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Loneliness usually creeps in at the most unexpected times like the surprise visitor who knocks at your door just as you switch off your lights to sleep. It could have a knock-knock on your little heart at the moment you are in the middle of a crowd as people cling their glasses with cheer and laughter or when you are in the arms of your spouse or even when you are eating with your friends as they tell jokes and crack up. You feel so far yet so near. You feel disconnected from the people around you. Sometimes it could be due to sudden changes in the closest people to us; how you and your spouse no longer share your deepest secrets, how your friends no longer remember your birthday, how your loved ones no longer have time to watch a movie with you or it could be simply due to the life transitions such as leaving for college, losing a partner to death or divorce, starting a new job, retiring and losing the daily company of colleagues and associates, or moving to a new town or country. Loneliness is the isolation that comes with nursing a feeling unreturned — an expectation unmet. It is the perpetual state of seeking that which you so crave, that which you so need. It is the putting of your key to happiness in someone else’ pocket.

The longer our loneliness lasts, that more challenging it can be to break the mindsets and judgments (both ours and others’) that contribute to maintaining our isolation.

When you are lonely, you tend to assume people aren’t interested in your company and that if you reach out to them they will reject you and turn you down. As a result you take little initiative and find excuses to turn down invitations when you do get them. Your negativity and reluctance to give your friends the benefit of the doubt creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in which your own reactions and avoidance pushes them away even further. Because you remain blind to your part in creating the distance, you see their withdrawal as confirmation of your fears and become even more convinced they no longer care about you.

On the other hand, being alone is quite the opposite. Loneliness and aloneness stand as the two pillars to the one, emotional pendulum. Loneliness for some, may be a chronic condition where your own company is never enough; where spending time with yourself may produce anxiety and sometimes worse symptoms such as panic attacks and depression. For many, the perceived solution to keep this fear away is to make sure that you are always in the company of another. Being alone is being totally okay when you are by yourself. Being happy watching a movie alone, walking at the beach shore as you enjoy the sunset, treating yourself to ice cream because you simply deserve it. You are alone, not because no one wants you in their life but because you simply love yourself and you are alone by choice. You are emotionally independent and you don’t mind if your best friend doesn’t text you for some days or even weeks. You can’t allow yourselves to be defined by the people you surround yourself with. You can’t allow yourself to be defined by your relationship status or your weekend plans or the screaming silence of your mobile phone.

Although alone and lonely are often thought of as being one in the same, alone doesn’t equal loneliness. Learning to be alone may be initially scary but once mastered serves as the cornerstone for your development and growth as a human being. There’s so much to be gained from learning to rely, and more importantly, to trust your own inner voice as the best source for your own guidance.

Loneliness may have deep effects and be the part-cause of mental disorders such as depression, social anxiety, addiction and hoarding. Therefore, addressing your loneliness could be the key to unleashing your healthy mind. And as much as someone may argue that all of us do feel lonely every once in a while, you just shouldn’t let it overwhelm you such that you become a victim of the above mentioned disorders.

Sometimes the best cure to loneliness is, in fact, to be alone. You may want to take baby steps first in stopping feeling lonely and starting to being alone such as going to a road trip by yourself, a swim, a movie or even simply a treat. Then gradually take greater steps like making your own life decisions, being independent, managing your own finances and taking full and complete control of your life.

Just know that, whichever you happen to be or feel at this exact moment, the power to maintain or change it will always be in your own hands — not in theirs, or in anyone else’s. Start making the necessary changes in your life and make yourself the best company for YOU.