Loneliness is recognised as a significant contributor to our mental health and wellbeing.
We may not have previously considered it, but after two years of restrictions, the impact and implications of estrangement from physically meeting, and connecting with others and the resultant loneliness and sense of alienation has become increasingly evident.
The importance of human connections and relationships has certainly been highlighted.
Yes, our relationships with friends and family have always been important in providing mutual understanding, support, engagement and fun, but there are countless other seemingly random relationships that also have huge relevance in our lives.
These provide reassurance, familiarity and a sense of belonging, all ways to help alleviate loneliness.
Simple things, like being recognised whilst out walking the dogs, strolling down the street, at the supermarket, in the gym, lift or at work can support us and allow us to feel an acknowledged part of our local community. That smile, nod, ‘hello’ can make all the difference to our day.
But equally, the saying, ‘it’s possible to be lonely in a crowd’ is very true.
Feeling on the outside looking in, having a sense of not belonging, of being different, an imposter, all these can impact on how confident we feel. Or, being in a loveless relationship with someone’s who’s disinterested or bored can feel like the loneliest place in the world. When we think about it, many things can contribute to our feeling lonely.
Of course, being lonely can be caused by obvious factors, like physical detachment and isolation from family, friends, our usual routine, all that’s familiar to us. Moving away from home to go to college, get married, start a new job, can disrupt our lives and require time to readjust as we introduce new ways to begin this next stage of our lives.
As can a change in personal circumstances, like becoming a new mother, taking retirement, a health diagnosis, where before you had a clearly defined role and identity that’s now very different. After being career focused and perhaps respected in a professional capacity, a significant change in circumstances can require navigation as well as a renegotiation of the financial, social and lifestyle implications.
Then there are the emotional circumstances that can cause loneliness, the fallout that comes from divorce, being bullied, not picked, feeling on your own and unsupported; all things that can make us lose confidence in ourselves and feel we’ve no choice but to stand apart. We may not always feel strong enough or equipped to handle other people’s reactions or treatment of us, especially if we’re already feeling vulnerable and insecure. Working on becoming more resilient can help us detach, be less affected and manage our responses and the ways we react to other people’s treatment of us.
But also, feeling lonely can come from not getting the right kind of attention, where perhaps our mood was noted by others, but they then chose to react in their own way, maybe by ignoring us or by refusing to give us what we wanted. There can be a myriad of reasons for this; maybe they view our behaviour as needy and over-dramatic, they’re struggling with their own issues or they simply ‘don’t get’ our need for so much attention. In these scenarios they may expect us to ‘be strong’, move on and deal with whatever’s happening in a more pragmatic, less emotionally invested way.
But the people who always need to be at the centre of things may constantly create drama. They crave the spotlight, need to feel noticed and important and perhaps even display jealousy if others are noticed instead of them. It’s often therapeutic to explore and resolve the reasons behind this behaviour.
Sometimes loneliness can come from feeling trivialised, ignored. I’m sure you can recall times when you were sharing details of a particularly distressing or traumatic experience and you sensed that the other person could hardly wait for you to finish before you’d hear that all too familiar, ‘I know exactly what you mean, the same thing happened to me, let me tell you all about it!’ When we’re hurting, in need of a little support and understanding and the other person’s especially self-absorbed it can result in us feeling alone and insignificant. Quite a lonely place to be when experiencing tough times!
When we’re feeling lonely, what constitutes the right kind of support?
Hugs and cups of tea are great, but can only take us so far and, if we’re constantly retelling our story, it may discourage us from feeling motivated enough to find solutions to remedy the situation. Learned helplessness can manifest when we come to rely on other people’s reactions and the nurturing that our attention-seeking brings.
Gradually, a massive change can occur in the dynamics of a relationship, which may result in one person becoming powerless and dependent, seeking approval in their decision-making and life choices. They may even develop a resistance to becoming more independent, as that would entail having to become more assertive and responsible.
Small steps are often the key to a better, more sociable life.
Accepting invitations, putting oneself ‘out there’, finding an ally, joining in, maybe even therapy, all require us to dig deep and make an effort. These are important steps when looking to make inroads into new friendships and feel less alone.
Being lonely is often viewed as a modern-day scourge, the price we pay for being so mobile and flexible in our lives. Scattered families, long commutes, greater opportunities away from home and for travel all come at a cost. Exciting and life-enhancing as these may be, it’s also important to appreciate the role of kindness, tolerance and inclusivity, taking time to notice others, so helping us to move into a more accommodating, mutually caring place.
Susan Leigh, South Manchester Counsellor & Hypnotherapist lifestyletherapy.net