American novelist Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.” And most of us would probably agree, because we’ve all felt loneliness at some point in our lives. So many philosophers, writers, and artists of every century and every society owe some of their greatest accomplishments and contributions to their experience with a deep, relentless sense of loneliness — Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus just to name a few.
Probably everyone in the world knows what it feels like to be lonely, and those who don’t yet are either too young or in denial about it. So if you’re struggling right now with a deep loneliness in life, then you’ll probably relate to these 7 tell-tale signs:
1. You feel numb all the time.
Lately, whatever emotions you used to feel a lot — be it happiness, sadness, excitement, interest, or amusement — just don’t seem to be there anymore. And nothing you do to cheer yourself up or make yourself feel something again seems to be working. Most days you just feel…empty, lost, and confused. You’re numb and emotionally detached because you’re struggling with a deep sense of loneliness that you don’t know how to deal with (Peteet, 2011).
2. You can’t control your emotions.
On the rare instances when you do manage to feel something again, it’s not much better, because you can’t seem to control your emotions anymore the way you used to. Now you get upset over the tiniest inconvenience and suddenly don’t know how to stop crying; or lash out at the people around you for no apparent reason, unable to contain your anger. Psychologists call this “emotional volatility” and it’s very common in people who suffer from depression, severe anxiety, and loneliness (Heinrich & Gullone, 2006).
3. You feel like you’re too different from other people.
Even around your closest friends and family, you still feel like an outsider, like nobody really knows or understands you. You struggle to connect with others and you feel you don’t belong. This is because all too often our loneliness can drive a wedge between us and everyone around us, blinding us from their warmth, friendship, and compassion, until all we’re left with is the nagging fear that we’re too different for anyone to ever accept us for who we really are.
4. You question the meaning and purpose of life.
Some people tend to become more introspective and philosophical when they feel lonely, so if you’ve found yourself questioning the meaning and purpose of life lately, this might be the reason why. Sometimes we might try to confront our loneliness headfirst and dive deeper into our own psyche to get to the root of it all. Regardless of whatever it is you might find there in your innermost thoughts, fears, and desires, you’re more than likely to come out on the other side a wiser, more insightful person with a new perspective on life.
5. You’re always exhausted.
Another warning sign that you might already be feeling a deep loneliness without even realizing it is if you find yourself always feeling exhausted, even when you didn’t do anything (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). It’s like, all of a sudden, even the simplest, most mundane tasks — like returning a phone call, going out to buy groceries, or cooking yourself a meal — seem too overwhelming and tiring to do. You trudge your feet all day long, putting things off for as long as you can, only to collapse on your bed exhausted and completely spent every night, with little to show for it. Which brings us to our next point…
6. You waste your time doing nothing.
Mindlessly scrolling through social media, spending hours playing video games, watching shows you don’t even like, gossiping, gambling, partying, drinking, overeating, oversleeping, overspending — all of these things are a waste of time. And sure, they might be fun and even relaxing in moderation, but indulging in them too much will only rot your brain and leave you feeling lonelier than ever. Why? Because while all these things might seem like a good way to distract us from our loneliness and make us feel good about ourselves, even if it’s just for a second, at the end of the day, it’ll only remind us that we don’t feel like we’re doing anything worthwhile with ourselves or our lives (Cacioppo & Cacioppo, 2018).
7. You stop taking care of yourself.
Finally but perhaps most importantly, the moment you start to neglect your own needs and stop taking care of yourself is a troubling sign that your mental health may already be taking a turn for the worse (American Psychological Association, 2013). Have stopped brushing your teeth or combing your hair lately? Have you been skipping meals or started gaining a concerning amount of weight in a short span of time? Do you no longer do the things you enjoy, like going out with friends or indulging in hobbies? Do you go for days without taking a bath or constantly leave your room an uninhabitable mess? All of these things are common side effects when we struggle with a deep sense of loneliness in our lives. We feel helpless and unfulfilled, starved of meaning, connection, intimacy, and purpose, so we just stop taking care of ourselves all together because we feel like it’s pointless, like it’s just wasted effort.
So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Have you personally experienced a deep sense of loneliness? Or started spotting some of these signs in your life lately? If you are struggling with your mental health, the best thing you can do for yourself is to seek help and reach out to a mental health care professional today.
Just the fact that you’re aware (even if, painfully so) that there is something missing in your life and longing for something more shows that you have a good idea of who you are and what you want, even if you can’t clearly define it yet. Take this as a call to action to start soul searching and re-discover what makes life meaningful for you. In the words of renowned philosopher and psychologist Viktor Frankl himself, “Even if you feel there is nothing for you anymore in this world, maybe there is something you can do for the world.”
- Peteet, J. R. (2011). Approaching emptiness: Subjective, objective and existential dimensions. Journal of Religion and Health, 50(3), 558-63. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10943-010-9443-7
- Heinrich, L. M., & Gullone, E. (2006). The clinical significance of loneliness: A literature review. Clinical psychology review, 26(6), 695-718.
- Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of behavioral medicine, 40(2), 218-227.
- Cacioppo, J. T., & Cacioppo, S. (2018). The growing problem of loneliness. The Lancet, 391(10119), 426.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition. APA Publishing.