When we are alone, we are often at ease. In our solitude, we are free to be our authentic selves, away from the constraints of society. When we are comfortable in our alone-ness, we can reflect on our lives and experience growth. If we are content while alone, we can more easily encounter the truths behind our actions, our spirits, and our selves.
Loneliness is something very different. When we are lonely, we are not reflecting on our lives with growth and mindfulness. We are not at ease with ourselves, and we are not free. Instead of encountering truths and experiencing growth, loneliness, gives way "to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd" (Thomans Mann, Death in Venice and Other Tales). Loneliness, when allowed to take hold and fester, can cause anxiety and depression, as well as an array of physical ailments leading to poor health and a shorter life expectancy.
Loneliness does not imply alone-ness. Instead, we may be lonely even when we are surrounded by people. Loneliness is an emotion that can be experienced suddenly, or over time. The abrupt loss of a loved one, a job, or a marriage can initiate sudden feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Gradual loneliness is caused by our tendency to self-isolate because our expectations of others may be too high, or we might not be able to withstand the social stress of communicating with others. When we do initiate contact or have the occasion to, we end up scrutinizing others' behaviors towards us, thinking that their interactions are fake, or forced. This produces anger and fear, causing us withdraw into our loneliness even more. In this way, loneliness changes our perception: we begin to see the world as a negative place. It is very difficult to climb out of the pit of despair, where we are emotionally raw and feel that we do not deserve the contact of others.
According to Thomas Wolfe in his essay entitled "God's Lonely Man," loneliness is a "central and inevitable fact of human existence." When experienced, this emotion can be devastating, however, loneliness should be explored and understood before it is banished, because it can inform us of behavior patterns that we need to change. Loneliness forces us to make decisions about our lives.
We need to be aware of our emotional well-being, and acknowledge when we are feeling lonely. In order to stop our decent into the abyss of loneliness, we have to understand that change needs to occur. We owe it to ourselves to take action when we feel cast aside or unnecessarily isolated, even when we are surrounded by people. We should push ourselves and reach out to those who care for us. We need to reinsert ourselves into the work of friendship, where our social needs will be satisfied, and pangs of loneliness will subside. When we force ourselves out of loneliness by prioritizing our emotional health, the quality of our lives will improve, and we will inevitably thrive.