Most adults have pondered the difference of being alone and being lonely. Simply put being alone is a state of being; loneliness is a state of mind. But what about children, small children, children under ten? Can they articulate their feelings and are they adept at recognising when they are lonely and if so, are they able to do something about it? A fortunate child will have parents and care givers who will be monitoring for loneliness and will act if they detect their child is lonely.
When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time on my own. I suffered emotional neglect as well as being left alone at home, so it was a common place occurrence for me to be alone physically and alone psychologically. I was aware I was on my own a great deal of the time and I was aware it was unusual. With no siblings, a latch-key kid, a mother who was there only for the necessities and an absent father, it was my norm. But what I wasn’t fully aware of, was that I was lonely. I just felt miserable all the time.
Loneliness impacts children in different ways. For me:
- I developed a low self-esteem
- I didn’t take risks. Trying new things and calling attention to myself left me feeling vulnerable and risking rejection
- I felt disgruntled, disconnected and worried, pulling away from others and feeling more isolated as a result
- Attempts to get close to my mother as a child and failing plus having no male role model caused me to feel hopeless about developing close relationships later in life
What about now?
Fortunately, I understand the psychological impacts loneliness has had on me during my childhood and later in adult life. Most importantly, I understand the danger of clinging to the feeling of loneliness because that’s what connects me most closely to my mother and because loneliness feels like a private space which is familia and which is shared with my distant and rejecting mother.
I understand the risk that I may cling to social isolation because isolation is what most closely reflects my emotional experience as a child.
With this self awareness I can act in ways that matter to me to avoid the state of loneliness.
I take care of myself.
Now to the writing.
If you have a character who is experiencing loneliness, how can you portray this in your writing? Consider:
- Physical signs of loneliness most likely to be observed by an outside observer and not the lonely character. For example: slumped shoulders, gazing into space, tears, sadness, a monotone voice, looking down or away …
- Internal responses to loneliness. For example swelling in throat with the onset of tears, insomnia, fatigue, unrest …
- Mental responses to loneliness. Your character avoids social interactions, is consumed by anger or sadness, daydreams about connections with people …
- Cues of long term loneliness. Addictions, unreasonable / unacceptable behaviour, withdrawal from society, suicidal tendencies … there are many more.
- Suppressed loneliness. Being too friendly, being taken advantage of, committing too quickly in relationships
- Loneliness is not introversion. Remember not to develop your character in this way. An introvert is a character who seeks, thrives in, and enjoys their solitude. A lonely character is one who lives in self- or socially-inflicted solitude—who feels that they are not accepted on some level and who desperately wants to escape their isolation by forming strong relationships with others.
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