Are you lonely?

In my work as a counsellor, I often meet people who are lonely. In fact, much of the time the very thing that propels people to seek counselling is loneliness. It is nothing to be ashamed of, just as being hungry is nothing to be ashamed of. It is an emotion that is trying to send a message. And that message is: CONNECT!!!

When a person comes to counselling because they are anxious or depressed or they are having difficulties in a relationship, they are simply acknowledging the fact that they need ‘outside help’ from someone. They realize that they are ‘people that need people’. Again, this is nothing to be embarrassed about. Conversely, they are actually being wise enough to admit that they need something… from someone else. This is actually the guts of community. Life is unnecessarily hard when you try to live in a vacuum. Loneliness is difficult.

Loneliness the Epidemic

Loneliness has become a bit of an epidemic. The time we are living in has been called The Age of Loneliness. According to statistics we are living in an age where 20% of Americans are experiencing a consistent state of loneliness. Whilst Social Media as a ‘community vehicle’ is rapidly spreading to every corner of the globe, it isn’t actually helping the loneliness epidemic; in fact it could be making it worse.

Psychologists are waking up to the fact that loneliness is a major contributor to mental ill health and physical health in general. Psychologists at Brigham Young University and the University of Utah found that prolonged loneliness may be more dangerous than obesity. Excessive loneliness can increase a person’s chance of premature death by 14 percent — almost double the risk of early death from obesity. The Huffington Post stated “A substantial body of research has also elucidated the psychological, behavioral, and biological pathways by which social isolation and loneliness lead to poorer health and decreased longevity,” the study’s authors write. “In light of mounting evidence that social isolation and loneliness are increasing in society, it seems prudent to add social isolation and loneliness to lists of public health concerns.” Extensive studies into human longevity have revealed that among the common denominators present in the lives of ‘long livers’ is relationship health and community.For more information on this see Blue Zones.

Extensive studies into human longevity have revealed that among the common denominators present in the lives of ‘long livers’ is relationship health and community…

Dr Sanjay Gupta made the statement, If our relationships can have such an effect on our overall health, why don’t we prioritize spending time with the people around us as much as we do exercising and eating right?” This points to an interesting fact. Just as we need food and water to replenish our bodies, we actually need relationships to replenish our souls… and according to research, our bodies too. Feeling loneliness is similar to feeling hunger or thirst. It is a warning system that alerts us to the fact that we need ‘connection’. Back in the days of early man, this may have meant the survival of a tribe, as connection or community would have meant greater protection from predators.

Family and Community

I am convinced that family and community ‘done right’ would radically reduce the need for counsellors and psychologists. Healthy community meets deep relational needs that directly effects mental and physical health. Research suggests that the most influential aspect of counselling, is the counsellor-client relationship itself, second to this are the relationships that the client has outside of the counselling session- that would hopefully be improving due to counselling. For this reason counsellors at Breathe Counselling focus intrinsically on relationships.

Many times, emotional issues, addictions or dysfunction arise because of a relational void or ‘chasm’ in people’s lives. This can be a present relational void or something from the past. When people are lonely ‘now’ the likelihood of seeking comfort or satisfaction in ‘destructive stuff’ like drugs or pornography is far more likely. When looking at the past- Unmet, legitimate childhood needs such as the need for a ‘present’ parent whilst growing up can lead to patterns of functioning later in life that are destructive. An example of this can be, the destructive pattern of sexual promiscuity, arising because the unmet, legitimate childhood need of attention and affection wasn’t offered from the parent of the opposite sex. The good news is, that through counselling and present relationship, dysfunctions can be addressed and healed.

If you are lonely I would suggest this:

  • Review your connections (family, friends, colleagues)
  • Be intentional about contacting these connections and working on the relationships
  • If you are anxious about contacting people or are experiencing social phobia of any kind, connect with a counsellor online or ask someone to call one for you- and ask them to attend a session with you (Social phobias are more common than you think)
  • Find and join a social group, church or club
  • If you are housebound or physically disabled, seek out social groups online
  • Learn about communication
  • Practice vulnerability with safe others

Don’t stay lonely, reach out, people love you…