Mother Teresa once said, in her book, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa,
“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” (source: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/139677-the-greatest-disease-in-the-west-today-is-not-tb)
And I totally agree with her. I am not discounting the pain and suffering felt by people afflicted with physical ailments or who are starving for food. However, if you are surrounded by a group of people who love and care about you during that period of suffering, you will most likely come out of the situation much stronger and be able to endure anything better, than if you have no one. Also, if everything else is going fairly well for you, but you have no one with whom to share these accomplishments and triumphs, then you may begin to think life is pointless.
Loneliness and the feelings of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for are the worst situations any human being or even animal can ever have to endure. This is because loneliness and feeling unloved, uncared for, and unwanted cut to the very depths of one’s soul. Here’s how we can combat these feelings if we feel them ourselves, and how we can help others who feel that way:
Combating loneliness and feeling rejected:
- Do something kind for someone else.—Often when I feel lonely or rejected, the best thing for me to do is to go out and do something kind for someone else. Usually, not as a means to an end, but as a kind of “side-effect” to our good deeds, when we do something kind for someone else, and they appreciate us in return (and sometimes, even when they don’t but you know in your heart you did right by them), we feel more connected to the recipient of our kindness. We open doors for people to want to get to know us better.
- See rejection, not as a personal failure on your part, but a chance to learn from mistakes and others.— For instance, when I was rejected for the chance to work at that bookstore, I learned quickly that this wasn’t where God wanted me. Though I was discouraged for a long time because many people in my life had rejected me for even a friendship and found me difficult to get along with, God taught me through those painful experiences that a.) He was there for me and b.) To be more compassionate and loving to others who may also feel rejected and unloved by others (or even me).
- Get involved in your community, or even online.–To combat loneliness, do not become a hermit 24/7. Engage with others, and get involved in getting to know people around you. This could be the neighbors you live with, people who live in or near where you live in the greater community, people at the religious institution where you worship, or even people you interact daily with at your job, or where you most frequent outside your house. Even though it’s not exactly the same, you can also get involved in online communities and form online friendships there. It may be difficult to get initially involved. For instance, when I switched church communities last year, I didn’t know many people there and I felt a bit uncomfortable at first. However, as time went on, I started to feel more at home and found that this was a good change for me. So, don’ t give up on a new community just because you feel uncomfortable or anxious at first.
Helping others who feel lonely or unloved:
- Never give up on them.–Some people are difficult to handle. I get it. However, these same people may be reacting out of fear and anger at the larger society around them that has callously rejected them for something they can’t control such as their ethnicity, disability, or any other human identifier. Understand that such people actually need extra love, not less of it. I know sometimes investing in those people gets exhausting and tiring, but if you strive never to give up on those who hurt the most, most people will eventually see you as a friend and confidante, as opposed to an enemy.
- Intentionally reach out and care for them.–At work, sometimes I give encouraging notes to people who may need them. This is partly so that the people I work with will know that they are not alone and that someone out there gives a care and appreciates what positive things they have done. We should apply the same principle to those around us who feel lonely or rejected. If they need to vent, listen with validation and compassion. You don’t need to “fix” their problems, but just listening to them can go a long way into showing them love and care. If the lonely person in your life needs help with something, offer to help whenever possible. Be there for them, both in their trials and their triumphs. Be a friend.
- Always strive to be kind to them.--Be kind in your interactions with them by making them feel valuable and less alone. If you fail to do this, be quick to apologize and make amends. Include them in your interactions with others whenever appropriate. Encourage them to cultivate the good personality traits that you find in that person or persons. Try to prefer them over yourself.
There are many people in our lives who may feel lonely or unloved. Some of them are apparent to us, like someone who always sits alone at lunch. However, some of them may seem to be surrounded by many people, but they feel empty inside and only have superficial interactions with others. We need to be able to reach both groups with our love and compassion. If we do, we may just start a chain reaction. My wish and hope for this world is that eventually no one on this earth would ever have to feel alone and unloved again.