Have you ever been in a super busy grocery store and were counting down the seconds till you could get out of there and escape back home? If so, you are not alone. Many of us both relish the thought of being with others and also abhor crowds of people. So does this mean you have start love to be around people all the time to not feel lonely and isolated? Not exactly.
Let’s start with a first reflection question:
“What’s so uncomfortable about being lonely?”
Give yourself 2-3 minutes to jot down what comes up. Don’t just skip this part.
Your answer might surprise you. Being lonely feels empty, hollow, and painful. You might feel your chest and throat tightening, heaviness, and even some nausea. While your symptoms and answer might be different than these examples, there seems to be an achy component to loneliness, and well of course we don’t want to feel any of that. Yuck!
This short reflection shows that emotion of loneliness actually has a physical component. That’s why we chose to distract ourselves when we feel it. We make plans, do work, read books, watch TV, play on our phones, do yard work, go to the gym, or even do chores to keep the feeling away.
The idea of staying busy is a distraction, and not a solution. There are all kinds of pop culture psychology sayings instructing us to “stay busy,” “get moving,” or even “do something nice for yourself.” All this is helpful to dull the acuteness of the loneliness, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
The only cure for loneliness is connection with others.
You have to do the hard work of accepting the emotion of loneliness, feeling it, then take a look at your life to see what’s keeping it sticking around. The hardest part then is to change something about the way you are acting to get less lonely! You MUST be in meaningful relationship with other people or you will always be feeling lonely.
Some people would rather spend lifetimes in distraction and fake productivity than do the really hard work of reflection and changing the way they behave to make more social connections. The questions that come from this are ones we tend to not want to look at or answer:
If I don’t have good friends, what is it about me is keeping them away?
Do I unintentionally push people away through my behaviors (social signals)?
Do I not follow through on plans or never make them in the first place?
Do I get stuck on doing friendship ‘perfectly’ so I never actually practice?
Am I overly sarcastic, flat, unkind, competitive or too smiley?
Do I think if I tried in the past to make friends and that it didn’t work then I shouldn’t have to try again?
Do I fantasize about someone befriending me, rather than me befriending others?
Do I find the faults and flaws in everyone I meet?
You may have to be willing to ask for some feedback about your behaviors from some trusted others (therapist, family, co-workers, etc.) to start seeing your patterns so you can make changes. You may have to look at some really hard truths about how other people see you before you can fix a loneliness problem.
For example, maybe you are quiet and no one knows the real you, because you don’t share enough. Maybe you have the all too familiar “resting b*tch face” and make the excuse that “it’s just my face,” rather than working to change it and become more aware you are doing it. Maybe you live in a tiny town and there is no one to date for miles – MOVE!
As tough as it is to admit, when we feel lonely, it’s probably a direct result of our behaviors. We would like to blame external factors, rather than acknowledge our part in the matter. The best part of reflecting on loneliness is that, it’s a fixable problem. There are tons of other people that are lonely out there and looking for connection. You just have to open yourself up to the search and start changing the behaviors that keep you separated from others.
RO DBT therapy helps build skills to fix the loneliness problem by helping clients learn to:
Change their behaviors (social signaling)
Chit chat effectively
Build intimacy and trust with others
Target where to find and build friendships
Choose a relationships over a tasks
Be more direct in asking for what you want, and
Learn to validate others.
If these are skills you need to build and/or you want to have your loneliness cycle cured by getting specific help to target your unique issues, shoot us an email in the Contact Us section. We’d be happy to assess you for overcontrol and see if RO DBT can help your loneliness.
Also check out this study that Harvard University published that echoes the importance of social relationships.