weren’t meant for me and in the last year, we’ve all missed our families and friends, as well as social gatherings like birthdays, weddings and even funerals.

But can loneliness have a purpose when we are seeking to live an aligned, authentic life?

Don’t confuse loneliness with aloneness. They can come together and apart. The latter can be a wonderful time for self-connection, reflection, replenishment and creative pursuits. We even choose aloneness from time to time. For extended periods or the choice is outside of your control, the link to loneliness is more likely.

So check in with yourself, is it loneliness or aloneness you are feeling? In what ways can aloneness support you in realising greater joy from greater alignment with your values, intentions and needs?

For me, it’s the chance to recharge my brain by escaping in books or nature, to indulge in cooking and baking, and to gently challenge myself to grow my self-confidence and self-value through soft play dates (did I mention the trapeze lesson I’ve got in mind?!?)

But it took me some time to recognise these times of aloneness were not loneliness and were opportunities to be aligned and live or work as I want to. Aloneness gives me space to surrender from frustrations and let my subconscious mind ponder them out for me. It gives me time to cherish my body and wellbeing (one of my core values). It gives me outlets to try out being all of me in circumstances that I create, like a workshop group or a new activity outside my work or friendship group.

We can give meaning to loneliness – often to confirm that we are in fact somehow not enough or unacceptable in some way, that we can’t be who we are and that we will be judged and rejected if we even try to show up. Confirmation bias can be really destructive when we have yet to find our fit. Research from 2009 (Dewall, Maner & Rouby, Northwestern University) showed we become more attuned to body language, gestures and facial expressions – interpreting them into meanings, which we may see as factual or as the truth.

Reframing by considering alternative meanings can be a powerful cognitive process. Examining our triggers and the meanings we give them then looking at alternatives can help us break the cycle of loneliness (and other emotions) and build the life, work and love we aspire to have every day.

What if you decide that that look or comment was driven by them having a bad day and not the intention to upset or exclude you? How would your loneliness shift? What would you feel instead? What new potential actions or opportunities now flow?

What if you decide that not everyone has concluded you don’t fit, rather some are really glad to have some a bit like them in the group, team or family? Wow, doesn’t that feel different? Who might you connect with now? We need only a small sense of acceptance to shift loneliness and begin to create connection.

What if you decide that it is ok to not fit the expected mould and that the mould could do with some loving reshaping? Those new feelings are uplifting and motivating. What new potential directions and relationships open up to you?

Lastly, I think loneliness’ purpose to nudge us to inspect the rub we have with who we are and the choices we excuse by labelling it loneliness. As unpleasant as it feels, it can feel less intimidating or shocking than the reality of what we’re doing and with whom. It gives us permission to avoid seeing others, creating bonds and stepping out as our glorious whole selves.

So next time, a sense of loneliness creeps up on you, take a moment to check in with yourself. Is this loneliness? What meaning or truth am I giving this? And what do I want to choose to do, think or feel to realise the joys in living, working and loving in alignment?

And don’t forget you are never alone – The Haven group is a safe place to hang out, connect and be you with other women looking to bring their whole authentic self to every aspect of their lives. Not join us there yet? No worries. Click here and answer the questions to hop on board.