Yes, loneliness is a bummer topic, and one of those that people respond to with the thought “NMP” (Not My Problem) and then change the channel. Yet it affects 25% of us in the USA, chronically. With the chronic nature of it come a host of health issues that can increase the chance of early death by up to 26%, according to the guru on the topic, John Cacioppo, a professor and researcher on the issue for more than twenty years. Why is this so?
It’s not that tough to figure out why loneliness is such an intractable problem in our culture. The difficulty is in doing something to counteract it.
Think Lisa Simpson of Homer Simpson fame. She is the character whose high intellect and lefty political stance creates a barrier between her and other children her age, so she is a bit of a loner and social outcast.
She is sometimes cast as a loser. That is why you see my loser girl cartoon in this post. These are the types of things we tell ourselves when we feel lonely.
When you engage in these negative thoughts, it places you in a double bind right away, stuck between the shame of feeling alone and the need for social connection that our species requires. Evolution has made certain that we need each other to survive. Talk about rock and hard place. We tag ourselves with terrible labels that drain our energy and cause us to withdraw. When we withdraw and self isolate, a negative loop occurs where the more we withdraw, the worse our social skills become. Thus it becomes even more difficult to re-engage with others, which is exactly what the aversive signal of loneliness is telling us to do.
If Loneliness Is A Bummer Topic, What Can You Do?
Here’s eight ways to counter it.
- Reciprocity: The key to healthy relationships is give and take. Are you giving more than you are receiving? Does the relationship feel mostly balanced? And I’m not talking about scorekeeping here; that is not a healthy approach. This applies to friends, lovers and families.
- Awareness: Increase your awareness to others around you. If you have not seen someone in too long of a time, reach out. Ask open ended questions about how they are doing, and listen without trying to solve their problems. Just the act of feeling heard is a balm to our spirits.
- Self Compassion: Loser girl up above is not telling herself much of anything good. And there is a form of therapy that can address your thought content to see if it is in a healthy balance. It is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and can really help you sort out some of your own negative input–that becomes habitual. Please seek help if you need it.
- Shame: Oh the double bind! Did you know that people would rather cop to being mentally ill than admit they are lonely? You have to open your mind to the vulnerability that is required for healing.
- Advocacy: Get political. Advocate for more of the policies and spaces that let us gather like parks and green space. Support your favorite causes from clean water ( a big issue around here lately!) to health care access.
- Befriending Schemes: How about a neighborhood phone tree for checking in on those living alone and in need? Or a topical discussion group over coffee? Or a “shed” concept where men can gather and work on a project side-by-side?
- Volunteer: You will always get back more than you put in. Seek out a place where you can meet like minded others and get busy.
- Find your tribe! ‘Nuff said.
Life will always be filled with challenges. And I simply see no point in struggling with them alone. A little self reflection can go a long way, and considerably shorten the time you spend struggling. You don’t have to take my word for it; many research meta studies verify that talk therapy works. We are, after all, the only species with the ability of complex speech bolstered by the very real need to connect with others.
Shoot me an email if this is the case. Or go to my contact page; there are several ways to reach me. Let’s figure out how to get you connected together.