The funny thing about loneliness is that it’s almost a universal experience. Most of us will feel this way at some point in our lives.
Yet at the same time, loneliness can be a very personal and private experience.
We are often embarrassed or ashamed by feelings of loneliness as if somehow it means there must be something wrong with us.
That’s why many people will try to mask what they are going through and instead suffer in silence.
It may not always be obvious, but some psychological signs show someone may be deeply lonely but hiding it.
So let’s take a look.
1) They disappear and seem disinterested in socializing
Sadly, loneliness creates a knock-on effect that leads to increased withdrawal.
It may seem very counterintuitive. You might assume lonely people would be more clingy or actively try to be around others more.
But the more deeply lonely someone becomes, the worse their mental health gets and the more they may try to hide.
As highlighted by The Campaign to End Loneliness the negative emotions a lonely person experiences can leave them feeling trapped in a self-created prison.
“They can create a downward spiral where loneliness causes someone to withdraw further from family and friends and so become lonelier. Loneliness can affect how we anticipate and interpret our social experiences. This can mean we are more apprehensive or fearful of social situations or pick up on social rejection cues too readily.”
So you may find that someone increasingly keeps themselves to themselves.
They may have excuses for missing social engagements. And they could be unresponsive when it comes to replying to messages or attempts to make plans.
Even when someone is still physically present they may seem psychologically distant. This is often a defense mechanism against the pain of feeling isolated.
They may seem increasingly distracted or uninterested during conversations, giving short, unelaborative responses.
2) They are always on social media
As we’ve just seen, shame and a fear of rejection may cause deeply lonely people to hide themselves away.
Yet at the same time, another side of them is likely to be still craving connection.
That’s where social media can come into play. They may spend extended periods on social media platforms in an attempt to fill the void of real-world connections.
Social media has an almost voyeuristic quality that allows us to participate but remain on the sidelines if we choose to.
It can provide a lifeline to the outside world that still feels safely removed.
Research has shown that more time spent on social media is associated with higher levels of loneliness. That’s especially true for those who use social media as a means of maintaining relationships.
Although people turn to social more when they are feeling lonely, it doesn’t help.
In fact, studies show that people tend to feel worse after spending time online. It only served to make them feel even lonelier.
The problem is that virtual interactions don’t necessarily translate to meaningful connections.
3) They’re really hard on themselves
According to psychologists, low self-esteem can be an important predictor of loneliness.
Yet again, it’s another connection where one only serves to make the other worse.
Someone who feels very down on themselves may increasingly remove themselves because they feel unworthy. But this only makes them feel even worse about themselves and increasingly lonely.
You may notice that they have a lot of negative self-talk. They may chastise themselves frequently, even if they seemingly do so in jest.
As they struggle with their emotions, emotional outbursts might be more common.
They may seem more irritable or sad. But these emotions could be a manifestation of their underlying loneliness.
4) They seem artificially upbeat
As this article is about hiding loneliness, it’s important to remember that when we’re trying to hide how we feel, we tend to fake it.
That’s why loneliness can go unnoticed for so long. Because it’s easy to plaster on a forced smile and protest that you are “fine”.
This pretense may fool plenty of people, yet this upbeat energy may also come across as inauthentic.
There is an insincerity behind it that masks the real truth, and your gut might sense that someone is not as happy as they pretend to be.
5) They complain about feeling tired
From the outside looking in, we’re not always going to know how well someone is sleeping. But sleep disturbances are common among people struggling with loneliness.
As highlighted by Duke University Medical School, one survey found a “significant link between loneliness and insomnia symptoms, such as difficulty falling and staying asleep, waking up too early in the morning, and nonrestorative sleep.”
So if someone appears constantly worn out it could be more than just fatigue that’s at play.
Perhaps they frequently say they’re “just tired” or “haven’t been sleeping so well”.
This could be a clue that points to changes in sleep patterns that might be a sign of hidden loneliness.
6) They can’t sit still
There is often a certain amount of restlessness that comes along with loneliness.
That’s because being alone with uncomfortable feelings is distressing.
You see there’s a big difference between being on your own and feeling lonely.
Some people genuinely enjoy their solitude, but they feel at peace and can take pleasure in their own company.
Lonely people often feel anxious and uneasy when they’re on their own. So as a response, they may try to constantly fill their time as much as possible.
So don’t be fooled by a jam-packed schedule. It can be a way of distracting themself from unpleasant emotions.
For that reason, overworking can be a sign of hidden loneliness. For example, they may take up additional work or responsibilities.
They may always be doing little tasks, errands, or household chores in an effort to keep their mind occupied and avoid confronting their feelings.
7) They struggle with productivity
It’s also important to recognize that being busy isn’t the same as being productive.
Getting things done efficiently can become more difficult when deep loneliness sets in.
This was highlighted in a 2011 study that found workers who felt loneliness were less effective at task completion, teamwork, and relationship building.
The same research found lonely people seemed far less invested in their work.
This may well be a sign that apathy has set in as a lonely person increasingly struggle to deal with their mounting mental health problems.
8) They stop taking care of themselves
Loneliness is linked to a host of mental health issues, including depression.
As pointed out by Cigna, loneliness starts to take its toll on general well-being.
“Long term feelings of loneliness and social isolation can also reduce cognitive skills, such as the ability to concentrate, make decisions, problem-solve, and even change negative self-beliefs. And it can ultimately lead to depression.”
As deep loneliness takes hold, you might get clues that something serious is going on from how someone presents themselves.
You may see that they begin to neglect simple self-care practices. For example, they might let personal hygiene or dietary needs slide.
This can reflect a lack of motivation or a diminished sense of self-worth.
We can help others and ourselves by better understanding loneliness
Loneliness is a deeply isolating and distressing phenomenon. Yet it’s also very common.
The good news is, that there are things we can do to help others when they are feeling disconnected and help ourselves when we are feeling this way too.
It all starts with familiarizing ourselves with the signs, risk factors, and proven methods of tackling loneliness.
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