Is loneliness another type of hunger?

It may be fair to say that hunger and thirst can provide useful prompts, as long as you belong to the remarkably privileged proportion of humanity for whom food and water isn’t a daily concern.

If you feel hungry, it’s generally a prompt to eat.

And when you feel thirsty, it’s probably already past time for a glass of water.

We take these physiological signs so much for granted that we don’t really think about them. And of course although it’s another story, such unconscious reactions sometimes mean we absent-mindedly reach for less-healthy food and drink.

What I’d like to talk about right now, though, is another human response altogether.

I’m thinking about loneliness.

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When I feel good, I really don’t mind my own company. In fact I positively enjoy it.

But when I feel less chirpy, when the black dog won’t leave me alone, well these are the times that loneliness can kick in, leaving me feeling lost, alone and ignored.

Maybe you know the sensation?

When you’re hungry or thirsty, you know what to do.

It’s easy, isn’t it? Feed yourself. Drink.

But when you’re lonely, well it’s not always so obvious.

You’re lonely because you’re not interacting and socialising with others, and you’re not interacting and socialising with others because you’re lonely.

Nasty. No wonder they call it a vicious circle.

The trick, however, may be to deal with your lack of interest in being with others in the same way you’d gently persuade someone to eat after they’d lost their appetite.

I think you’d offer them small, tasty appetisers.

So when your mood is keeping you in your cave, remember the importance of feeding your soul: establish tiny connections with others.

A text message. An email. A phone call. A brief face-to-face exchange with a neighbour, or passerby.

Think of loneliness as a different kind of thirst, and solve it by sipping.

11 thoughts on “Is loneliness another type of hunger?

  1. Thank you for this reflection today Jon. I think you are right to make this comparison between the ‘essentials’ of food and water and the essential of connection. My partner has Asperger Syndrome, only diagnosed a year ago and I have recently come to understand that his and my need for connection is very different – connection hurts him, not connecting hurts me. I need it like food and water. I have tried to live without it, but I have suffered for that because he can. I read this article today too – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html – which seems to make a similar case for the necessity of connection. I am learning to find those connections again in the little ways you describe and I feel like I am coming back to life!

  2. Have just read the article N has recommended and it’s really interesting. I’m not an alcoholic, and am ‘off’ alcohol at the moment for dietary reasons, but I do like a drink socially every now and again.
    But now I can also see how it was becoming an addiction due to feelings of loneliness and my ‘faithful’ Black Dog: although I live in a family that I love and know they love me, I often feel we pull apart from each other and that’s when I feel lonely. …then, as I have now recognised, that’s when I want a drink too. Now that I can see it for what it is, I hope I can recognise when I want that drink for loneliness’ sake and not just a pleasant glass of wine…sorry if I’m rambling and not making sense!

  3. I’d like to put forward a different perspective on this. I tend to go into my cave because I desperately need to re-establish my connection with myself, to escape from the entanglements of other people’s emotional pain and need. Thus, I don’t feel lonely in my cave, but rather safe, protected, even loved, by the animals (real and imaginary) who surround me there. Then, when I feel ready, I can come back out and start to reconnect with other people.

  4. As always Moodnudges hits the mark with a great metaphorical picture and a simple achievable way forward (nearly put “solution” there, there is no solution, there is usually a way forward?)
    There is always the other view mentioned above – to sit with the feeling and observe time passing … any and all ways are forward….

  5. Hi Jon,

    I like your thoughts and as you say your body gives you prompts when you are lacking in food or water. I have learnt overtime that I also have prompts when I begin to feel down, like just feeling sad and I also begin to reduce my talking with others and start to feel disinterested in things around me.

    When that happens, I focus on something positive, force myself to participate in life and usually, I can pull myself back ‘from the brink’.

    Maybe I’m lucky that I can now recognize the signs, but that said it’s taken me a long, long time to recognize them.
    But as you often mention it’s about taking care of yourself, look for what you need to keep going.

    As you suggest that plan does seem to work for me.

    Great topic of conversation as usual!

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