top of page

Unpacking Existential Loneliness: A Therapist’s Perspective


existential loneliness

Takeaway: If you’ve experienced existential loneliness, you know firsthand how painful and isolating it can be. Here, I shed more light on exactly what existential loneliness is (and how it differs from similar concepts like existential isolation and other forms of loneliness) and offer some of my favorite strategies.


While it might feel nice to have our alone time, snuggling with our fur critter, a cup of tea, and a mystery read in hand, existential loneliness is not quite so cozy. In our vast universe, it is common to feel small, insignificant, and lost amidst the abyss of human existence. When we experience social and emotional loneliness this can lead to a profound aloneness and a sense of emptiness. As social beings, we require a certain amount of connectivity, and when we are deprived of those experiences we can begin to experience existential loneliness, which can vastly affect our mental health. In this post, we'll explore what existential loneliness is, how it differs from existential isolation and strategies for managing loneliness. If you believe you may be experiencing existential loneliness, we encourage you to reach out today.


existential isolation

What is existential loneliness?

As a human being, it's common to experience emotional loneliness. What exactly is existential loneliness? Well, existential loneliness is an emotional experience of disconnection from self, others, and your larger world context. Despite being surrounded by others in our neighborhood, colleagues at work, and partnered with another, existential loneliness is a significant feeling of emptiness, isolation, and disconnection. There may be additional feelings of sadness, lack of meaning, feeling misunderstood and unseen, and accompanying mental health issues, poor health, and additional negative emotions. If you're wondering whether you may be experiencing existential loneliness, check below for some of the most common signs.


Loneliness and Emptiness

The most common indicator of existential loneliness is the experience of profound loneliness and emptiness. Others have described feeling hollowness, achiness, and emotional disconnection from yourself, others, and your world context. You may also find yourself saying that you just "feel lonely" or experience "chronic loneliness."


Lack of Social Connections

It's time for a quick quiz/ existential loneliness questionnaire: Have you ever been in a room full of people and still felt alone? What about laying in bed with your partner and still feeling that same sense of aloneness? Much of our existential loneliness stems from our interpersonal connections; Largely, your subjective feeling of loneliness may extend to how you may feel when you are around others and in interpersonal relationships. Despite being around others you may still feel disconnected. You may report struggling to make friends, not being understood, not having a social network, social relationships, or quality relationships. Even for those who report having many aquaintances and friends and who report having a strong social support system, you may still experience social loneliness, social isolation, and poor social connection.


Poor Sense of Self

Not knowing who you are, how you'd describe your identity, and the unique qualities of your person, are often key aspects of loneliness as it relates to the self. This can directly influence how you are with others, in social contexts, and when trying to decipher what it means to be authentic and how to present yourself with authenticity. This can further lead to self-alienation, where we feel disconnected from our personhood and may even use hurtful language when engaging in self-talk. Overall, when we don't know ourselves, we may not like ourselves, and when we don't like ourselves we can struggle to engage interpersonally. It's a bit of a cycle because when we have more social interactions, we may further dislike ourselves and question who we are and how we "should be" around others.


Lack of Purpose

For starters, you don't have to "find meaning" to live a life that feels satisfying. There's often this pressure that to be satisfied with your life, it has to be meaningful. However, much of what feels satisfying and by proxy, brings meaning in life, is our intimate connection with ourselves, others, and our world context. Now that doesn't mean we have to go on a quest for our life purpose, but you may notice that you lack connection and purpose when experiencing existential loneliness.


Hopelessness

When we experience loneliness research indicates that we are more likely to feel hopeless. When experiencing hopelessness, you may exhibit pessimism or struggle to see a silver lining. You may feel pervasively stuck with the view that there is no possibility for improvement. You may lose motivation, and your lust for life, and resign to your perceived fate. Just like that circle of social loneliness and low self-esteem we mentioned earlier, when we feel hopeless, we may withdraw from others, furthering our felt sense of existential loneliness and in turn feeling hopeless all over again!


Depressive Symptoms

It should come as no surprise that depression is also a key indicator of existential loneliness, as hopelessness is often interwoven with depression and other depressive symptoms. You may have negative feelings, struggle to attend to your health and well-being, have poor sleep hygiene and varying appetite.


Self-Reflective and Nostalgic

Raise your hand if you get emotional every time you think back to those elementary school days. How about when you get a whiff of chocolate-baked cookies and instantly think of your deceased Grandmother? I see you! You're, my friend, what they call a nostalgic thinker. You like to self-reflect, get lost in your thoughts, stare at the stars, and walk barefoot in the grass. Unfortunately, that may also mean that you feel a bit more deeply, and in this large social world feel fundamentally separate.


Existential Anxiety

Existential crisis, anyone? For us nostalgic thinkers, it's common to consider life's biggest questions and dwell about the many limitations of human existence. Existential aspects and givens of existence, such as mortality, aging, illness, isolation, search for meaning, choice, the unknowns, and the vast universe are sure to spike your existential angst and, in turn, cause you to feel even more alone in the world. You may struggle to ground yourself, feel overwhelmed, and panicked, further disconnecting from yourself and the ability to live in the moment.


existential aloneness

Existential loneliness vs. existential isolation: What’s the difference?

Though existential loneliness and existential isolation are often used interchangeably, the two are actually defined quite uniquely.

Existential Loneliness

As noted in the above paragraphs, existential loneliness is the experience of disconnection. It includes emptiness, and may also be accompanied by existential angst, emotional aspects of depression, such as loss of joy and hopelessness, lack of meaning, difficulty forming genuine relationships with others, low self-esteem, and emotional and psychosomatic hollowness. Existential loneliness can be caused by an existential crisis, nostalgic thinking, existential isolation, and the reality of existence, in addition to loss and thoughts of mortality.


Existential Isolation

On the other hand, existential isolation is a term that refers to the inherent separateness of human existence. It is the fundamental aloneness we as beings experience as each life experience is different and unique to each person. It is the word used to note that while we may have similarities in our experiences we all experience life uniquely and from the subjective experience of our own point of view.


The Overlap

While existential loneliness and existential isolation are two different terms, existential isolation can actually be a feature or spark (if you will) the experience of existential loneliness. Take an existential crisis, for example, this may happen after a major life change, loss, or confrontation with the limitations or realities of being human. Existential isolation is a reality of being human, which, in turn, can spark an existential crisis, existential anxiety, and the experience of existential aloneness.


The Main Difference

In a nutshell, existential loneliness is an emotional experience describing emptiness, whereas, existential isolation is more of a theoretical or philosophical concept noting the distinctness of human experience.


what is existential loneliness

“10” key strategies for coping with existential loneliness


1. Grounding Techniques:

First and foremost, we need some grounding techniques to regulate our overactive nervous system. When we are experiencing loneliness, and accompanied by angst and dread, you're body is likely experiencing nerve tension, psychosomatic pain, and body ailments and aches. Remember, emotions are stored in your body! It's important to release those emotions through physical exercise, time spent in nature, through yoga and stretching, and additional holistic interventions such as reiki, cupping, and somatic healing.


2. Self-Care:

I know it's so cliche and you're probably tired of hearing it by now, but self-care is actually you're golden ticket to taking care of your mind, body, and soul. Doing activities that you enjoy and that support wellness not only fuels your mental and physical health, but also has the additional benefit of boosting the relationship you have with yourself, and in turn, reducing the intrapersonal disconnect you may be experiencing when existentially lonely.


3. Self-Exploration:

Another great way to improve the relationship we have with ourselves, is through self-exploration and in gaining a deeper sense of who you are. Asking ourselves questions to better learn who we are, what we like, what our values are, and how we'd like to move about the world. We can use this as an opportunity to develop, grow, and define our identity, which can also aid in genuine self-expression and in creating sincere and intimate relationships with others.


To foster interpersonal relationships, how can we get more involved in building our sense of community? Would you enjoy volunteering at the human society, getting involved in your building's leadership team, or participating in your next work function happy hour? Finding opportunities to connect with others through your communities, such as your religious or spiritual community, is a great way to boost interpersonal connection.


5. Strengthen Existing Relationships:

Identifying what is lacking in your current relationships and what it is you need from existing relationships is a great way to decrease existential loneliness. Often, we struggle to express ourselves, identify our needs, engage genuinely, and share more of who we are in relationships. This often stems from personal insecurities, poor relationships in the past, and fears of rejection or invalidation. Learning who we are and what we need, as well as how to communicate who we are and what we need provide great opportunities to strengthen existing relationships, self-confidence, and improved intimacy.


6. Creating Meaningful Moments:

Human life is precious and it is way to short to not enjoy even the smallest of moments. Instead of getting lost in our existential thoughts, let's get lost in the moment of connection, whether that be with yourself, other people, your environment, nature, or during a bellyaching mini video of Jeff Arcuri.


7. Practice Mindfulness:

To harness creating meaningful moments, practicing mindfulness can be supportive, grounding, and aligning. Whether through yoga, guided imagery, sensory observation, or breath work, practicing mindfulness not only can aid in regulating our nervous system, but it can also support the connection we have with ourselves, as well as with our larger world context and in the creation of meaning and purpose.


8. Maintaining Optimism:

Before we go and gaslight ourselves, I'd like to point out that it's imperative that you feel your feelings. I'd like to also point out that it is also imperative to practice optimism, as it relates to confidence, connection, and health. Our brains are neuroplastic, which means it is constantly firing, changing, and expanding. Quite literally, we have the power to change our brains by expanding our thought process through our belief systems. If you haven't' checked out Dr. Joe Dispenza's books, I highly recommend them.


9. Existential Psychotherapy:

An existential therapist is trained to hold space for having difficult conversations related to human existence, the limitations and realities of being human, the dark thoughts we have when lost in the abyss, and in supporting you through better understanding yourself, and in learning how to connect meaningfully with others and the world around you.


While therapy and the aforementioned strategies are helpful in l it's important to learn to live with the philosophy of existential isolation. This can be a tough reality to accept, as no one really wants to accept that we are born into this world alone, experience life uniquely, and will leave this physical form alone. It's less accepting this reality, and more so learning to live with it, as acceptance is not a linear process.


existential loneliness definition

The role of therapy in living with existential loneliness

Therapy can be incredibly helpful for someone experiencing existential loneliness. Many therapies, including existential therapy, relational therapy, and mindfulness-based therapy, are holistic approaches that aid in self-understanding, human connection, stress reduction, and self- contentment.


  • Existential Exploration: Your therapist is going to talk with you about major existential themes, such as loneliness, aging, mortality, illness, and responsibility.


  • Validation: Your therapist is going to validate every single experience you have. Even when you don't think your experience makes sense or don't believe that you "should be" feeling a particular way.


  • Support: Your therapist is going to help support you through your difficult moments and when experiencing loneliness. The therapeutic relationship will be built on trust, confidentiality, and support.


  • Goal Setting: Your therapist will help you identify what you are wanting out of therapy, as well as what you are wanting out of life, and when it comes to the inherent loneliness you are experiencing.


  • Value Identification: Your therapist will ask challenging questions so you will have a better sense of what is important to you. This will better guide the choices you make in life.


  • Authenticity: Your therapist will foster a safe space where you can have vulnerable conversations that will mirror intimate connections outside of the therapeutic space. Your therapist will be your biggest cheerleader as your confidence builds, and you're able to form genuine relationships.


  • Strategies for Success: Your therapist will provide you with a plethora of tools to support you on your journey of wellness and connection.


existential loneliness meaning

Get the support you need to find meaning and connection.

At Authentically Living Psychological Services our therapists take an existential, philosophical, and human-first approach to therapy. We are trained in holistic modalities, and incorporate mindfulness-based practices, and experiential processing, such as through art, language, and music, and will support you on your journey of self-understanding and connection, despite life's inherent existential isolation and difficult moments. If you are curious whether our services may be a good fit for you and your needs, feel free to reach out today for a free 15-minute consultation call.


We look forward to hearing from you.



69 views2 comments

2 Comments

Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
Guest
5 days ago
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Wow!

Such a well written article

So informative

Thank you Dr Shaw

Like

Guest
6 days ago
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I strongly resonate with the experience of existential loneliness

Like
bottom of page