Loneliness is an experience I’ve struggled with a lot in life.
And I still do.
It’s a state and an emotion that many people go through to varying degrees, but when it becomes ongoing, loneliness can do serious damage to your physical and mental health.
Just to be clear:
Loneliness is not about whether or not you’re literally alone and can occur in almost any situation, including social situations and relationships.
It’s the experience that you are not understood by others and unsure how to really build a meaningful or lasting connection with them.
Over time, disappointments can make many of us build up walls. These serve a purpose in protecting us from disappointment, but they can also stop us from noticing social and romantic opportunities that come up.
Here are the top indicators that your emotional guardedness is actually backfiring…
1) You turn down most invites
When you have high emotional walls, invitations scare you.
Instead of being exciting or intriguing, an invite is just another chance to be let down or waste your time.
At least that’s how it feels.
So you come up with an excuse or turn it down. You say you’re busy, or you decide that you probably have a headache. The unfortunate part is that this leads to missing out on some really great times and connections.
2) You feel like you’re another species
When you become very lonely you can start feeling like you’re actually another species.
You feel like an alien in a world of humans, or a giant iguana surrounded by jellyfish.
No, you’re not crazy, you’re just lonely.
It even may seem like you’re talking to people through a glass wall or like there’s no point in even talking. They won’t get you. They don’t need you.
They probably wouldn’t like you if they got to know you anyway.
This kind of self-defeating feedback loop can keep people imprisoned for years and be very hard to get out of…
3) You rarely call or text friends or family anymore
When you become very lonely, something counterintuitive happens:
You stop wanting to reach out as much and lose interest in most socializing.
You desperately crave that real feeling of fellowship and connection, but you no longer feel real hope you’ll find it, at least not in an ongoing sense.
So you rarely text friends anymore and let casual friendships fade. You lose interest in dating because it seems to go nowhere. If you’re in a relationship you take the passive role, indifferent to whether or not it lasts.
Even talking to family starts to take a backseat.
You’re just plain sick and tired of being disappointed and bored.
4) You feel suspicious and unsure when somebody is friendly to you
When new friends do present themselves, your first reaction tends to be suspicion.
Why are they being so nice?
Are they actually interested in getting closer to you or do they have some angle?
It’s not only that, it’s also that you feel sure they’ll end up being disappointing, frustrating or codependent people in some way that becomes a massive burden with no upside.
Your high walls are coloring everybody with the same cynical brush and it’s very hard to avoid jumping to conclusions that reject new friendships.
5) You find it hard to stand disagreements or feeling misunderstood
When you’ve built up high emotional walls, disagreement and arguments can seem intolerable.
You feel personally attacked every time somebody disagrees with you, even when they’re respectful.
You’d rather just avoid them completely and not have to deal with dissenters. The problem is that there is a lot of opportunity in disagreement and also a lot of growth in being able to hear something you find upsetting without immediately reacting.
When you wall yourself off it can deprive you of some of these maturing experiences.
6) You spend more time in virtual worlds than the real one
When you’re more interested to boot up the latest video game than you are to go out and play sports with friends or talk to your girlfriend, there’s a problem.
Once or twice is fine, of course.
But when this becomes a habit it’s a way of self-isolating and hiding from the world.
Virtual worlds don’t demand anything of us: we can turn them off or on at will. The real world is less accommodating and can hurt and annoy us in many ways.
Virtual worlds are safer and can be entertaining and fun for sure, but the downside is they’re still … not real.
7) You usually become uncomfortable if someone is romantically or sexually interested in you
When somebody shows interest, you don’t feel flattered.
Instead, your high emotional walls tend to make you feel threatened.
“What does this person want?” you ask yourself.
You feel sure that they wouldn’t really like you if they got to know you anyway, or vice versa. You feel it’s all a waste of time.
You’re judging a connection as not worth pursuing before you even try, because you’ve become deeply jaded and guarded against intimacy.
8) You get more turned on by porn than real life eroticism
When it comes to eroticism and your sexuality, you find that real life encounters and relationships no longer mean that much to you.
You’d rather browse a porn site or sext with someone than actually meet them.
You crave real touch and intimacy, but part of you is also scared by it.
If you feel it’s not a deep connection then you’re going to have to face the disappointment yet again. But if you spend time with somebody where it is a real connection you’re worried because it means taking a risk and maybe opening up.
9) You feel like you’re somehow held back from being the person you truly are
Deep inside yourself it feels like there’s a social, connected person who’s trying to get out.
But you don’t know how to do that, and it seems like you’re being stifled or almost slowly choked.
You want new friends, new relationships, growth and experiences, but something is holding you back.
You feel capable of it, but when opportunity presents itself you say: “no not this time, I’ll wait for a better place or people who are more my type.”
The problem is sometimes those ideal conditions never come.
10) You’re tired of most people but you still feel like there’s a big social and romantic vacuum at the center of your life
The paradox of feeling lonely is that it makes you start feeling even more averse to people.
When you have high emotional walls up it’s rarely random. It’s because you’ve been hurt or let down before, and you have reasons for it.
The problem is that it doesn’t cure the pain of the past and just allows the hurt emotions and disappointment to linger and fester.
You feel more and more remote from those around you and not wanting them, while simultaneously feeling more and more lonely.
11) You are quick to cut people out of your life when they make you feel upset or frustrated
When you have high walls up, people don’t have to do much to get on your bad side.
You’re already prickly, and a few wrong steps are enough to make you cut somebody out of your life.
The unfortunate thing about this is that sometimes you’re cutting off the good with the bad, and not giving somebody a chance to redeem themselves or change.
When you judge too quickly or impulsively, you end up leaving yourself feeling even more alone.
Loneliness is not something you snap your fingers and “cure” or get over.
It can run very deep, and in some cases it can be the foundation of an individuation and self-actualisation process. In other words, sometimes these hard times are slowly chiseling you into the resilient and empathetic person life needs you to be.
But when loneliness becomes too much and it feels like you’re not connecting or getting any chance, there are two main things I recommend doing:
- Seek out opportunities where you will be around other people and interact with them, whether they be jobs, volunteer opportunities, spiritual or religious groups or sports and hobbies. You won’t necessarily stop being lonely at the deeper level, but you’ll feel a bit less isolated.
- Realize that you are not the only one experiencing this aching sense of loneliness and a difficulty connecting. I have friends in different walks of life who all struggle with this at times, and sometimes very painfully. As alone as you feel, know that you’re not alone.