Being lonely doesn't just mean you're alone all the time. If you're feeling lonely, it often also means you've built some habits into your daily life that might be making you feel closed off from the world. The causes of loneliness vary, but mental health professionals agree that feelings of isolation can often be broken down into a variety of thought patterns and behaviors.
"Loneliness is a combination of negative thoughts related to our beliefs about ourselves and beliefs about others," Dr. Danielle Forshee, doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle. When you start to feel this way, it can become a viscous cycle. You can feel lonely because of isolation, and then loneliness can make it harder to get back out there.
"Loneliness doesn't happen overnight," Eileen Purdy, master of social work and anxiety therapist, tells Bustle. "If we take a close look, we'll see that we've cultivated some habits in our ways of thinking or acting that contribute to our feeling lonely. The good news is, we can reverse these habits and start reversing our feelings of loneliness too." Counteracting these habits starts with making choices to change your lifestyle, and your thinking patterns, even just a little bit.
"If we make choices to engage, even when we don't want to ... it's possible that we may feel less lonely. This may be something as small as going outside for a walk or calling a friend, or something as major as taking on a new hobby or trying to date or go to meet ups." licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Suzanne Wallach, PsyD, LMFT tells Bustle. So for every habit, there's something you can do to undo it.
Here are nine habits you don't realize might be causing you to feel lonely, according to experts.
1. You Are Not Letting People See The Real You
Everyone changes their personality a little bit depending on the situation, but if you've fallen into a habit of always being someone else, that might be a reason you're feeling lonely. "Often we are so hesitant to let others see the real us — the good, the bad and the ugly — that we end up not really connecting in meaningful ways with others," Purdy says. "One way to help shore up your resilience to loneliness is to take some chances and share more personal information with your friends. Try to open up and share not only some of your ups but your downs too."
It can seem impossible not to feel alone when no one is actually seeing the real you, so let a little bit peek through. It can be a big relief.
2. You Judge Others Often
Isolation happens because of your surroundings, loneliness happens because of your reaction to it. And if you constantly react negatively to the behaviors of others, how are you going to let people in?
"Sometimes we fall into the habit of us versus them and before we know it, we are alone," Purdy says. "Try to find and build on your commonalities with others instead of zeroing in or highlighting your differences." Give yourself a gentle reminder that nobody's perfect, and try to look at others from that point of view. It might change things.
3. You Have Unrealistic Expectations Of Your Social Life
When you picture your ideal social life, it may be better than what you're currently living, but it still has to be realistic. "[Avoid] having a mental picture of being part of a social group that doesn't match what ones' life looks like. Many times people feel lonely even when they have connections or belong to groups because it's not the group or connections they are most wanting," Purdy says.
Really, having a habit of searching for perfection on any front is going to lead you down a bad path. "Social connection with a person does not mean you have to see them as perfection," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "If we are only looking for our 'best friend,' 'a spouse,' or someone who is totally compatible we may find that we continually pull back from interacting with others. Good is good enough." So say yes to plans with the group of friends you're just lukewarm on — it may end up being a really positive experience.
4. You Expect Others To Always Reach Out First
It can be really lonely waiting for a friend to reach out. So sometimes, you just have to text them first. "Sure, it feels great when others make the vulnerable move of reaching out first, but we all need to be regularly reaching out to others and connecting in social ways," Purdy says. "We are social creatures. Although being super busy or super shy doesn't help, it really can't be a reason why we don't put forth effort in the social arena. Make a goal for yourself to reach out and connect with at least one person this week."
It's your job too to put in the work that friendships require. And it will take a bit of sticktoitiveness to make one of those friendships stick. Have patience, it'll be worth the effort.
5. You're Spending Too Much Time On Social Media
It's only natural to be tempted to endlessly scroll through social media. And when you're bored, and lonely, opening and re-opening apps can be a habit that's really hard to kick.
"[Be careful of] using social media as a substitute for human-to-human interaction," Dr. Klapow says. "Social media can give us a 'pseudo' sense of connection and social interaction ... If your week is dominated socially by technology based interactions, then you are not fulfilling your need to connect directly with other humans." So slide out of your friend's DMs, and back into their real life. FaceTime them if they're far away, or schedule time to hang out if they're close. Plus, less time on social media will mean less room for falling into the comparison trap.
6. You're Constantly Comparing Yourself To Others
Even if you aren't judging the people around you, making everything about comparison can be a quick trap for loneliness. And it's really hard to get out of the habit of constantly stacking yourself up to others. "[On social media,] people compare themselves to others, which often leads to low self-esteem and consequently can lead to isolation" Allison Gervais, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist in San Francisco, tells Bustle. And even off social media, it's best if you try to shift away from comparison, too.
"You should be comparing yourself to the person whom you are aiming to be, not someone else," Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. This world view is about much more than spending less time on Instagram; it's about shifting your focus on everyone else back to yourself.
7. You Don't Say "Yes" To Plans
It's hard to stop feeling lonely if you're genuinely isolated. And being isolated often comes from saying "no" more often than you say "yes.
"[Ask yourself,] how much time do you spend alone without face-to-face interaction with others? We know that it is critical that as humans we connect with other humans directly multiple times in a given week ... The more we pull away from others and the more time we spend completely alone the more risk we are at for feeling lonely," Dr. Klapow says. So even if you don't like bowling, or aren't crazy about your friend's partner, say yes to the plans you'd otherwise say no to. You can't predict how things will go, but you can predict that you'll feel less lonely than you would sitting on the couch. Plus, the more you accept invites, the more likely you are to be included in future plans.
8. You're Too Set In Your Ways
If you're lonely, but haven't yet seriously changed anything to make yourself less lonely, then it might be time to check in on your habits.
"When people are rigid and inflexible, they tend to find themselves feeling lonely because there is a stringent set of rules that they ascribed to for their daily living and deviating from these rules are distressing and uncomfortable," Dr. Forshee says. "Additionally, being rigid and inflexible creates an environment that lacks in your ability to make last minute plans and have new experiences. This also makes it difficult for friends and loved ones to feel inclined to want to ask you to hang out." So try shaking things up a little this week. And if you're having serious trouble getting motivated, check in with a professional to see if they can help.
9. You Aren't Cutting Yourself Any Slack
While a lot of these habits might be impacting you negatively, you still don't deserve to be treated harshly or judged for it, especially not by yourself. And judging yourself can become a bad habit.
"A person ought to treat themselves as if they are worthy of proper care, attention, and affection," Backe says. "Constantly cracking the whip of judgement can cause you to feel severely disconnected from yourself, and this makes you uncomfortable in your own skin, which makes you feel so utterly alone. Remember to provide yourself with kind and positive attention alongside the things which you know are ... in need of sorting out." Whether beginning to prioritize self-care looks like a long bath or a trip to a therapist, it's important to engage in an act of love for yourself as often as possible.
10. You're Not Being Honest With Yourself
Dishonesty is a bad habit in general, but dishonesty with yourself can become particularly harmful — especially if you're trying to become less lonely.
"[You may feel lonely if] you are hiding some truths from others, and possibly from yourself," Backe says. "It is imperative that you have someone you tell the truth to, and whom you can be brutally honest with ... And you should be honest with yourself about your strengths as well as your shortcomings." So whether you're only building yourself up, or only tearing yourself down, it's likely that you need a little work to get out of your own head. Once you're there, it'll be easier to connect to the people around you.
In the end, motivating yourself out of loneliness is often about looking at your habits and figuring out whether they're making things easier, or harder for you. "Ask yourself if what you’re doing is helping you feel more emotionally connected to the people around you or leaves you feeling emotionally isolated," licensed professional counselor, Heidi McBain, MA, tells Bustle. And if your habits are particularly harmful and you don't know how to get out of them, ask a professional for help.
The goal should be to be alone sometimes without feeling lonely. "Get comfortable with your thoughts —whether that is through meditation, mindfulness practice or psychotherapy. Learn to be OK when you are alone," Dr. Klapow says. Once you're at that point, any social situation can start to feel easier.