For some of us, the pain of loneliness and the trap of isolation begins gradually. Friends move away, begin having families, or throw themselves into their new business venture or into advancing their career. For others, the pain is felt abruptly: leaving for college, moving, or starting a new job, or losing a partner to death or divorce.
Any of these events may cause you to re-evaluate the state of your relationships and the state of your standing Friday night plans in front of the television. In the last year especially, experiencing any of the above has likely only been heightened by the disconnected and polarized post-COVID world we now live in.
As the pandemic and the themes of social isolation have become a regular part of our daily vocabulary, it is only highlighted our need to reach out and feel connected to those around us. Still, while it may feel like this is a unique problem in the light of the recent events of today, the truth is that loneliness has been an emerging problem over the last decade.
Where Loneliness and Isolation Takes Root
Even those who are surrounded by others throughout the day have the potential to face a deep and pervasive sense of loneliness. You may even be married or in a long-term relationship and still not be able to escape that gnawing feeling inside.
Whether this is from a lack of true authenticity in your relationships -which may stem from hiding your struggle with alcohol, or the deep sense of shame you carry- or even the absence of another physical presence at home, we can feel isolated all the same.
The seeds of loneliness, when allowed room to grow, can have serious consequences for our physical and mental health. In addition to physical ailments like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, loneliness also contributes to depression, alcohol abuse, sleep problems, and even personality disorders.
Is Society to Blame for Our Isolation?
In general, shifts in our culture have also seemed to pave the way for this trend towards isolation. In public, rare is it that we will engage in conversation with others. In the waiting room, in line, at restaurants, etc., opportunities for connection have been replaced with an opportunity to send some emails, catch up on the latest podcast, listen to music, or otherwise occupy our minds with mindless activity.
In effect, we learn to rely on our smartphones out of a misguided attempt to protect ourselves from the unknowns of what a social encounter might bring. This being an election year, it is also fair to say that political polarization may be another reason that you may feel isolated and disconnected from others, even online. Especially online. When we curate our social networks and leave little room for interacting with others who hold -or might hold- opposing beliefs, we limit our opportunities for meaningful connection.
How Loneliness Entraps Us
Loneliness thrives within a self-defeating psychology that once it has taken root can make it difficult to escape its clutches. Complicating matters more, lonely people are likely to fall into some predictable traps that only serve to maintain rather than help them overcome their loneliness.
1. We Get Stuck in Negative Thinking
Our perceptions become altered so that we view our existing relationships more negatively and pessimistically. We make assumptions about others (that they do not like us or will reject us) and rely on these excuses to explain our lack of initiative or follow through when it comes to making plans.
2. We Believe Our Own Lies
As a result of our negative thinking, our own reactions and avoidance pushes others away even further. In our blindness to our role in creating the distance, we see others’ withdrawal as confirmation of our fears, and become even more convinced they no longer care about us. Often, complicating the pattern even more, to deal with the pain that stems from our faulty beliefs, we may turn to alcohol or prescription pills to cope.
3. Our Lies Become Truth
The more socially isolated we become, the less use we have for social and relationship skills, which will eventually wither away over time. If things go badly when we try to connect with others, rather than viewing the attempt as an opportunity to rebuild those skill sets, we see it as further confirmation of our undesirability.
Played out in this typical pattern, our loneliness becomes very visible to others who are likely to label us as less interesting and may not make efforts to connect, especially once we become equally entrapped in the cycle of addiction.
How to Break Free From Loneliness
The tricky part about breaking the cycle of loneliness and isolation is that it requires vulnerability, or a leap of faith in one way or another. We need to initially retrain our brains to see ourselves as desirable and worthy of connection, and then take action steps based on those newfound beliefs.
1. Remember Your Worth
The biggest hurdle to overcome in breaking the cycle of loneliness is your fear of rejection. This is the voice of shame in your life telling you that you are not good enough, that you are broken, or that if others only knew the truth about you, they wouldn’t stick around. While many of us may feel justified in those beliefs based on past experiences, we must have the courage to put ourselves out there again.
2. Take Initiative
For you, this may look like opening up to those who are already in your life but kept at a distance. It may look like sharing small pieces of yourself with others and giving them the benefit of the doubt that they will show up for you. It may also look like just getting out of the house: volunteering, taking up a new outdoor hobby, or scheduling a video chat to catch up with friends you have not seen in a while.
3. Approach Yourself and Others With Optimism
Get to know the cycle of self-doubt that starts to creep in when you socialize or make plans and learn to soothe it. Speak to that part of you with love and kindness, “Thank you for trying to protect me, but you’re not needed at this moment”. Take that leap of faith, and trust that when you can rein in your greatest enemy (your thoughts) you will be able to see yourself more clearly.
A loving, safe, and supportive recovery community helps heal all wounds. If you find yourself isolating from others and self-medicating your pain with prescription pills, drugs or alcohol, we want to invite you to discover true holistic healing in a treatment environment that speaks to every part of you, and helps you become the best version of yourself. Reach out to us today to learn more about our healing programs here at Villa Kali Ma!