This is for all the lonely people
Loneliness is a distressing emotion. When clients come into my counseling office expressing loneliness there are some common ways they describe getting there. Fortunately, the way to finding connection is often the same no matter the journey there. As a counselor for over a decade, here’s what I’ve learned about why others feel lonely and the journey they take to find connection and meaning.
Some counseling clients have always felt on the outside of things
For some clients, understanding relationships and how to maneuver them has always been difficult for a lot of reasons. Maybe they never saw relationships done well and had no model to follow. Maybe their strengths are more in analysis and getting things done than being aware of the needs of others. Or maybe they have made choices that alienate them from others, they’ve tried unsuccessfully to repair them, and they have regrets.
The good news is that staying open to starting over and learning new skills – adding new tools to their tool box – can help. In the book “Tools”, therapists Phil Stutz and Barry Michels start with an upside down pyramid.
- The foundation of the pyramid is the Body. Make changes in what you eat, how you sleep, and how you move. I know, it’s not easy but this is the place to start.
- The middle level of the pyramid is People. Get out of your routine. Intentionally find ways to be around people. Time in a coffee shop, invite somebody -anybody- out to breakfast or lunch.
- The top level of the pyramid is Self. This is where counseling clients begin to tune in to their beliefs, patterns they get stuck in, and ways out. Stutz calls these stuck places “The Maze”. This is where individual counseling makes things happen.
Some counseling clients have lost significant supportive people
I have a lot of rock star counseling clients. They keep going despite the adversity and still love people well. The problem that brought them to counseling was that they lost that one person they could always go to who really saw them and cared for them. That one person was enough to keep them moving forward. Maybe it was a childhood friend, their Mom or Dad, or a romantic partner. And the loss of that one person – or couple of people close together – left them without the source of support they went to when they needed a boost. Without that one person they carry the weight of life alone and they feel the loss. It’s especially hard if that person is still alive but for various reasons isn’t available to them anymore. This the loss of a dream – perhaps the loneliest loss of all.
The loneliness of this loss is deep and dear to the heart. Loneliness is tied to the history and experiences, the type of memories that were pivotal points in a client’s life. How do they keep this person alive in their life today?
- Preserve these memories by writing their memoirs
- Create a scholarship or legacy fund to honor this dear friend
- Establish celebratory tradition for the memory of times shared to live on and preserve the connection forever.
Some counseling clients have suffered a change in wellness that’s limiting
Some counseling clients have health issues that have made them more isolated and lonely. People connect through shared experiences – bike riding groups, bowling leagues, working in the same place, or going to the same church. When health issues affect mobility, cognitive functioning, or disposable income, their circle of people gets smaller and loneliness creeps in. Watching others go on with their lives while they are on the sidelines creates distance. Sitting in isolation in the loss can lead to resentments and when these are expressed, it challenges relationships sometimes beyond repair.
People who work past seasons of physical health losses, usually find ways to serve others and find connection within the community of similarly situated people who need a friend. Their motto becomes “to have a friend, be a friend”.
Some counseling clients have played roles in life they no longer want to play
Still other clients are in counseling because they realize they have some friends in their circle because of the role they play in their lives. Over time they understand how much they have given in friendships, setting aside their own needs to help a friend. The problem comes in when my client needs others to do the same, and they realize they aren’t there for them. The friendships they held dear are not mutually beneficial – they had been pretty one-sided and my clients have discovered that’s not what they need in life anymore. Just a person to care about isn’t the kind of friendship they want any longer. How does counseling help move clients out of the roles they play?
- Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some one-sided roles may work for you. Before you decide to make these changes, spend time deciding how you benefit from the role you play. Maybe it helps you feel needed, maybe you like being a problem-solver. Figure that out first. Counseling is a great place to start.
- Grieve the loss and understand you chose the role. Accept how things got this way and work through the anger and resentment before engaging with others. Spend time in counseling grieving the loss and processing the regret.
- Once you’re clear on what you want and where you’ve been, get good at NO
- I won’t be able to do that
- I hear you need help with that. I hope you find what you need I just can’t add that to my schedule right now.
- Be calm, confident and consistent in sticking to your NO. If you teach others you’ll cave or if you act like you’re not sure then it’s not sending a clear message and keeps others confused and that’s not what you’re aiming for.
- Realize you’ll lose some “friends”. We all have our go-to people for things – our plumber, computer person, etc. When counseling clients realize that they have become the “go-to” person when people have certain problems – emotional needs, money problems, errand runner – backing down from the roll compassionately changes things. Some relationships may deepen and some may not survive.
The answer is inside not outside
All of this hard work is an internal journey. We influence others to know us better when we are consistent, when we communicate assertively and really mean what we say. It’s a risk but living authentically can help us more successfully manage our emotions, minimize depression and anxiety, and help us avoid reaching out for coping skills that make us feel guilty and ashamed.
Need some help? That’s what Believe, Hope, Inspire Wellness Services does best. Give us a call today or make an appointment on our secure client portal here.
Want to find out more tips and tools? Check out our blog here https://believehopeinspire.com/blog/
P. Dianne Presley LCSW
Owner/Founder Believe, Hope, Inspire Wellness Services LLC