Loneliness and isolation
Many clients appear quite quite isolated and frequently describe themselves as being very lonely. Loneliness can be one of the most debilitating experiences one has. It can lead to depression and anxiety.
From the moment that we are born we are hardwired to relate to other human beings. Our very survival depends on it. The newly born infant attaches to the primary caregiver in a unique emotional interplay. The subsequent relationship that develops between child and caregiver will contribute to an internal template that the child develops about relationships in general. If all goes well, the child will develop into an adult who has a secure attachment to the caregiver and feels comfortable in relationships in general. If there are problems in the relationship between child and caregiver, for example because the caregiver for one reason or another is not available to the child or inconsistent in their response, the infant is likely to grow up into an adult with an insecure attachment. This means that the insecure adult will make predictions about human relationships, based on the assumption that they may not be loveable, that other people are not reliable or worse, that others may actually wish to do them harm.
Clients who are very isolated and have few or no social relationships often have an insecure attachment style. They have learned somewhere along the line that they cannot quite rely on other people. Underlying the difficulty in creating friendships is a deeply held belief that nobody really likes them, that they are not interesting or worthy enough and that other people are likely to be rejecting and hurtful. Lonely clients often lack in confidence and self-esteem.
Being isolated means that the lonely client often doesn’t have enough positive feedback from others that would challenge these negative assumptions, they lack encouragement in thinking that they are indeed loveable and worthy of attention. Sometimes, even if this feedback is given, the client may be skeptical about the positive intention.
Working on loneliness means challenging these negative assumptions and enabling clients to start developing a more positive relationship with themselves. First of all, the work involves creating an understanding for the client about their earlier experiences in their family of origin. Once this understanding is gained a new way of thinking and feeling about oneself can develop. Clients can then slowly learn to evaluate social interactions with others in a different, more validating and less intimidating way.
If you feel lonely, you often have very strong, idealised ideas about the life that other people may be leading – looking into other people’s living rooms you imagine a life of fulfillment and perpetual happiness. Looking at other people’s supposed happiness often creates a feeling of impossibility; you may think it’s impossible for you to lead the life that others are having. Working with a client’s loneliness also means dispelling the myth that all other people out there are leading endlessly happy lives.
When working with isolation and loneliness there is also the very practical aspect of the work in exploring opportunities for the client to make contact with others and to start building friendships. In order to cement a new understanding of the self, the client needs to have experiences that enable him or her to test out their new thinking about themselves in relationships with others, this is where counselling can help. Counselling can help the clinet grow in confidence and self-esteem, while new social experiences with other people will help to reinforce a more positive self-image which in turn will make it easier to create more meaningful relationships.
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