January 11, 2020

I'm so lonely.

Marilyn Monroe once said: “If I’m going to be alone, I’d rather be by myself”.   That famous diva, who received heaps of adoration but not enough love in her short life, fully understood the difference between loneliness and solitude. Solitude is time you set aside to be with yourself.  It is a choice you make, an opportunity to enjoy the present moment, to savour the bliss of having nowhere to go and nothing to do.   Loneliness, in contrast, can be an intensely painful mix of anxiety and sorrow, coupled with a deep longing for company. What are the effects of loneliness? In essence, loneliness is a deficit: the difference between the amount of social contact and intimacy you are actually experiencing, and the amount you want.   Loneliness is feeling isolated, an outcast, like nobody wants you.  It is a lack of relatedness, something which can only be gauged in terms of quality rather than quantity.  After all, you could be the most popular person on the block, spending whole days surrounded by people, and still feel like the loneliest person on the planet. If you are feeling persistently lonely, the emotional pain can have a detrimental effect on both your physical and mental health.  You may be having trouble sleeping, and your immune system might be running low.  You may be feeling increasingly depressed and anxious, and finding it harder and harder to go it alone. Loneliness becomes a trap. Whatever your circumstances, one vital element which is common to all sufferers of chronic loneliness is an ever-increasing tendency to be on the lookout for rejection and hostility.  Lonely people immediately think the worst in any ambiguous social situation.  They assume that either they themselves have done or said something to offend the other person, or that the other person is deliberately shunning them.  They are hyper-sensitive to any kind of criticism or disagreement, and they are quick to take offence, remembering only the negative aspects of their interactions.  This can plunge them into a downward spiral of negative expectations which makes it harder to break free from the loneliness trap. What can therapy do for me? If you are a sufferer of chronic loneliness, your therapist can help you explore options for dealing with it, depending on circumstances.  For example, if you are a person who tends to be socially awkward, you might be encouraged to experiment with new ways of interacting; or, if you are a victim of changing circumstances (e.g. bereavement, divorce, relocation, etc.)  your therapist can offer you a different route towards achieving more fulfilling social connectivity.  An important aspect of your healing is to identify and bring to an end the self-destructive patterns of troubled thinking.    

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