We live in a world that is more connected than ever yet; we are lonelier than ever. What is loneliness and why is it so pervasive today? You can have a wide network of people around you and still feel lonely. In fact, most people who complain about loneliness have people around them. Do not compare two lonely people because their situations are different.

You really can’t define loneliness. It is a subjective feeling; a feeling that people don’t understand you. You don’t feel connected and you are always on your own. It is a universal human emotion that is both complex and unique to each individual. The central thing about loneliness is that, it is different from self-isolation.

What is more important when you feel lonely?

The quality of your past and current relationship matters. We can have someone who does not like to be around people and still prefers to be that way and not feel lonely.

When people are around you and you still feel lonely, what should you do?

For this kind of situation, it has to do with the quality of interaction. This is because, when you are connecting with people, do you make yourself vulnerable? The people you call your friends and family, do you trust them enough to share the lows of your life with them? Everyone is on social media sharing their histories and experiences. Often times, it showcases that everything is perfect in their life. But, are you willing to share your imperfections?

So, loneliness is attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem. People who lack confidence in themselves often believe that they are unworthy of the attention or regard of other people, which can lead to isolation and chronic loneliness. The negative effects of loneliness on the physical and mental health is much compared to its positive effects.

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When you understand that someone is lonely, what do you do?

You need to be a compassionate listener. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist said, “Compassionate listening is giving permission to the other person to empty their heart.” Compassion is empathy in action and empathy is the gate way to compassion. Therefore, it is not enough to be empathetic. Empathy is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Sometimes, you don’t realise that listening is an action step; listening without judgement and without filter. Basically in compassionate listening, you don’t want to change the person in need; you just want to be in their presence to receive what they have to say.

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Is it a privilege to be a compassionate listener?

It is a privilege because genuine connection and human connection are such a deep love. This shows that you are willing to receive what the person has to say. Although, what I have to say is not beautiful but, it is precious. They feel safe and secured to open up to you about their feelings. Just like seeing a lady naturally without makeup, seeing the imperfection such as pimples on her face, that is how you see a lonelier person who is ready to open up to you.

Even if it is denied, loneliness is now being called a public health epidemic because it is not just affecting individuals, it is also affecting the society. The subjective feeling of loneliness is equivalent to smoking, depression, altered brain function, suicide, increased stress level and poor decision making.

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Therefore, this is really a wakeup call to everyone. One of the antidotes of loneliness is reaching out to somebody to offer your help. Next week, we’d continue this talk by discussing the topic, “Overcoming the Feelings Depression.” Depression is a sister to loneliness and it is an issue to behold. So, see you next week.

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