Introverts don’t have to be lonely. We just have to be very deliberate about who we spend our time with.
After nearly three months in lockdown due to a global pandemic, my ideas about loneliness have changed, to say the least. Needing alone time is such a huge aspect of the lives of introverts like me. Our need to constantly recharge can make many of us susceptible to loneliness, and it can take more persistence and creativity to connect with the people we love. Our specific needs for connection can seem excessive, and may result in feeling disconnected from those around us.
However, just to be clear, loneliness and being alone are two different things. Here’s what they mean:
Loneliness — depressed or sad because of the lack of friends or companionship
Being alone — separate, apart, or isolated from others
In other words, loneliness is a sad, painful state, but healthy solitude recharges an introvert. Nevertheless, introverts can still get lonely, even though they enjoy spending time alone.
‘Simply Being Around People Made It Worse’
Recently, I spoke to a friend, who is also an introvert. We talked about loneliness, and she had this to say:
“I was convinced for a long time that I would always be lonely. I’m not just talking about romantically; I’m talking about having no deep connections with people. I thought it was just the norm. Going out or calling a friend when I felt down stopped making sense to me. As an introvert, it has been difficult to connect with people my whole life, so I figured I would just end up lonely. Simply being around people never made me feel less lonely, in fact, it made it worse at times.”
I fully understood everything she was saying. Many introverts have felt such disconnection due to the way society views us, but it took me forever to realize that this was a state of mind, not a permanent state of being. It was a relief to discover this idea because I thought it was the other way around. Furthermore, I realized that feelings of loneliness can be steeped in a lot of shame.
So how can introverts deal with loneliness, if they experience it? Here’s what I’ve learned.
Not Forever Lonely
Introverts don’t have to be lonely, we just have to be very deliberate about who we spend our time with. It’s important that we stand up for ourselves when it comes to setting boundaries in social situations. It’s important for us to recharge, and we also have to stop feeling guilty for that. Being extroverted is the “norm,” so we may put all this unnecessary pressure on ourselves to be something we’re not.
Many of us have never been able to establish these standards for ourselves for various reasons. We make the assumption that we’re just weird or “off,” and prescribe ourselves to forever being lonely. Again, letting go of these ideas means letting go of shame.
As my friend and I were able to reflect, we came up with a few ideas to help all introverts find solutions to this dilemma. We are not health professionals, but this is what has worked for us:
1. Let go of shame.
For the third time, I repeat, LET GO OF SHAME. This is the most important step. Do not feel ashamed of who you are or what your needs are as an introvert. Otherwise the next few steps won’t matter.
2. Find unique ways to communicate with the people you care about.
Even introverts need some level of meaningful social interaction to be happy, so find what works for you. Personally, I write letters to people from time to time. I’m not a fan of talking on the phone, but I still want to keep in contact with the people I care about, so I write a letter by hand or communicate via email.
As an introvert, being in group settings is not my strong suit, and I prefer to communicate one on one. Really, it can be anything, but considering handwritten letters are a thing of the past, I find it to be a unique and special way to connect with the people I love.
3. Make a change.
If loneliness starts to feel devastating, it’s time to make a change. It’s one thing to need alone time for the sake of your introversion, but it’s another thing to feel depressed because you are lonely. When that happens, switch it up. You don’t deserve to feel lonely, and that is not your fate.
You should always seek a mental health professional if these feelings become unmanageable. If such help is not immediately available to you, here are a few more options:
- Be active on social media. You can do this immediately. The introvert community, such as the Introvert, Dear Facebook group, is a great space. The community is growing every day, and they are always discussing the challenges and triumphs of introverts, including loneliness and their respective experiences. Just be careful not to overdo it when it comes to social media, and look for positive spaces, because as we all know, social media is a divisive place right now. There’s also some evidence that excessive social media use increases depression.
- Help others by volunteering. By volunteering, you are taking attention off yourself and your negative feelings. You can volunteer virtually right now from your home. Helping others with their struggles or mentoring can give you a sense of purpose and companionship that can counter loneliness. Here is a great resource from Operation Warm that directs you to all the ways you can volunteer from home. These options include virtual tutoring, helping veterans with career prep, and reaching out to the elderly, just to name a few. Check it out! I repeat, you do not have to feel lonely.
- Reach out to a friend in a small way. You don’t have to set up a big outing or even a Zoom call — if you’re an introvert, that may require more social energy than you feel like mustering! When you’re lonely, sending a few simple texts to a good friend can help you feel less alone, and it doesn’t take a lot of energy to do so.
4. Be clear about what you want from your friends.
This may be one of the toughest steps because it requires clear communication. The clearer you are with people about your needs, the more successful your relationships will be. As an introvert, your alone time is necessary, so setting those boundaries is non-negotiable. My friend expressed that this has always been a challenge for her, especially now in quarantine, but she offered these suggestions:
- If you are currently living in quarantine with people who are extroverts, negotiate a period of the day when you are not to be bothered, or left alone without interruption. You can also wake up early or stay up late when everyone else is sleeping so you have alone time at some point throughout the day. When you get alone time, you’ll have more energy to interact with friends on a regular basis, which can combat loneliness.
- As everything reopens, your friends will want to go out. If you end up in social situations with friends, tell them when you want to leave, how much time you want to spend out, and make no apologies about leaving. You know your limits, and those need to be made clear.
This is not explaining yourself to people, it’s finding a way to be as clear as possible with those you care about. This can alleviate stress and help those you love understand your needs and actions. The more understanding, the less you will feel lonely — and better able to sustain the relationships you need to thrive.
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5. Give yourself grace.
Finding the balance between needing alone time and loneliness can be a struggle for introverts, but it’s important to give yourself grace when things don’t turn out the way you intended — especially if you are just discovering your introversion. Finding this balance may be new, along with setting the necessary boundaries. You may fail at maintaining the balance and friends and family may not react the way you hope, but give yourself grace and try again.
6. Never be afraid to go out alone.
During times of loneliness, going out and enjoying yourself is important. Being out of the house can do wonders, as it can boost your mood and energy. Go to a park or for a walk around your neighborhood to stay active. When the pandemic passes, see movies in theaters on your own or dine out — there’s no shame in being alone in public. Not cutting yourself short of experiences and things you want to do, as well as gaining new experiences can create a sense of belonging and confidence. I would rather go out alone and create a memory by myself than miss out on the things I want to do.
This can all be quite scary and feel unnatural, but even for introverts, it’s important to feel connected. It is worth it. Give yourself grace because everything may not fall into place overnight, and it takes time to build relationships that are strong and last a long time.
And if you’d like to add more people to your inner circle, here are some tips to make more high-quality friendships.
The most important thing to understand is that you do not deserve to be lonely.