On the loneliness epidemic and the importance of self-acceptance.

by Destiny Femi

It’s true that loneliness can be a product of isolation, but you’ll also agree with me that the kind of loneliness we feel today isn’t because we are isolated. It comes more from a mental separation caused by our need to present different versions of ourselves to the world.

Though we mean well for ourselves when we try to hold up an image of perfection, we quickly become exhausted. We begin to feel that no one sees us for who we really are.

The constant switch between personalities, one for Facebook friends, one for our family, another for our religious friends, makes us conflicted.

We feel lost in all the acting. It’s no wonder why the most diverse study on loneliness (which ran across 237 countries) shows that younger people reported more loneliness than any other age group; we are exposed to more platforms, making our personalities more fragmented.

The Conflicted Self

There’s a form of desperation that results from our high need to be accepted by others. No one wants to be judged. No one wants a harsh comment about their looks, the spots on their face, or the shape of their buttocks.

Hence, we do whatever we can to cover up the things we are not proud of about ourselves and highlight only the parts we think is good enough to be accepted and applauded.

As a result, we may be connected to a large number of people, but because they don’t really know us for who we are, we feel lonely. We get anxious because we don’t know just when we will be discovered.

We feel like a fraud, maintaining the role we think is the most desirable. We might laugh at jokes that aren’t funny just to give the impression that we are very much in tune with the vibe of the group.

Of course, we can’t be totally honest all the time. No one can. Sometimes I still laugh at a friend’s joke, funny or not. But the problem arises when we get so used to suppressing ourselves over and over because we are ashamed or afraid that our true nature is undesirable.

Each encounter becomes like an audition; our likes and dislikes have to be adjusted depending on who we are with. This makes us feel like we don’t even know who we are. We feel that no one gets us because we haven’t really revealed ourselves to anyone.

An Unwillingness to Be Vulnerable

I’ve never come across anyone who answered “I’m not fine” to the question “How are you?” But the sad truth, however, if we could look underneath that very cheerful reply, is that so many of us are far from fine.

In fact, for some of us, our answer may actually be more like “I’m not fine. I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so anxious about going broke that I’ll have to sell my kidney to feed my stomach.” “I’m afraid all my hair would have fallen out by the time I’m 40.” “I think my waist isn’t thin enough.” Or, “I’m afraid I’ll never have facial hair on my cheeks!” (Mine.)

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean we should quickly lunch into our problems with the first person that greets us in the morning. Rather, my point (what really causes loneliness) is that we’ve become ashamed of our struggles. We feel they make us weak.

In interactions, we quickly launch into everything that went well during the week. Our social media pages are filled with great vacations and perfectly cooked breakfasts, just the type that will make our enemies have headaches even as they cringe while they struggle to tap the “like’’ bottom. But where is this highlighting of perfection leading us?

Our constant need to portray perfection makes each of us feel alone in our struggles. This is why we have celebrities who appear to have perfect lives in the “highlight reels” complain of depression and some even suddenly commit suicide.

They feel detached. They feel like no one sees them. They are, as Ed Sheeran put it in his song Beautiful People, “Surrounded but still alone.” Because what they present isn’t reality; it’s a self-caricature, a much happier and more photogenic version of real life.

The Dread of Isolation

When we become desperate for a company, we want to do anything to ward off boredom and avoid time alone. We are more likely to make decisions that will only make us even lonelier in the long run.

Here’s the ironic thing about loneliness: to stop feeling lonely, we need a measure of self-awareness. We need to know what we want. We need to know the kind of people we are willing to accept into our circle. It’s not a realization that’s easy to attain when we are too desperate to be around someone.

If you’ve had any friend (or have been the one) who quickly jumps into relationships with people because they are afraid of being lonely, you’ll know that such a relationship only makes a person even lonelier.

It’s not hard to predict that these sorts of people will end up alone again in no time. Their incessant need for a company makes them repel the very attention they crave.

Therefore, becoming less lonely requires us to take the very poison we are trying to avoid. When we learn to be alone, we can, through self-examination, know what we want. And we can, through self-control, choose what we want while we let everything else pass.

We can be patient enough to choose the right relationships for ourselves, no matter how few our company may be. We can focus on more quality relationships rather than quantity.

The Importance of Self-Acceptance

A true connection with someone occurs when we show our whole self. This is why we love writers who tell us stories about how every girl or guy in grade school refused to date them because of their looks. Or how they lost all their money on a business deal that went bad. This is how we connect the most.

There’s no feeling better than knowing that we are not alone in whatever crazy obstacle that life throws at us; it reduces anxiety, shame, and binds us on a deep level.

But why are we so afraid of being vulnerable? We haven’t accepted our own vulnerability. The thought isn’t very pleasant. I see this in the comment section of some of the best articles I read.

Just reading about someone else’s struggles makes some people uncomfortable. They lash out on the author with their comments because they see our deficiencies as a shameful, dark side that must be repressed by any means possible.

It is this lack of self-acceptance that also makes us conflicted. It’s why we want to hide parts of ourselves on social media. It makes us feel ashamed to discuss our imperfections.

But without self-acceptance, it’s hard to ward off the feeling of loneliness even when we seem accepted by many people.

“Sometimes lonely people have difficulty because they view themselves as inadequate or unworthy. Shame about who you are will block making connections with others,” wrote Karyn Hall Ph.D. in her article on loneliness published in Psychology Today.

If you really accept yourself, warts and all, you won’t be conflicted, you won’t be afraid to be vulnerable, and you won’t dread isolation either. You will be in harmony. This is how people are able to be alone and yet, not lonely. Self-acceptance makes you enjoy your own company; you become less vulnerable to the feeling of loneliness.

Originally published by Destiny Femi for Mind Cafe on Medium.com.

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