Loneliness - why do we need to connect with others?
In the counselling world, loneliness seems to be becoming a bigger issue than ever before. For men and women who are separated, the hardest part can be coping with the feelings of loss and loneliness. Likewise, in bereavement, many people express feeling so incredibly lonely, especially in the older generation.
Families may be dispersed over different parts of the world, affecting the support network. People of different ethnicity, refugees, LBGT communities, people with learning needs etc are more likely to feel lonely.
Even children are reporting feeling more lonely than ever before. This is related to social media, parents being pressured to be at work more hours, and single parent families, as well as smaller families and less social activities at home.
So what does loneliness feel like? Many say it's a feeling of physical emptiness, a yearning for contact and conversation. A deep sadness that can lead to suicidal feelings. Loneliness can affect our ability to feel confident; if you are on your own for long periods many people struggle to feel comfortable in engaging in conversations.
Sometimes it's just the feeling of needing the presence of another. Many studies that have been conducted on humans needs inform us that we are much happier and healthier when we have good connections with others and a support network. For children or adults with autism or similar conditions, making connections with others can be difficult, and so they are often feeling isolated and alone.
What we know about humans is that we generally are sociable beings who enjoy social contact. Humans like doing activities; we like chatting about common interests; we tend not to thrive on our own as well as we do with others. If you consider how animals tend to live together in their groups - we're not that different! Many people who feel lonely describe feelings of 'existing', not living. They often feel like life is not worth living.
So how can we start to address loneliness? Is it about taking responsibility for our own needs? Is it about considering others, taking time to chat to neighbours? Is it for us to think on a bigger scale, addressing peoples needs, providing more social activities? Many people will volunteer to address social needs.
When someone comes into therapy feeling lonely, they may be encouraged to explore their own needs; what's missing in their life, how this happened and what's stopping getting their needs met.
For children, it's more about parental responsibility; being there for your child, taking time to listen and chat each day. Taking children to activities they enjoy where they can meet new friends and helping them to feel they are loved and cared for are also important.
Even if you are surrounded by others, we can feel lonely if there's a struggle connecting with others. If you're feeling lonely, sad, depressed and need some help, then reach out to someone as soon as possible. Don't suffer in silence.
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