Google “Types of Loneliness” and you’ll find there are at least six or seven that the have been identified, with slightly varying lists and labels. Here is a list I’ve compiled and put in my own words. Which one(s) have you experienced in your lifetime so far?
Interpersonal loneliness is being physically alone, lacking companionship. It varies by degrees depending on the cause. I experienced this type of loneliness when I was a stay-at-home mom with four children under the age of six and my husband worked sometimes ninety hours per week, often traveling long distances. I talk about that time in my life here, and the crazy thing I did to fix it.
Note this is not to minimize the severity of loneliness that sets in after the permanent loss of a loved one due to death or divorce. There is simply no comparison to that level of loneliness. Social loneliness is not fitting neatly into any particular group. You may be surrounded by people, may even be popular, but often feel rejected, misunderstood, or left out on the basis of being “different” (or of being a female working in a male-dominated field. Hello, out there! I see you). Socially lonely people are often impossible to peg; they despise or even defy being pigeon-holed. While others pride themselves on thinking outside the box, they’re not aware there is a box. Welcome to the Island of Misfits, the land of the “Un-gotten.” These are so curious and eager to learn, so interested in all points of view that they wouldn’t dare put all their friends together in the same room for fear they’d kill each other. They follow names that wouldn’t be caught dead on the same bookshelf. Cultural loneliness occurs when, well, you don’t mesh with the surrounding culture. This could be due to a geographical move, or to working, studying, or living in a subculture to which you can’t completely relate or find too constricting. Intellectual loneliness is a seeming dead-end road with no outlet, a hopeless trap. It’s relatively easy to admit you suffer from other types of loneliness, but with this one, it’s tricky because you need a certain kind of interaction, and expressing that need has its complications. “Looking for open-minded thinkers for ‘larger conversation’.” Put that out there and you will either hear crickets or the very babble you wish to avoid. So you escape into books and art, wishing for someone to discuss them with, someone else not running the rat race or viewing life through a microscopic lens. You live life longing for your tribe. Psychological loneliness is what people live with who have experienced some kind of trauma, like rape or abuse, for instance. It’s the feeling that they are alone in what they’ve experienced, and that no one else understands. People who are psychologically lonely carry heavy emotional burdens and are often depressed. They need more than friends; they need friends who will show up, give them space to talk, and who will listen. Visionary loneliness happens to leaders who feel alone in their vision for the organization. There are plenty of “doers” but not enough “dreamers.” These leaders dare not share their hopes and plans for the future of the company for fear they won’t be supported, at best, or may be fired, at worst. When they do share their ideas, they’re met with stares and silence, or resistance. Visionary loners often want to give up, even in the face of success, because they don’t feel progress is possible without anyone else catching the vision. This kind of loneliness is crippling, sometimes paralyzing, and marked by long seasons of discouragement. Cosmic, or existential loneliness ranges from not understanding one’s purpose in life, to feeling that life is meaningless, to hating one’s self, to not wanting to go on living. I believe this loneliness is unique in that it is the only type of loneliness with a built-in cure. Think about it. Wouldn’t it logically follow that in order to discover your individual purpose for being, what your life means, and how to stop loathing yourself, you’d need to get in touch with Someone who knows those things about you, personally? And not only knows why you’re here, but loves that you’re here? In other words, I believe the cure for cosmic loneliness is being fully known and fully loved, one hundred percent without condition, by Someone outside yourself. In other words, being in close relationship with such a Person. In fact, having experienced most of the types of loneliness listed above, I can tell you that they necessarily serve to drive us to the only relationship that is the Cure for cosmic loneliness.