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HEALTH COLUMN: Loneliness feeds on itself: don't let it
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HEALTH COLUMN: Loneliness feeds on itself: don't let it
on 10 August 2018
Leo Powell has put together some useful tips on how to deal with loneliness

LONELINESS is a complex problem, though by definition it is a condition of relationship disconnection, social awkwardness and lengthy bouts of solitude.

People who are lonely often struggle with anxiety and depression, which makes them insecure and even pessimistic about finding friendships.

Poor self-esteem and a sense of unworthiness or unattractiveness can prevent a lonely person from venturing into new relationships. They typically lack confidence and emotional energy to pursue new relationships or nurture existing ones. At a chronic level it can be emotionally and psychologically debilitating.

Loneliness isn’t just a result of being alone or an absence of friends. It is a deeper problem, caused by feelings of inadequacy, imperfection and shame. Chronically lonely people are often holding onto pessimistic and bleak predictions about the prospects of finding companionship, social connections and supportive relationships.

The lonely often suffer in silence or hide behind a facade of normality. While smiling and having fun, many hide their feelings of loneliness. When around people they know, they pretend to be upbeat, positive and happy, while at the same time feeling unworthy and insecure. Since it is a shame-based experience, it is typically kept a secret.

Lonely people are often in a catch-22 situation. Social opportunities seem a heavy burden with the potential of rejection. The more you feel lonely, the more you feel inept and unworthy, the more you believe no one will ever like or love you, the more you isolate yourself.

With the potential for rejection or abandonment, the lonely person is unable to put their best foot forward. Hence, loneliness feeds on itself.

Lonely people believe they are unworthy of healthy and mutually respectful relationships with loving, affirming and giving individuals. They imagine that if they tell someone they are lonely it will scare them away. Therefore, they are attracted to people who, like themselves, are similarly lonely, needy and insecure. As a result, the self-fulfilling prophecy is realised.

The causes of loneliness are many, including social, psychological and physiological factors. The major cause of chronic loneliness is often attributed to early developmental factors such as a child’s lack of attachment to their adult caregivers.

Childhood neglect, abuse and abandonment are early factors that eventually manifest into adult loneliness.

Building up one’s self-esteem and ability to love, respect and care for yourself is fundamental in solving and healing the deeper psychological conditions that create chronic loneliness.

Considering loneliness can be traced back to childhood, solving the problem requires professional mental health services which will help heal and resolve these deeply embedded psychological wounds. Such reparative and healing work is well worth the time, effort and cost as it can help to release the vice-like grip that loneliness has on a person.

Life is too short to waste on suffering from core loneliness. Open up, take a chance and access the hidden part of you that deserves true and loving companions. Heal your childhood wounds. Learn to love yourself and eliminate loneliness from your life.

Tips to battle and conquer loneliness:

  • 1. Get rid of your inner critic’s attempts to sabotage yourself. Pay no attention to self-degrading thoughts like “I am too fat for anybody to want to date,” “I wish I were funnier and had interesting things to say,” or “People never seem to understand me.”
  • 2. Replace negative thoughts with affirming messages, such as “I am perfectly lovable just as I am.”
  • 3. Fight the urge to isolate yourself. Isolation validates your fears that you are not worthy of the love and support you deserve. Force yourself to do exactly that which you are dreading.
  • 4. Weed out toxic relationships and create space in your life for relationships that fuel your spirit. You can’t grow lovely succulent vegetables with a large patchwork of weeds.
  • 5. Nurture your support network. Even if there is only one person to start with, you can build on it. Don’t underestimate the importance of what you have to offer.
  • 6. Open yourself-up, take risks, and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Since loneliness results in isolation, experiment by sharing aspects of yourself, including experiences, feelings, memories, dreams, desires, etc. This will help you feel better known and understood.
  • 7. Ask for what you need. Find your voice. Tell people what you need from them to alleviate the loneliness. Friends respond to direct messages for help and support.
  • 8. Take action. Don’t wait for an invitation. Be willing to take a risk, be proactive and invite people to share in your life, whether it is for coffee, lunch, a walk, an event or a gathering in your home.
  • 9. Recognise the importance of being alone and enjoying solitude. Being alone is not the same as being lonely. Enjoy the peace, quiet, freedom, space and opportunity to connect with your deeper self.
  • 10. Consider getting help. Counselling is something that is healthy and proactive and can help you overcome the self-defeating behaviours that exacerbate loneliness. With the support of a professional you can change your thinking and relationship patterns and achieve the life you want.
  • Many thanks to Dr Adrian McGoldrick for his support and advice

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