How to handle loneliness.

How to handle loneliness.

Isn’t this a great topic for a first post! Don’t worry it’s not all going to be about depressing subjects.

One of the things that I wish had been covered more when I was at school, especially when I was a teenager growing up and even now as an adult, is how to handle difficult emotions, such as loneliness and depression.

This is something we’re often not taught how to handle especially as we grow up. We’re just expected to be able to handle it as though it’s just something that hopefully we will learn how to do through experience.

I think like a lot of people I have felt some degree of loneliness probably my whole life. It’s been like a low level static on a radio channel, constantly playing in the background. You know it’s always there but you can’t do anything about it. Despite the fact that I grew up in a very loving family as the youngest of three, I’ve often felt alone and lonely. And it’s no one’s fault. I can’t blame anyone for this (beside the fact that doing that wouldn’t make me feel any better anyway). It’s just the way life is, and it seems to be that way for a vast amount of people, in fact 1 in 4 people report being lonely.

The thing is, like a lot of things, it’s not so much the issue that we feel that way, the issue is that we often don’t really know how to deal with it. It would seem that a number of people are lonely but don’t have a good idea about what to do about it.

Charlie Houpert, on his channel #CharismaOnCommand (which you can see here) says that the way to deal with loneliness isn’t just to have people in your life, since you can be lonely in a crowd, but it’s to make a connection (presumably an emotional connection) with something that you are passionate about, like a hobby, cause or idea. I do see his point, though I don’t know if I agree with that totally, since I have a number of hobbies and interests that I am passionate about but still at times wish I could find even one person that I could share that passion with.

One of the advantages of social media is that it does allow you to find like minded people, using media to connect with people who share your interests can enable you to find your own ‘tribe’. This leads to a large number of different tribes springing up as like minded people find each other

Even at school this is true. The school playground is already very tribal as young people try to discover the group that best fits their personality and interests. One of the interesting things about social media and the internet in general is that it basically amplifies that sense of tribalism to the point where being part of that tribe defines who we are rather than the other way around. That is, we will remain with a tribe even when we don’t necessarily agree with it, simply because of the emotional investment that we’ve already put into it and the fact that it would be too difficult and costly to get out. Therefore the members of a group derive their identity from the group, rather than the group being defined by its individual members.

As a result we will tend to see other people in terms of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ (or, if you like ‘us and them’). The insiders are people who share our passions, beliefs and values and are therefore the types of people we want around us and who would alleviate our loneliness. The outsiders are people who don’t share out beliefs and are not people we hang around with and therefore don’t understand. They need to prove themselves to us first before we trust them to be the people who could alleviate our loneliness.

Dealing with loneliness does mean making a connection and sometimes loneliness can be helped through a connection with a hobby or passion, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. What we really need is another person who connects with the same passion or hobby that we have and that shares the same type of connection with us.

CS Lewis once said,

“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one!”

The Four Loves

What we are really looking for is someone who will not only connect with us on the level that we want and about the thing(s) that we want but also help us to feel that we can communicate that with others without feeling like we are somehow deviant or unusual.

One of the perils of social media is that if we are tempted to only communicate the parts of ourselves that are socially acceptable to our tribe. For example, an atheist who prays during moments of stress, or a feminist who wants men to open the door for her, or a conservative who is pro-choice and anti-gun would never share those things for fear of being labelled as a traitor. These things can make us feel ostracised from our tribe if they are revealed and make us defensive and aggressive if people ask us about them because the emotional connection is part of our identity.

This then leads to some skills that could possibly be taught in schools. The tribalism of the school yard is as good a proving ground for the tribalism of the workplace and a good place to practice the skills that are necessary in that place.

So how do we handle loneliness? What kinds of things could be taught at school to help us do this?

I think one important thing that needs to be taught is that loneliness, like sadness, anxiety, depression and other negative emotions can’t be avoided, and not only that it can’t be, but that it shouldn’t be. We will never go through life always feeling happy or satisfied or included, and that is something that needs to be taught to young people growing up along with skills regarding how to deal with it when it happens. We need to stop letting young people think that it is normal to have a happy life. It’s not, and it never has been. Young people need to be taught that they are not unusual if they are feeling sad. Going on social media and seeing everyone talking about what a great life they are having or watching TV commercials where everyone is laughing and having fun because they drink Coke or have this new product is a bizarre form of indoctrination that makes people feel that they are somehow aberrant if they don’t share the same things.

We need to learn how WE handle loneliness as individuals, how WE react to bad situations, and the kinds of things that WE can do to cope with it. That’s the first step, and we need to understand that it’s a different process for everyone and we need to have the freedom to explore that as individuals. Part of it is finding a connection in our tribe and where we fit, but part of it is also understanding how the reality around us is actually constructed by others and that we have a part to play in influencing that reality as well.

That’s something I wish I was taught at school.

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