One thing I have learned from this profession is that we are much more alike than we are different. People often talk about similar issues and struggles but often believe that they are the only person feeling that way or dealing with that particular problem. People get trapped in the mindset that everyone else must have it together, be happy, and have the perfect life and that they are doing something wrong. This is a complete myth. Let me say, life is hard. We all have stress. Not only do we all experience stress and difficulties, they often fall under the same categories as everyone else. I find that there are common themes and subjects that end up getting discussed often in sessions. I believe that this particular topic is one of the most vital areas of life that determines our measure of joy and satisfaction in life. What is it?
The measure of whether or not we are socially connected and satisfied with the connections and relationships in our life. We are a social species and we are biologically wired for social connection and belonging. It’s why we feel such pain and shame when we are lonely. Loneliness is when we feel disconnected. Loneliness tells us that we are in need of social connection- something as crucial as food and water to our well-being.
Loneliness is the absence of meaningful connections from friends, relationships, family, and even community or work groups.
Remember, loneliness and being alone are not the same thing. It is possible to feel lonely in a room full of people. Also, it appears that in an age of social media and technology and the constant ability to communicate and “connect” with others, people seem to feel more lonely and isolated than ever. Conversations through a screen do not replace the need for true face to face contact and real life connection.
What are some of the barriers contributing to our loneliness and social isolation? Fear. Fear of vulnerability, being rejected and criticism. Fear of judgement and criticism keeps us from reaching out and connecting with people. We are so worried about what other people will think about us. The ironic thing- most people have this same worry. (Remember, we are biologically designed for connection and therefore, seek some degree of approval and validation from others). So, many of us are out there worrying that we will not measure up when in fact, many people feel this way. People just don’t talk about it openly. Many concerns sound like “what will people think about me?” “Will I be funny enough, smart enough, pretty enough, interesting enough or- insert any other self-conscious thoughts here. Whenever we have the thought ‘I am not enough’ is an indication that we are experiencing shame. Brene Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” When we feel lonely, self-conscious and like an “outsider” it pushes us to go into self-preservation mode. Meaning, when we feel isolated, disconnected and lonely, we try to protect ourselves. Even though we want to connect, we override it with negative narratives that exaggerate our insecurities and fears leading to more isolation and loneliness.
We crave social connection and want to have meaningful relationships. It is an area of life that people often seek guidance and support to work on improving the relationships and connections in their life. Being able to talk to a professional provides the opportunity to explore your personal barriers to meaningful connections. It could mean exploring your relationships with family and how to navigate communication and conflict more effectively. It may mean learning to assert yourself and set boundaries with friends or coworkers. It may be collaboratively exploring and challenging negative self-talk patterns and irrational beliefs that are contributing to insecurities that hold you back from trying new things or meeting people. You can address fears and anxieties about navigating social situations to feel more confident in your social skills. You can collaboratively identify strategies to expand your social network and cultivate deeper relationships. Please remember that you are not alone in these struggles the next time you find yourself wanting to engage with others.
I will leave you with this Brene Brown quote: