For leaders, loneliness can be a silent debilitater. Loneliness is feeling disconnected from others, and at first, we don't always have others that we feel can relate to our situation. Plus, leaders don't always trust others enough to be vulnerable about feeling lonely, especially if we are in a culture that associates vulnerability with weakness.

The current social isolation situation makes the feeling even more present and real. But, as Brené Brown argues on her latest podcast, the first step to healing loneliness is to recognize that there are different types.

The three types of loneliness

Brown interviewed former U.S. surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy on her Unlocking Us podcast. Murthy, author of the new book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, broke down the three types of loneliness we can experience:

  • Intimate/emotional
  • Relational/social
  • Collective

Intimate/emotional is the need to have a close partner or confidant to share your private ideas or feelings with. Relational/social is the need for quality friendships and support. Lastly, collective is the need for a network or group that shares your purpose.

Any of these can trigger your feelings of loneliness. For example, you could have fantastic friendships and an awesome network, but still feel empty because you don't have someone you trust enough to share your deepest fears or triumphs. Alternatively, you could have a trusted partner and good friends, but sense something is lacking without being part of a group driven by a higher purpose.

How to combat them

On the podcast, Murthy shared that "the foundation for connecting with other people is connecting with ourselves." The problem is when we actually try to fit what we believe other people want to see. It is the leader who believes he has to fit a Silicon Valley façade and never lets his guard down, even around trusted companions, or the founder who brags about their company's progress when, in reality, they need more help than they'd like to admit.

Loneliness can live within that gap, the separation between who you are and who you are presenting. It prevents even people who care about you from getting close, as you aren't even sharing the real you.

Murthy recommends a two-prong approach. First, make time to understand your worth, because if you believe you are worth being seen, then you will spend less energy trying to act like someone you are not. If you pay attention during a conversation, you may actually feel when your façade is rising up as you're exaggerating your latest win, throwing shade on someone else's comment, or subtly building a case for why you are better than other people.

Second, become grounded in ways that remind you of who you really are. It may mean dropping social media so you do less comparing against others or, ironically, building time away from others (virtually or otherwise) so you can sit with your own thoughts rather than what you think other people want you to be.

Seeing your own worth and grounding yourself will help you build those intimate, social, or collective relationships as the opportunities arise.

Loneliness may seem natural as we social distance. Sometimes, though, forced solitude makes us realize what we've been repressing all along.