What Causes Loneliness?

You are standing in front of an elephant, and I’m standing behind it. Your experience of the elephant is different from mine, so we try to bridge the gap by describing our experiences in words. We are all constantly trying to bridge these gaps in our lives. When the gap is too large to bridge with words, we feel frustrated and lonely, like nobody in the world can understand what we are going through. We reluctantly accept the reality that some of our experiences will be inexplicable, and that we will have to manage them on our own. From time to time, we say, “Nobody understands me,” and feel sorry for ourselves. I think this is a common sentiment but it has a big assumption: Differences in our experiences lead us to loneliness. We assume that if others could be in our shoes, they would think and feel the same way. But is that true?

Suppose we could be omnipresent. I can experience what you are experiencing from the front of the elephant at the same time I’m experiencing it from behind. And, let’s imagine that we were born this way, so I’ve experienced everything you’ve experienced in your life, and vice versa. Even if our experiences were exactly the same, we would still think differently because our brains are structured differently. It’s like going to a movie theater together; although our experiences would be very similar, our thoughts could be very different. This difference in our thoughts would still motivate us to bridge the gap even if the experience is the same. The differences in experience in and of themselves do not cause feelings of loneliness.

We are actually creating the gaps by thinking about our experiences. That is, as soon as we try to describe our experiences in words, we create the gaps. Our assumption is wrong. Language is not a tool to bridge our gaps. Language creates the gaps. The more we use language to close our gaps under the false assumption, the greater the gaps will be. It’s like drinking from the ocean to quench our thirst; we think language is the solution when in fact it is the cause of the gaps.