As human beings, we have an innate need for the comfort that comes as a result of feeling connected with others. When we are unable to gain a sense of connection with others, we will often begin to feel lonely. Sometimes we can even feel lonely when we are around others, which implies that feeling connected isn’t just in being around others, but maybe the quality of the connection matters, as well. The experience of loneliness is quite normal in college students, but there are steps we can take to promote meaningful connections with others.

Researchers have identified at least three different types of loneliness (Tiwari, 2013):

  • Situational loneliness: Socio-economic and cultural milieu contributes to situational loneliness. Various environmental factors like unpleasant experiences, discrepancy between the levels of his/her needs and social contacts, and migration of population, interpersonal conflicts, accidents, disasters or emptiness syndrome, etc., lead to loneliness in old age. The increased life expectancy and feminization of elderly population is a significant factor in developing situational loneliness in females.
  • Developmental loneliness: Every one of us has an innate desire of intimacy or a need to be related to others. This need is essential for our development as a human being. Apart from this need, a higher level of need for individualism also exists which is related to knowing and developing our own real self that requires some solitude too. For optimum development, there should be a balance between the two. When a person is not able to balance these needs properly, it results in loss of meaning from their life which in turn leads to emptiness and loneliness in that person. Personal inadequacies, developmental deficits, significant separations, social marginality, poverty, living arrangements, and physical/psychological disabilities often lead to developmental loneliness. 
  • Internal loneliness: Being alone does not essentially make a person lonely. It is the perception of being alone which makes the person lonely. People with low self-esteem and less self-worth are seen to feel lonelier than their counterparts. Reasons for this type of loneliness are personality factors, locus of control, mental distress, low self-esteem, feeling of guilt or worthlessness, and poor coping strategies with situations.

Being a College Student 

 As a college student, there may be times when you can identify with any one or more of these types of loneliness.  Oftentimes, as students adjust to being in college, the situational type of loneliness will ease its grip on us.  Once we figure out how to get involved and start meeting new people, we will grow accustomed to the new environment.  Developmental loneliness is often made better when we remember to be intentional in connecting with others.  This is where the more meaningful relationships can really be helpful.  Relationships that are more “surface” or superficial, might leave us feeling lacking or as though we are functioning at a deficit.  It’s important to work towards these more meaningful relationships when we can.  Take an inventory of your relationships some time and be curious about how you can cultivate more meaningful connections in them.  If you’re experiencing internal loneliness, you might be struggling with depression.  If this type of loneliness is a struggle for you, counseling might help you to better hear the story you’re telling yourself about yourself and how you might start to do something different with that. 

 If you’re feeling like you just can’t shake the loneliness that you’re experiencing, no matter the type, help is available at the Counseling Center.  Give us a call at (479) 968-0329.

Tiwari SC. Loneliness: a disease? Indian J Psychiatry (2013) 55(4):320–2.