Lonely or Depressed?
It’s very easy to lump together loneliness and depression. Those who experience loneliness over time usually end up also being depressed. But loneliness and depression are different in important ways. In many ways, they are really opposites.
One important difference is that in the early stages, the feeling of loneliness is a warning, like hunger. It is saying that something basic to life is missing. There is a need to connect with someone. But that warning can also be threatening, for the experience of the lonely person may have been that connection can be painful, even more painful than the feeling of loneliness. So there is an inner conflict involved. Part of the lonely person wants to move toward other people and connect; but another part is terrified of being hurt again, so they withdraw.
Depression does not have this internal conflict of movement. It is basically shutting down emotionally. When I am depressed, I am depressed in every way. It’s pervasive throughout every part of my life. When I am lonely, I am struggling with relationships, but I may still be coping satisfactorily in the other parts of my life.
Depression is not only all-pervasive, it also doesn’t go anywhere. There is movement in loneliness, at least in the early stages. I want to reach out–I many even reach out tentatively. When when I don’t get the response I wish for–which I probably expected anyway–I withdraw. With depression, I am just stuck. I don’t reach out to anyone.
Eventually the two will come together. The longer I live in my loneliness, the more likely I am to become depressed. Eventually, other symptoms appear, marking my struggle with loneliness. I become increasingly shy, my self esteem suffers, I feel more anxiety, and I become more pessimistic and hostile. I’m less agreeable with others, partly out of my fear of their negative evaluation. And in the end both depression and loneliness make me feel trapped–I am immobilized, and it feels like there is nothing I can do about it. But there is an answer coming in the next posting!
Question: How would you differentiate loneliness from depression?