Are you in a constant battle against feeling so lonely, even though you may have plenty of people physically in your life?
Do you feel frustrated that you can’t seem to find people who get you?
If so, you are definitely not alone.
Despite more opportunities for connection than ever before, more and more people struggle to harmonize with others emotionally, and satisfaction can seem mind-bogglingly elusive.
We’re told that we feel so lonely because we’re addicted to our phones. That we work too much. That consumer culture robs our souls.
But those aren’t the core reasons that we feel so lonely, and changing those things won’t automatically make us feel fulfilled.
Fortunately, the real reason many of us can’t seem to shake feeling so lonely is actually simpler to address than abolishing technology or figuring out how to live off of a 20-hour a week job.
Let me show you a great strategy to begin learning how to banish feeling so lonely with nothing more than your desire and your computer.
What is the Opposite of Feeling So Lonely?
Before getting into the main reason we struggle, let’s first define the opposite of feeling so lonely: emotional connection.
An emotional connection is what two people share when they are knowingly feeling and perceiving the same thing at the same time.
During an emotional connection, a person can sense and feel what her connection partner is perceiving and feeling, and she discovers that it is a match to her own experience.
Consequently, she feels seen and understood and connected.
- Two brand new parents cuddling with their new baby
- Two team members celebrating a win (or licking their wounds after a loss)
- Two students cramming for an exam together furiously
- Two colleagues scoffing together about their evil boss
- Two hikers staring at a gorgeous valley view together from the top of a mountain
You get the idea. (Of course, more than two people can also share in an emotional connection).
And because of who we are, whether it makes sense in our modern world or not, we need to experience emotional connections in order to ward off feeling so loney.
Now that we have our eye on the prize, let’s look into the different ways emotional connections are possible. Then, we can explore what tends to holds us back and what we can do about it.
The Overlooked Path to Emotional Connection
After reading the above scenarios, did you think to yourself:
“If only I could find people who see and experience things the way I do…”
In other words, did you assume that finding an emotional connection depends on finding someone who shares your feelings and experiences?
That’s the trap that many of us fall into, especially when we’re feeling lonely: We search for someone to meet us where we are, emotionally and intellectually. We ache for that comfort and that validation.
But the truth is, there is another way to go about having an emotional connection:
We can follow someone else to where they are emotionally, even if we have to stretch ourselves in the process.
No matter the path we take, the result for us is exactly the same: sharing feelings and experience with another person; sharing an emotional connection.
Let’s call the standard path to emotional connection the Coincidental Path, since it only happens when we happen to find people just like us.
And let’s call the overlooked path the Generous Path to emotional connection, since it depends on our generously twisting ourselves into the mental and emotional worlds of others.
If we open ourselves up to taking either path, we’ll have double the opportunity to feel connected and stop feeling so lonely.
The Reason Feeling Lonely Is So Hard to Beat
That said, most of us already intuitively know that it’s possible to feel great by mirroring the emotions and perspectives of other people, by taking the Generous Path to emotional connection.
The thing is, when we feel so lonely, we often feel downright resentful about the prospect of contorting ourselves yet again to accommodate the world. “Why isn’t the world ever accommodating me?,” we wonder.
Famous loneliness researcher John Cacioppo reveals in his book “Loneliness” that when we feel chronically lonely, we mimic depression sufferers in that we become hyper-self focused and take on a feeling of defeat.
The thought of putting our own feelings on the back burner so that we might empathize with someone else can feel utterly overwhelming, even impossible.
Ex FB hostage negotiator (and subsequently a social-alienation expert in his own right) Mark Goulston – calls this phenomenon a “mirroring deficit” in his book “Just Listen.”
In other words, when we feel like we’ve been mirrored – that other people have validated our feelings and experiences – we feel naturally generous. We have emotional resources to listen intently to others, to try on their feelings and points of view and build an emotional connection.
But when we feel chronically alone and misunderstood – when we feel so lonely – we feel like we can’t give one more drop to others until the world has given us our mirroring fill.
That’s how the mirroring deficit tends to operate.
And this is why it can be so difficult to break free of feeling so lonely; we feel the least able to pursue the Generous Path to emotional connection at the time when we need an emotional connection the most.
But that’s exactly what we have to do if we want to have some more control over when we start feeling connected again.
Two Important Reasons the Internet’s Not Really a Connection Killer
So by now you may realize that I’m going to show you how to find someone and empathize with that person deeply in order to start fighting feeling so lonely.
By doing this, you will find parts of yourself that mirror another person’s feelings and experience, and you’ll know there is one other person in this world with whom you can share an emotional connection.
But you might gasp when I tell you that you should use the internet to do it; you may have even come to believe that the internet has been ruining your emotional life.
And in some sense, that might be true; being distracted by the internet may be preventing you from nurturing key relationships. Or maybe you tend to use the internet masochistically, gawking at people seemingly better off than yourself. I’ll be addressing these pitfalls in future posts.
But if you are feeling emotionally lonely, you can actually also use the internet to your immediate advantage in a way that isn’t possible otherwise. There are two reasons for this:
- Despite it’s frequent misuse (e.g. nasty trolling and the like), the internet makes it possible for you to come into meaningful contact with millions of other human beings. That’s a lot of emotional connection potential.
- The internet also allows for anonymity, which is very important because it means that people are more likely to meaningfully open up on a first encounter. This is in stark contrast to the experience you’d have if you went to a book club, for example, where people might be guarded for the first several meetings.
I am not suggesting that real-world experiences are not worth having. They are worth having, and they are very important to spend time developing.
But the web, if used wisely, can be a tremendous resource with which to create emotional connections anytime at all, helping you swiftly pay down your mirroring deficit.
Three Steps to Beat Feeling Lonely with the Generous Path to Emotional Connection
And so, it is actually possible to feel instant relief from feeling so lonely by using the internet to forge emotional connections. It is also a fantastic way to practice the Generous Path anonymously and with very little time and risk.
Here is an abbreviated version of the three simple steps that will help you ease into the Generous Path:
- Find an internet forum built around a topic that you find interesting.
- Find a posting about a problem that emotionally resonates with you.
- Create an emotional connection by empathizing deeply with the poster’s problem.
Why Message Boards and Forums Sometimes Lack Emotional Connections
I am going to show you exactly how to do each of these things in a moment.
But first, I want you to think about how message board/internet forum discussions typically play out.
Have you noticed that most forum replies tend to take the form of solutions?
You may have even offered solutions on forums in the past yourself.
Here is an example of well-meaning advice devoid of empathy and emotional connection:
Effective solutions like these can obviously be very helpful to posters.
However, they also tend to exclude a very important ingredient: deep empathy. Unfortunately, this means both the poster and the responder miss out on a nourishing emotional connection, hidden just out of reach.
The funny thing is, many well-intentioned responders actually feel buckets full of empathy. They simply, for various reasons, fail to reveal it plainly to the poster.
- Maybe it’s shyness
- Maybe it’s the fear of coming off as too emotional
- Maybe it’s because of the faulty belief that indulging emotions can undermine productive action
Whatever the case, there are thousands (if not millions) of people posting on the internet right now who would greatly benefit from your meeting them in their experience, letting them know that you can see exactly what they are feeling and experiencing; following them to an emotional connection by way of the Generous Path.
Step One Unpacked: How to Find the Right Forum
The first step is to find a topic and forum community that feels like a good fit.
It is possible to cultivate an emotional connection around any topic at all, from Technology to Trying-To-Conceive. Simply follow your heart and your curiosity.
As far as resources to locate various options, I have two main suggestions:
- The ever-popular Reddit is full of mini-communities (sub-reddits) centered around every topic imaginable. If exploring reddit is something you’d like to do but you don’t know where to start, just drop me a line in the comments and I’ll be happy to help you get started.
- If Reddit is not your style, FindaForum is a great resource to discover countless user-friendly, independently hosted message boards and forums across the internet (again on every topic under the sun).
Once you have a couple of candidate forums, spend some time reading posts. Do you relate to the users and how they express themselves?
Step Two Unpacked: How to Find the Right Posting
Step Two is to find a fresh posting that speaks to you emotionally.
Fresh is important because you’ll want to maximize the chances that the poster responds to your reply, thereby creating the possibility for a back-and-forth conversation. Look for a post that is under 2 hours old.
How will you know when you’ve found the right posting?
You’ll want to look for that feeling of “oh man, I really know how that person must feel.”
This is because the more you can relate to the posting, the easier it will be convey your empathy, especially if you are currently feeling so lonely (and therefore have reduced resources to focus on others’ points of view).
However, the posted problem does not have to exactly match your life. The important thing is that you are able to emotionally put yourself in the shoes of the poster.
Step Three Unpacked: How to Empathize with the Poster
Step three is the most critical (and the trickiest) step, but mastering it will unleash the power of the Generous Path to emotional connections.
The essence of your reply should follow this formula:
(1) “I’m so sorry that you’re going through that!
(2) “It sounds like you feel…(your empathic guess as to their feelings).”
(3) “Tell me more about what that must be like for you.”
You don’t have to follow the script exactly, but the gist should match the formula.
Did you notice the absence of solutions in the formula?
That’s because I want you to experience the pure power of empathizing to stop feeling so lonely in it’s tracks. I want you to see and feel the impact of simply meeting someone generously in their experience.
Even if you feel like you have the BEST advice for your target poster, for the purposes of this exercise, I want you to suspend giving the advice for now.
Just focus on the emotional connection.
Let’s take a look at an example keeping with our hoarding grandma post from above:
This is a great example of an empathic reply, inviting the poster into an emotional connection centered around her experience. When you invite someone into an emotional connection, even if it is centered around them, you cannot feel so lonely in that moment.
Did you notice how the responder did not launch into a personal story of her own, no matter how relevant it may have been?
Did you also notice that she simply validated the poster’s feelings without trying to figure out who is “right” (the poster or her mom)?
Let’s look at another example.
By practicing empathic replies on message boards using this formula, you will experience a strange sense of being emotionally uplifted (even before the poster replies, if at all). You will no longer feel so lonely.
What you will be experiencing are your own emotions reaching up to match the poster’s. Just by your simple act of deeply empathizing, you’ll have created an emotional connection using the Generous Path.
In the above example, several other people replied to the original poster (including me, which you see above). Every single one offered advice without empathy, or related a story from their own lives – this is how most of us interact out of habit!
The poster, a woman in obvious distress, actually replied only to my empathic response – we can imagine she didn’t have the strength to imagine another person’s story of marital unhappiness at this difficult time.
I share this not to show off but to demonstrate the incredible power of using the empathy formula. Imagine how much better we would all feel if more people were in the habit of extending empathy?
(By the way, I learned this formula during my time volunteering at a crisis-prevention hotline, where I experienced first hand how beautiful and healing emotional connections can form from simple and authentic empathy).
Ending Feeling So Lonely Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
The real reason we struggle with feeling so lonely is because feeling so lonely traps us in a low-energy, self-centered fog. We feel much too cranky to imagine taking the Generous Path to emotional connections.
But by practicing these three very simple steps, it is my hope that you can begin to experience first hand the rejuvenating impact of generously creating emotional connections without a huge upfront commitment or risk.
Once you see how easy it can be to feel great through deep empathy, you might even become addicted to it!
If you’d like to learn more details about empathic listening and how it can prevent you from ever feeling so lonely again, I’ve created a special free guide just for that purpose. You can download it for free HERE: