Many people struggle with feeling lonely. Loneliness is not about being alone. After all many people feel happy and rejuvenated by being alone. Loneliness is tied with emptiness and worthiness. You may crave connection with others but your state of mind prevents you from doing this. Whether you feel like you’re trying and not succeeding or you don’t have the energy to connect, the desire to fulfill your sense of belonging runs deep.
There are many causes to your persistent feeling of loneliness but I will discuss the two major ones I see when people come to therapy. The first is trauma and the second is attachment related difficulties.
Trauma occurs as a result of adverse experience(s) which makes your whole being feel at threat for survival. This can be due to emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse as well as neglect, living in a dangerous environment or war torn country. Traumas can be single incidents, such as a car accident, or repeated, such as repeated sexual violations. The result is the same, a sensitized stress response system that’s always on the ready for threat and a feeing like something is wrong with you.
Repeated traumas rewire your brain. This rewire has your attention constantly focused on threats to threats. As a result, anything that resembles a past adverse experience has the potential to send you in a tailspin. Therefore, you may feel really weird or strange because your reactions seem to be out of proportion when you compare it to other peoples. Also with person to person trauma, such as violence, your beliefs about people being dangerous also keep you on guard. So you don’t trust others easily. With a brain always on the search for threat, when you encounter people who behave in ways thats signal threat you act accordingly. Does this saying fit with your belief about people, “once someone breaks my trust, thats it they are out!” Ask yourself what exactly does this mean? More important what does trust mean to you? There are all kinds of ways that people violate our trust, and this can be intentional or unintentional. But with an all or noting statement such as “if someone breaks trust…”you can see how fixed you are in your mind and how it can be hard to have quality relationships if you’re constantly looking for someone to mess up.
Attachment Related Issues:
Often I see attachment issues in conjunction with trauma but you can have attachment related issues alone. At their core, attachment related issues are about feeling like your parents were not there for you. The didn’t understand who you were, you felt unloved and unwanted. The result of this is that you felt very alone. As you have gotten older you tried to seek out connections and relationships with others, yet the feeling of being alone still persist. This is because the building blocks of self-esteem, our beliefs about our self worth, come from those early experiences with our parents.
Babies are so cute. The joke is that nature made babies cute so that the adults in the pack wouldn’t eat them or leave them out in the wild. Babies are very needy. They cry and they sleep in those early days and it’s the adults job to figure out whats wrong and help alleviate their distress. This is done by feeding them, changing them, keeping their temperature stable, and engaging with them. When parents do this they signal to the baby that they matter. That they are loved and wanted. As the baby continues to grow parents find more elaborate ways to show their love and affection for their children. The result he child internalizes these beliefs and feels like they matter.
But what if you have one parent, who loves you but the other took off making you feel like you where unworthy? (I might add that for the parent who stays they often have their own hurt at being left and they make comments about how the person who left didn’t care, did’t love you, and didn’t want you which can be incredibly harmful to your developing your sense of self. This message has a way of making you feel like you’re a burden to the parent who stayed, “If I wasn’t born then….”).
You may also be in two patent home but your parents ignored you when you cried or told you to just get over it. They may have dismissed your feelings of anger or teased you for your interests. There really is a lot of things parents often do, usually unintentionally, that can make you feel unwanted, unloved, and alone. When you grow up with this type of emptiness you go out in search of it in others.
Whether your feelings of loneliness stem from traumatic experiences or from attachment related experiences, loneliness doesn’t have to be your only experience. You can feel loved, connected, understood, and happy. You also do not need to solely seek out love through others but you can and SHOULD learn to love yourself. When you first love yourself then you can accept the love of others.
The 5 Steps to Overcoming Loneliness
- Get to know yourself. This is incredibly hard, especially if you have been in a long term relationship and you have only really known yourself as part of a couple. Now you must take the time to figure out who you are. You do this by figuring out what you like and don’t like. Create a list and list everything you like to do and don’t like to do. If this feels abstract here is a more in-depth guide that will show you how to do this.
- Get a little uncomfortable. This is also very hard. We all seek out comfort and safety, its hardwired in our brains. The feeling of uncomfortableness can actually feel like a threat and if you have a sensitized stress response system then being uncomfortable can be incredibly dysregulating, triggering your flight-fight-freeze response. So in order to keep it bay and protect yourself you avoid the discomfort. But I’m encouraging you to lean into the discomfort. Yes, it will be scary but it’s often the fear thats far scarier than your reality. Now to do this, you must move slow. Don’t pick something big like public speaking but something small. Maybe it’s saying “no” if someone asks you babysit their kid or if a friend asks you to hang out but you really don’t feel like it. If your natural inclination is to say yes because you don’t want to let someone down then say no. Then think about how this makes you feel.
- Get active. After you figure out who you are and what you like to do, its time to do more of it. When you’re feeling lonely, isolating yourself only exacerbates these feelings. By getting out and doing what you love you are taking care of yourself. You are fueling your body, mind and soul.
- Examine the quality of your current relationships. It’s not about quantity or the amount of friends you have but the quality of these relationships. More to the point we have different relationships with different people. There are two people in a relationship and you feed off of each other. You can thank the mirror neurons for this, where who we surround ourselves with, really determines who we think we are in a sense. You begin to take on the other persons actions and they take on yours. I have a guide that talks about the different types of friends we all have and this can help you determine who you have in your life that fits your individual needs.
- Strengthen good relationships and seek out more quality. There is nothing worse than keeping someone around just because you’ve known them for a long time. This is why you must examine the quality of your relationships because it matters who you surround yourself with. It’s also why the first couple steps are about getting to know yourself and focusing on yourself esteem. By first focusing inward this will allow you to choose who you have in your life and eliminate those that are not good for you. It’s ok to say goodbye to someone who is not fulfilling your needs. It doesn’t make them a bad person and has little do with their character but it just means that there is something in your dynamic that is not benefiting you. Remember, it’s about you taking care of yourself and this is what is important. You can also just cut out the time you spend with these friends and increase the time you spend with the supportive ones. *I think i have a blog about saying goodbye to friend who don’t do it for you.
Loneliness is truly a state of mind and it’s something that you can overcome, over time. For you may have always felt lonely and you sought out ways to alleviate the loneliness. Whether that was with food, sex, alcohol, drugs, or in romantic relationships your need to feel connected is a primal need that is completely normal. You do need to seek out toxic ways to alleviate that loneliness but you can start with the group up, by focusing first on yourself and then moving on to other relaitonships, you can alleviate the pain of loneliness.
If you are struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and general unhappiness then therapy can really benefit you. Therapy can help you get to the bottom of your loneliness as well as give you tools and support to help you feel better. Find out more about me and my work at jessicalangtherapy.com or schedule your free 15 minute phone consultation to get started.
These are just a few strategies, steps, and recommendations! I hope you found this post helpful! I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!
Thank you for taking the time to read. Remember sharing is caring, so share if you found this helpful!
Until we connect again,
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