Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day, so I thought I would take the opportunity to start a conversation about loneliness. Loneliness is a significant contributor to Suicide rates. There are many types of loneliness and it’s not a subject that can be comprehensively covered in a single Blog Post. Loneliness is as unique to each individual that experiences it as their finger prints are......
Loneliness doesn’t always mean being alone, loneliness can often be felt acutely by people that are surrounded by people including loved ones. Loneliness can stem from a feeling of disconnect, a sense of not being fully understood or accepted for your true authentic self. Often people may feel as though they are living as frauds in their own lives, feeling obliged to maintain a façade of strength to meet what they perceive to be the expectations of others. They fear rejection, judgement, disapproval or to be labelled a failure if they reveal their true identity, their true life circumstance, their true feelings, insecurities and vulnerabilities. These fears may be baseless, but they feel compelling. The people in their lives usually have absolutely no idea that they feel this way.
Loneliness is chronic in an abusive relationship. We now understand better that abuse comes in many forms i.e. physical, emotional, spiritual and financial and we know how manipulative abusers are and that a primary tactic of abuse is to cut people off from their support networks. There are countless articles on the subject of narcissistic abuse alone and the various tactics employed by the narcissist to undermine and control their victims.
There is also the loneliness of the wrong relationship, the relationship that is being lived out at the expense of the soul, due to guilt, for financial reasons or for the sake of the children, a relationship with someone that just isn't on the same wavelength no matter how hard you try to connect with them.
Of course loneliness can stem from isolation and isolation is growing increasingly common in today’s society. There are many ways we can find ourselves isolated through change in life circumstance e.g. divorce, bereavement, illness, unemployment, financial difficulties or having to care for a sick or disabled loved one. All of these can lead to a significant downturn in our ability to socialise and connect. Sometimes a series of events and commitments can simply see friendship networks broken apart. It’s easy to slip off the radar of our friendship circles when we have to decline invitations consistently due to responsibilities or financial limitations; over time the invitations dry up.
We don’t congregate as a community in quite the same way that we used to, neighbours often leave and enter their homes in their cars and so don’t interact with each other the way they once did. Their children don’t play together on the street the way they did in the past, thus forming the basis of a neighbourhood support network that would extend far beyond their childhood. Families are more likely to be spread out, often living interstate or overseas.
Teens and tweens may have extensive social media chat networks, but how many of those friendships become deeper and more meaningful? Does anyone notice when one of the many user -names fails to appear in the group chat for a few days? Who in the group can they turn to when they need to discuss something private or troubling?
Then of course there is online bullying and trolling. It seems that social media networks and comments sections have become the hunting ground of aggressive and abusive bully's. More and more people are being shut down and intimidated for simply expressing an opinion. Women and minority groups in particular are subject to quite incredible abuse including threats of violence and consequently they're withdrawing from online interaction. I've observed in my own social feeds that even among friends people are often chided to only share upbeat 'highlight reels' of their lives, recently I saw someone shut down for "oversharing" because they dared to express sadness. This censorship creates a social interaction so distorted that even though we 'know' better, it's easy to feel as though everyone else is living a perfect carefree existence while we are struggling and being left behind. Nobody is allowed be a downer and the result is that more and more people are feeling down.
Anxiety and Depression contributes to loneliness. To someone suffering from Anxiety or Depression social occasions can be overwhelming and so they will avoid attending, they then end up spending more time alone than they would really like to, torn between the need to connect and the acute discomfort of social awkwardness or the dread of having to put on a happy face. Loneliness is acutely painful and chips away at confidence and self–esteem feeding the cycle of anxiety and depression. Often people pull out of social occasions because they feel anxious and unable to face them, then beat them selves up for not going and so feel depressed.
So what can we do about it?
We need to wake up our empathy and accept that not everyone is the same. If you can reach out to someone gently and respectfully and be friendly without being intrusive, do it.
As a society we need to be generous of spirit, thoughtful and even strategic about maintaining our relationships. It’s easy to become petty if we feel as though we are always the ones making arrangements for catch ups with certain friends, however there may be any number of reasons why those friends don’t take on that role. You failing to be the organiser for them may mean the end of their social life entirely.
You may not realise it but organising a catch up or a gathering can take a certain level of confidence and motivation, people that are experiencing lifestyle restrictions, loneliness, anxiety and/or depression may not have the confidence to request a meet-up because they may have a core belief that people don’t really want to spend time with them. It’s therefore important to encourage them to participate without being pushy, and perhaps to have strategies like taking it in turns and reminding them that it’s their turn to organise next time and giving them a date etc. to work towards (you may need to throw in a few gentle reminders too). It's frustrating to be let down I know, but try not to give up on them and adjust your expectations of them to their reality rather than trying to fit their square peg persona in to your round hole idea of how they should be.
To a confidant outgoing person with support networks and inherent confidence born from a secure family background, this may seem silly, but it’s life changing for people that may not have the benefit of that foundation for confidence and the consequent motivation, or who simply don't have the social confidence to do it.
Don’t’ forget that phones can be used to make phone calls!
Checking in with people by phone, particularly people that live alone, or are carers (for children or incapacitated adults) can give them an opportunity to connect and be themselves that may be quite rare for them. Ask them how they’re doing not just how the people they’re caring for are. Ask them what are they doing to look after themselves, and if you’re in a position to offer them help that would be great too. The important thing is to connect and let them be heard and hear about your life too. Be empathetic. Be aware that often introverted people don't answer a call (which may be an anxiety defence) but when they have had time to compose themselves they may call you back.
Are you lonely?
If you’re feeling lonely and are isolated, I know it hurts. Human connection is a basic human need. There are ways to connect, no matter what you’re personality type or circumstance even for the most introverted person, it just may take a little figuring out. Often the first step is to learn to accept yourself and plan according to who you are rather than who you think others expect you to be. There are people that would love to connect with you and that you would enjoy connecting with, you may find them through sports, volunteer organisations, hobby’s, meet-up groups etc. If you feel you lack the confidence, motivation or even the ideas to do so, a therapist can help you figure it out.
If you’re feeling lonely and have people in your life, starting a conversation about how you’re feeling is an important first step. If you’re finding it hard to start the conversation perhaps write it down in a letter first of all. If you need help opening this conversation or working through your feelings, as a Counsellor I may be biased, however I do recommend that you talk with a Professional Counsellor first. Sometimes our perspective can become very distorted if we are under stress or feeling depressed leading us to withdraw from people, so it's good to take stock with the aid of a professional to help clear your mind, when in this state of mind it is not a good time to make big decisions particularly about relationships If you believe you may be depressed visiting your GP to eliminate any potential physical cause is a good idea too.
Both Counselling and Clinical Hypnotherapy can be a great first step to feeling better and working on the connections that you’d like to have in your life. Whether you need to boost your confidence, work out what it is that you do really want and what is missing; figure out how to get around any obstacles that you feel are blocking you; or whether you want to resolve unresolved emotions Therapy will help.
Similarly, if you need help in managing the impact of Stress, Anxiety or Depression on your life Therapy will provide you with the skills you need. More and more people are seeking help via Therapy; society is evolving so we are adjusting our expectations and methods of processing our life events along with it.
If you feel you would benefit from Counselling or Hypnotherapy why not book a complimentary 30 minute assessment with me by calling 0435 923 817 or using this contact form.
There is always hope, things can always get better.
What do you think?
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Hypfocus is a private practice and as such does not offer emergency care. If you need advice or want to talk things through, you can contact Beyond Blue Support Service – available 24/7 for all Australians on 1300224636 or online at www.beyondblue.org.au/getsupport or contact Lifeline on 131114 or at thei website https://www.lifeline.org.au/
Hypfocus is located in Mentone, South East Melbourne
Georgina Mitchell is the Owner and Resident Therapist at Hypfocus Therapies & Training.
Georgina Mitchell was born in Ireland, moving to Australia in 1989. Georgina spent many years working in senior management in the Corporate world, before leaving to pursue her passion to become a Therapist.
Please note as with all therapies, Results for Therapies delivered by Hypfocus may vary from person to person