The Internet and modern technologies are often blamed for the modern “epidemic of loneliness”. Although they certainly contribute, the trend of separation and loneliness existed even before them, wherever people had the material conditions for a separate life. This is no accident; people certainly have good reasons for such decisions. It is no coincidence that many people want to escape from small communities or even from their own families. Many wanted it in previous generations, too; they just didn’t have the means.

The fact is that in practically every family, neighborhood or any group of people, there are always toxic people who make everyone’s life miserable – and somehow they usually manage to overpower the rest. As our criteria for healthy behavior grows along with financial opportunities, more and more people have the opportunity to choose whether to stay in such communities or leave them. Each of these two choices has advantages and disadvantages, but more and more people consider loneliness a lesser evil than daily exposure to toxic communication, if not worse forms of abuse.

Yet along with the toxic aspects of a community, when we leave it we also give up the healthy ones: a sense of belonging, safety in the group and emotional stimulation. It would be ideal to find a group of friends, or create our own family, in which we’d have all of that, without toxic people. But a large number of people face the experience that it is not very easy either. In fact, in both Europe and the USA, loneliness is a more widespread phenomenon among young people than among older generations.

“Am I the problem?”

It is no longer just a matter of finding any people to spend time with, but finding quality and compatible people. Statistics show that in practice it is obviously not that easy, and it can be especially difficult for more withdrawn and emotionally sensitive people.

Loneliness can deeply affect self-esteem. Many people who choose to stay in toxic relationships and communities do so out of fear of loneliness. What they are most afraid of is usually the feeling that they are not wanted, that they are not interesting, that they are to blame for their own loneliness. People who choose loneliness as the lesser evil are not immune to all these fears. The longer they are alone, the more they can question their own worth and ability to be interesting to others.

Facing all these fears and taking an honest, objective look at oneself and one’s own life can also be scary. We may fear that we will discover that we are a worse or less interesting person than we thought, which of course would be extremely painful. Such fears are usually exaggerated, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we could change and improve. So, if you’re ready, let’s explore it in a little more detail.

For starters, any simplistic, black-and-white thinking usually comes from childhood. How many times have you heard children say, or complained as a child yourself: “Why doesn’t anyone love me?” When children feel that their closest environment does not understand and does not hear them, at that moment such an oversimplified conclusion seems real in the child’s head. Like many other feelings from childhood, this one can be awakened in similar circumstances. It is good to be aware that this is not an adult perspective and that it comes from the past.

Next, the very fact that you are questioning yourself indicates that you are probably a better person than you fear. Low-quality people rarely, if ever, feel the need to question themselves. In fact, my impression is that low-quality people are rarely lonely, despite what you might expect. They do not have high criteria with whom they will hang out, so they will easily surround themselves with people similar to themselves. In addition, many manage to bind at least part of their family to themselves through manipulation, fear and other strategies to break the spirit of others.

When we are aware of the above, we can divide the other causes of loneliness into those that concern us and those that concern society.

Causes within ourselves

Do you act approachable? Do you look others in the eye? Are your facial expressions and voice friendly? Is your demeanor relaxed and open? Such little signals, or the lack of them, can encourage or discourage people from opening up to you. Many people are not aware of a large part of their non-verbal communication, and it can be unconsciously aloof.

Do you show interest in other people clearly enough? Perhaps the most important message in this article is, people will like you if they feel you like them. If you show interest in others, they will be interested in you. Shy and withdrawn people often seem arrogant to others, because they unconsciously suppress showing their interest, even when they feel it.

Are you too tense? No matter how understandable and justified the cause of your tension is, people do not feel relaxed when they are in the company of people who seem tense, so it is harder to want the company of such a person. If the cause of the tension is too intense to be temporarily forgotten while you are with someone, it can be good to “preventively” explain to these people that it has nothing to do with them. If you clear something up right at the beginning that others would otherwise sense through your non-verbal speech, people can relax instead of making their own unspoken assumptions (which are often a reflection of their fears).

Are you too negative? Complaints and joint venting of frustrations can mean mutual support for some people, but everything has its limits. If most of your comments on the world around you are complaints or criticisms, others may feel burdened by this and may wonder if you are secretly criticizing them too.

Do you give space to other people? People who are loud and talkative are not often lonely; many people like talkative people because with them they “know what they’re thinking” and can avoid potentially uncomfortable silence. But still, if others can’t get a word in, if you don’t pay attention to other people’s opinions, if you’re primarily interested in what you have to say, if you jump in other people’s words and the like, that will be too much for most.

Do you take initiative? Do you try to meet new people, start and maintain communication with them, get out of your “comfort zone?” Just like your dream job won’t fall into your lap by itself, neither will your dream friends.

Are you authentic? The best way to be uninteresting (if not cringey) to others is to pretend to be something you are not, because then at best you can be a pale copy of someone else, and you will probably be rigid and predictable, in the sense that you are only repeating what is expected of a certain role.

Do you show your feelings (in a healthy way)? Hiding your authentic feelings, similar to the above paragraph, makes you appear empty and without individuality. On the other hand, the problem with expressing feelings is that many people are taught to express feelings in unhealthy ways, so when they try to be “spontaneous” it can have the opposite effect. True spontaneity is not unhealthy, but healthy behavior, but to find how to express this we often have to feel what is happening inside us beneath the superficial defensive habits.

Are you (unconsciously) manipulative? Do you expect others to know what you want even if you don’t tell them? Do you blame others if they don’t return your favors exactly the way you imagined? Do you tend to see yourself as a victim? Do you use passive aggression (eg, withdrawal, silent treatment, indirect remarks, toxic humor) to express your feelings and boundaries instead of doing so openly? All of this is behavior that people might not know how to call you out on, but they will feel that it’s not healthy and will want to get away from it.

Do you respect other people’s boundaries? For example, do you tell others what you don’t like about their own apartment? Do you ask for too many favors? Do you ask too personal questions? Do you give unsolicited advice often? If you feel the urge to do any of these things, first reconsider what need it is coming from within you and whether it really brings the desired results.

Do you respond to other people’s non-verbal communication? If you don’t notice or ignore when people find a topic uninteresting, or a question uncomfortable, or they signal to you that you’ve crossed the line, of course it won’t leave a good impression. In most cultures, at least to some extent, there is an expectation that an adult person should be considerate and aware of other people’s boundaries, instead of being warned about them over and over again.

What kind of people do you surround yourself with and why? Are you looking for friends among people you happen to see often through work or school, even though there is no real compatibility between you? Are you looking for company that helps you avoid being in touch with yourself, your feelings and problems? Such friendships are often superficial, and I often hear stories about betrayal of trust or disrespect of mutual boundaries.

These are just some of the possibilities, so if you think it might be something else, practice looking at yourself, your non-verbal speech, demeanor and behavior from other people’s perspectives. You can also directly ask other people what kind of impression they have of you, if you have people around you who can tell you this honestly and in good faith.

Societal aspects

Do you move in too narrow a circle of people? Most friendships are not created after a short acquaintance, but through longer-term contact and doing things together, which usually means at school, university or at work. But even these are relatively limited environments where it is a matter of chance if there would be people compatible with you. It’s no wonder that many people complain that they don’t have enough friends. The problem is when we don’t have – or don’t create – opportunities to choose where and how we will meet new people. Or even when we do meet people we like, we don’t take initiative to stay in touch with them.

Do you stand out “too much” from your surroundings?
People often gravitate towards those who resemble them, and may consciously or unconsciously avoid individuals who stand out, even in a positive light. This is one of the reasons why people often feel they need to escape from small communities. If you are an intellectual in an uneducated environment, if you are a self-respecting woman in a patriarchal community, or even if you just have different interests than the majority, you may experience that the vast majority of people will turn to those who are more similar to them, because they feel more relaxed with them and have to invest less energy into those relationships.
That doesn’t mean you should try to be something you’re not in order to be accepted. It is better to invest more effort to find a more compatible company. Sometimes even moving house is the solution.

Overwork. If your obligations do not leave you enough time and energy to socialize, it is often not easy to find a quick solution. But try to at least maintain contact with close people through regular short interactions.

Technology. A good example of a double-edged sword. You can use it compulsively to avoid feelings and challenges, or consciously to keep in touch with people who are otherwise more difficult to reach, and to find new people to connect with.

I hope that this article will help you to better understand and change your situation. For further reading, I recommend the following articles:

How To Overcome Social Rejection And Awkwardness

Fear of Being Alone

Fear of Intimacy

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

Kosjenka Muk

I’m an Integrative Systemic Coaching trainer and special education teacher. I taught workshops and gave lectures in 10 countries, and helped hundreds of people in 20+ countries on 5 continents (on- and offline) find solutions for their emotional patterns. I wrote the book “Emotional Maturity In Everyday Life” and a related series of workbooks.

Some people ask me if I do bodywork such as massage too – sadly, the only type of massage I can do is rubbing salt into wounds.  😉

Just kidding. I’m actually very gentle. Most of the time.

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