• Understanding Loneliness

    Written by: Jessie Nolasco-Sandino, LMSW

    Hello! My name is Jessie Nolasco-Sandino and I am a Licensed Master’s Social Worker (LMSW) at Quince Orchard Psychotherapy. I specialize in working with a diverse group of people such as children, adolescents, young adults and middle-aged adults utilizing a variety of tools and techniques. My therapy style is hands-on using a person-centered and strength-based approach from a trauma-informed care lens. I look forward to sharing insights and knowledge about different psychological and social topics that can help us grow and understand the human experience. 

    We all have somewhat of an understanding and comprehension of loneliness from what we see in social media, news outlets, personal experience and what we hear from our peers and family members. Oftentimes loneliness is seen as an emotional response to a stressful event or chemical imbalance in the brain, which can lead to Depression. Many individuals tend to socially isolate when depressed and/or facing life challenges. Others struggle to build community or reach out to others for social and emotional support. 

    Loneliness, as described and explained, by Dr. Jeremy Nobel (2023) is defined as the uncomfortable feeling of a perceived gap between the connections we want with others and the connections we feel we have. He categorizes loneliness into: psychological loneliness, societal loneliness and existential loneliness. 

    Psychological loneliness is understood as a longing for an authentic connection with another human being, to relay your troubles, trust and be vulnerable with, and open up emotionally to another person. It’s seen as an uncomfortable, psychological internal conflict that may produce negative emotions of sadness, regret, shame, self-doubt, confusion and embarrassment. Furthermore, individuals struggling with psychological loneliness may be afraid to be vulnerable and develop or create intimate, deep social and emotional connections with others. This type of loneliness is possibly due to unstable, insecure or avoidant attachments to others or due to unresolved trust and abandonment concerns that left them mistrustful of others.

    Societal loneliness is defined more as the overwhelming sense of not fitting in or belonging, of being systematically excluded, from the societal, group or community narrative. It’s the experience of being uninvited or rejected by either a peer group, work colleagues, neighbors, or society at large due to race, religion, gender, disabilities, socioeconomic status, nationality, implicit biases and other societal stigmas and/or conformities that exclude and “other” people. 

    Lastly, we have existential or spiritual loneliness, and this is characterized as lacking connection with the Self and others. As if something is missing in life despite all the wealth, accomplishments, friends and resources available to a person. It arises from the mysteries and unknowns of life, when there’s no purpose or meaning to life and when navigating existential dilemmas. Some questions we may ask ourselves:  Do we have a mission and purpose that connects us to the universal? Do we matter? Do our lives have consequence? Where do I fit in?

    So how do we alleviate our loneliness? Dr. Nobel recommends we first minimize the gap in our perceptions between the way we want things to be and the way we experience them to be. We do this by differentiating between the three types of loneliness and identifying which loneliness afflicts us in order to gain clarity to explore the feelings, thoughts and ways to best respond to the loneliness. 

    We can seek out therapy to begin the inner work of self-healing and repairing the relationship with ourselves. We can reach out and lean into our social support groups, friendships, networks, and community for emotional support during bouts of loneliness. We can tolerate the discomfort of asking ourselves the tough questions of what is our core and the fears we avoid. We can listen and see ourselves for who we really are and practice self-acceptance as we venture out onto the journey of self-discovery.

    Loneliness is a human response many individuals experience and is a socially isolating, limiting issue detrimental to our mental health. But through therapy and self-exploration we can build community, create social connections, explore our spirituality and values, find peaceful outlets, repair intimate relationships and heal ourselves, which can help reduce the different types of loneliness and increase understanding of how to improve loneliness as part of the human condition.


    Nobel, Jeremy. (2023). Project Unlonely: Healing our Crisis of Disconnection. Penguin Random House. www.artandhealing.org