When you hear the stories of the lonely, especially those that have been experiencing loneliness for a long period of time, one thing stands out quite clearly: There is usually no readily available one shot answer to helping them get out of loneliness. Of course, if you ask lonely folks what's the way out of loneliness, I'm sure at least 80% of them would say, finding a romantic partner. That is what most people seem to need, one person who will love and care for them the way no one is currently doing and arguably has done in their past. And sure enough, if a romantic partner came along, loneliness certainly does seem to vanish like a bad dream one is waking out of. Loneliness researcher, Robert Weiss, said that romantic relationships seems to be like an "anti-loneliness pill" providing immediate relief from the painful condition of loneliness. If we are lucky, the romantic relationship serves its purpose and we are forever cured of our loneliness, but I suspect for most of us, loneliness creeps back up into our existence once the euphoria of falling in love dies down.

I believe that the real, initial cure for loneliness, lies not in romantic relationships or friendships, but in our ability to be vulnerable. When we are born into the world, we are taught through a series of interactions whether the world is a safe place or not and whether others can be trusted. So, when we are babies and we cry because we are hungry , or hurt, or sad, does someone come and help alleviate our need? Or, are we left to fend for ourselves, at least until the parent or other caregiver has no choice but to come to our aid. Over time we learn the degree to which we can rely on and trust others. Some of us are lucky enough to have very nurturing and loving parents in our lives that give us a feeling of trust in others - we can expect in our hour of need someone we love will be there to comfort us. If we are not so lucky, we develop a sense of mistrust in others - in our hour of need, we have to do what we can for ourselves, no one else can be trusted or relied upon for help. Mistrust in others usually manifests itself in two ways, either we completely reject others and totally fend for ourselves or we demand help from others in a very possessive, jealous, dominating manner.

So what does this have to do with vulnerability? Well, essentially our life experiences teach us how much we have to guard the vulnerable parts of us. The vulnerable parts of us, psychologically speaking, is the emotional parts of us. Emotions reveal our weaknesses by showing others what is important to us. Sometimes our life experiences teach us that others cannot be trusted, in the sense that one day others will eventually hurt us. Sometimes our life experiences teach us that others are trustworthy and while they might hurt us, they genuinely have our best interest at heart. When we do not trust others, we form a defense barrier around ourselves, a way to protect us from outsiders, and to keep our vulnerable emotions hidden and locked away. The barrier eventually becomes so strong that even if we tried to remove it, it becomes difficult to do so. Someone who is very distrusting of others would become extremely anxious and fearful at the thought of removing their barriers. It is not a simple thing to remove.

The problem with our defense barrier is that it is the antithesis of forming a true and meaningful relationship. When you hide your vulnerable emotions on the inside, people cannot connect with you, and you cannot connect with others. You could have tons and tons of friendships or romantic relationships but at the end of the day they all feel superficial because you have still locked away the most vulnerable parts of you. So, you could certainly fall in love, and display a ton of emotions, but still have hidden away, your deepest secrets, desires, fears, hopes, and dreams. Eventually these relationships collapse because they cannot move forward.

The solution is not, of course, to be vulnerable to everyone, everywhere. We have to be discerning about who we choose to be vulnerable to. But we have to grow the ability to become vulnerable, and to become vulnerable despite experiencing numerous rejections. Those individuals with successful, deep, meaningful friendships have not avoided hurt altogether. No, rather they have learned to pick themselves up after getting hurt and being strong enough to be open and vulnerable to hurt again. That's an amazing thing to do, something I argue not many people can do. But if you learn to do it, you will have found your cure for loneliness.

Author's Bio: 

Sean Seepersad has dedicated the past decade of his life teaching, researching and working with lonely individuals. As the owner of the Web of Loneliness, Sean has spread the message that “you are not alone in your loneliness” to over 400,000 visitors. A top recommended site for the topic of loneliness on search engines and PsychCentral.com, the Web of Loneliness contains information about the various aspects of loneliness. It also includes a considerable collection of loneliness artwork including pictures and a collection of over 180 poems submitted by visitors. The Web of Loneliness online support group that Sean moderates has over 1,000 members. He is currently expanding his outreach through the use of Twitter and Facebook to allow the lonely to connect and learn about the latest developments in relationship and loneliness research.

Sean is also an avid researcher in the area of loneliness and is particularly interested in effective strategies to help reduce chronic loneliness. His PhD dissertation focused on developing, implementing, and evaluating a loneliness intervention program for college students. Given the promising results, he hopes to further develop the program in the future. His research into loneliness has been published or presented at over a dozen professional conferences and journals, books, and in the media. His most recent research entailed developing a new scale of loneliness differentiating shy, introverted lonely individuals from those that are extroverted but are unable to deepen their relationships.