7 Ways to overcome loneliness
We all have periods of loneliness, it's normal and a part of the human condition.
But what if you feel lonely all the time?
Maybe friendships have faded away and left you without a circle of friends, or you have friends but they don't understand you and you feel on the outside, disconnected.
So what is loneliness, why is it important to overcome it and why is it common with people pleasers?
Lets find out, and discover 7 ways to overcome loneliness and make meaningful connections.
A common misconception is that loneliness is about being alone. I can tell you categorically that’s not the case.
If you’ve ever been in a big city surrounded by people, or at a party you’ll know that not true.
And what could be worse than feeling lonely within a relationship?
As an introvert, I love my time alone, I cherish and value it enormously. So what's the difference between positive time alone and loneliness?
What makes us feel lonely is a lack of connections, of not feeling seen, heard or understood. THAT’S what makes us feel lonely.
Having lots of friends or being around lots of people doesn't cure loneliness, because you don't have connections with them. If anything, it makes you feel worse, more disconnected.
Why is it such a big deal?
Humans are social creatures and throughout evolution have used social bonds to aid survival. To outsmart predators or to hunt successfully we needed to work together and cooperate. Being rejected from the group would have been life threatening.
The need for social interaction is so important to us that solitary confinement is seen as the worst kind of punishment and even a form of torture.
Loneliness has strong links with both mental and physical health, including lowering our immune systems and increasing anxiety, stress and depression.
Feeling lonely is, quite frankly, grim.
Loneliness and the People Pleaser
People pleasers struggle with loneliness because of our ability to become chameleons, changing ourselves to fit in with the people we're with.
By wearing a mask you might make yourself fit in, but with people that are different to the authentic you.
Therefore they don’t connect with the real you, leaving you feeling disconnected, unheard and misunderstood.
People pleasers are also excellent listeners, always there to offer a sympathetic ear and support others when they’re feeling down. It's a great way to hide.
What they aren’t good at is being the talker, at sharing their own struggles or worries and being supported because they don’t want to be a burden, or to be ‘too much’.
They are givers, and accepting support feels alien to them so they end up feeling guilty or selfish.
It’s hard to be connected with people if you’re terrified they'll see your supposed ‘flaws’ when it’s sharing those ‘flaws’ that will bring about greater intimacy and meaningful connections. It's those 'flaws' - idiosyncrasies, quirks and characteristics - that make you YOU.
7 ways to reduce loneliness and make connections
It's important to make meaningful connections with others, and that feels hard for a people pleaser, so here are 7 ways to form connections with others to fight loneliness.
The first step to reducing loneliness and making more meaningful connections is having an awareness of being lonely.
For example, if you're with a group of people you may feel that you don’t fit in and consequently tell yourself that there’s something wrong with you.
But feeling it's something wrong with you will make you try to change to fit in, which is the worst thing you can do. Ultimately it will compound the feelings of loneliness.
Being in a group and feeling detached is loneliness, not a character flaw and being aware of this means you can explore it and find ways to change.
It’s far more useful to be thinking ‘Hhm, I don’t feel like I fit in here, I wonder what that’s about’.
So for me, if I was in a group having a long conversation about make up, I would feel out of place: it simply doesn’t interest me.
I COULD pretend to be interested, but that means being inauthentic, changing myself to fit in. Or I could accept that this is a part of the conversation I don’t make a contribution to and either zone out for a bit or try to steer the conversation to something else.
If the conversation was always about make up and other topics I'm not interested in then I’d have to consider finding other friends that share my own interests.
I can still be friends with make-upy people, but would have other friends I’d connect with better.
2. Making new connections
In Mind's article 'How to cope with loneliness' they say: 'It can be helpful to think of feeling lonely like feeling hungry. Just as your body uses hunger to tell your body you need food, loneliness is a way of your body telling you that you need more social contact. That means the simplest way to ease feelings of loneliness can be to try to meet more, or different, people.'
Sometimes meeting new friends can happen a lot – like when you start a new job, and sometimes you have to go looking for them.
If you find your number of friends dwindling, you need to replenish the stocks!
But it’s not just about having friends, it’s having the right friends and making meaningful connections, which is done by actively looking for people with similar interests to yours.
We’ve all heard the advice – join a club etc, and it’s good advice!
Make a list of interests and search out courses in that subject or clubs to join.
Being a people pleaser means you’re an excellent listener, supporter and shoulder to cry on.
What you’re not so good at is asking for or accepting help, or sharing your worries.
- It’s hard for people to connect if they don’t know you
- It’s hard for people to be there for you when they don’t know you’re struggling
- It’s hard for people to help you if you pretend you’re fine
As a recovering people pleaser, I understand only too well how difficult it is to share feelings with others.
Being there for others is a great way to deflect the focus from yourself, but the downside is it attracts those people that are takers, that are happy to allow you to always be there for them.
Unlike a real friend, they won’t be interested in a balanced friendship and are more likely to run to the hills when you need something from them.
So how can you learn to share more in a way that feels comfortable for you?
There are reasons you don’t share your struggles: fear of rejection, fear of being a burden, fear of being laughed at, fear of feeling exposed. All valid fears that should be respected.
So take control of what you share, experiment. Take baby steps.
If you’ve been hanging onto stuff for a while, you may worry that everything will flood out and it'll be overwhelming. But you’re in control of what you say and how much you share.
So when asked how you are, rather than saying you’re fine, experiment: say ‘I’ve got a few things on my mind today’, see how that feels.
Or practice with something trivial; see how it feels to share something inconsequential.
Alternatively, when you meet new people allow yourself to share with them (somehow it feels easier to share with a stranger!). Again, you're totally in control of what and how much you share, so give it a go and see how it feels. Practice.
In 'The Lonely Society' report, Professor Jacqueline Olds tells lonely patients there is one guaranteed way to make connections: ‘join a group that has a shared purpose and eventually you will make a friend’. Studies reveal that people who are engaged in service to others, such as volunteering, tend to be happier.
Volunteering helps in many ways: It's a great way to feel good, help others, boost your mental health and make connections, so check out what volunteering opportunities there are in your area.
6. Social Media
It's a paradox: Social media has enabled us to stay more connected than ever before, but we're experiencing more loneliness.
Social media is a double edged sword for the lonely. On the one hand you're in contact with others, but on the other you are seeing what they want you to see, and they want you to see that they're having a fabulous time! This can make you feel worse.
It’s important to remember that what you see isn’t an accurate representation of their lives.
Also the quality of communication is poor and doesn't count for meaningful connection. A few Facebook 'likes' or 'LOL's won't make you feel the same connection as a coffee with a friend will.
It's quality communication that makes us feel connected, and it's meaningful connections that stop us feeling lonely.
However what social media IS good for are groups.
Facebook has thousands of groups so you can join and be in the online company of people with similar interests or issues than you. These can be fantastic places to make connections with like minded people. If you've been lonely for a while you can dip a toe into making new friends in a way that feels safe and manageable.
Writing about your feelings of loneliness will help you to identify ways you can help yourself.
If you'd like some extra information about starting a journal, this guide takes you step by step through the whole process.
The guide is available on a Pay What You Want basis, meaning there is no set price, you pay what you feel it's value is to you.
Loneliness is about feeling disconnected and has an impact on both our physical and mental health.
If you're feeling lonely it's time to make a change. Reach out in whatever way feels right for you, and start building meaningful connections.
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