No one wants to feel awkward. And yet we all do at times, we end up being the one who didn’t get the joke, the invite to drinks, or confided in. One of the most core human needs is to connect, and loneliness is the sign that we are feeling disconnected.
And it’s the brilliancy of human ingenuity to avoid things that are uncomfortable that we’ve come up with lots of ways to ‘sort of’ connect (mix and mingles, the seemingly endless Facebook scroll, and don’t get me started on that incredibly depressing feeling when it really sinks in that your favorite podcasters aren’t actually your friends in real life and you can’t call them to grab lunch), but ultimately, we’re left feeling more lonely than when we began.
And if loneliness was one of those pure, totally untainted feelings, than we might not have a problem gearing ourselves up to “get out there!” and “meet new people” maybe even join that softball team your roommates have been nagging you about.
Yet, we don’t. Even though we long to connect deeply with others, our inner life feels so crowded with worries and fears, that it’s exhausting to think of how we can even begin to reach out. Often it’s just easier to sit back and tune out how we’re feeling in favor of Stranger Things.
Unfortunately, when we choose pseudo connection over real life interaction, it affects our lives in numerous ways.
The worst part is that it often deepens your loneliness into that total funk where your brain begins insisting that there is something profoundly wrong with you, and that everyone else has gotten this figured out by now, so why the fuck haven’t you? And that thought sucks, so if you’re like most of the people I work with, I bet you tuck it in the back corners of your mind and self medicate with the Aww subreddit.
Maybe for you, it plays out in your life this: “Okay, I’m going to text the guys in my group chat, see if anyone wants to grab a drink.” And you type out, “so, anyone want to…” and then immediately delete it, and then try again, “hey, I’m heading down to…” and then delete it again. Two more failed attempts and you find yourself choosing the Facebook scroll, rather than trying to find a way to connect to people who might like you? Maybe? (God forbid they got to know this part of you though).
At the time it likely felt like there were literally no words that wouldn’t somehow convey how desperately you want to spend time with other people. You might feel totally transparent, like anyone looking at you clearly see how lame, boring, and unlikeable you are at your core.
Unfortunately, focusing on all the things you are convinced are wrong with you, only makes you feel shittier and even more lonely. Because if even you don’t like you, then how the hell is anyone going too? And when people are willing to hang out with you, it’s only because they are nice people who feel sorry for you.
Eventually, you wind up in a place where even when you are with other people, you are so caught up in your fear and embarrassment, that spending time with people makes you feel even lonelier, because if they knew the real you, you are certain they’d peace out immediately.
But the truth is lots of people struggle with sharing the real them–the one that gets scared of what others think about them and works hard to put on that socially acceptable mask. It’s okay to be scared, and it’s even okay to put on that mask–for a while, but eventually we all want to be seen, known, and loved for who we are underneath.
It’s true that that when you’re feeling lonely, reaching out to someone can seem like the most impossible task ever. However, if we pay attention to what feeds our resistance of reaching out then we can learn to move towards connection rather than isolation. When we dismantle the building blocks of our loneliness, it is entirely possible to feel comfortable and at ease connecting with others (rather than being covered in Cheeto dust and regret after binging on Fuller House).
Keep reading for four ways you can tackle loneliness so you can start feeling connected today.
when loneliness feels endless, hopeless, and fills you with shame
The biggest downside of not overcoming your problem is you can only imagine your life getting worse, not better. Your inner critic ensures that you remain guarded, closed off and alone, only coping with daily stresses rather than really, wholeheartedly living life.
Or maybe things aren’t quite that dire yet, but at the very least, you find yourself numbing out with the internet, food, alcohol, or working longer hours than you need to, because you don’t have much to go home too.
Living this way sucks. It keeps you trapped in your head, stuck comparing your everyday life to everyone else’s Instaworthy experiences, and ashamed that you aren’t living life like you should be. It’s a painful cycle, where you just keeping spinning until you quite literally get sick. When left alone to breed, loneliness sprouts into exhausting depression, debilitating anxiety, and intense self-loathing.
choosing courage, authentic connection, & adventure
Although you struggle with loneliness, you have the potential to authentically connect to people you are (in your more hopeful moments) actually excited to know and trust. The fear that keeps you stuck doesn’t have to rule your life, instead you can choose to be courageous (even when doing so feels less like taking healthy risks, and more like emotional vomiting).
We begin to see that everyone has had moments of social frozenness, caught in between who they know themselves to be, and who they know they should pretend to be for others approval.
You have the opportunity to embrace adventure: to go beyond small…and even medium talk, and discover the compelling story that is your life.
4 ways to overcome loneliness and feel loved for who you are
So yes, you might be feeling totally filled with shame about suck at this connecting thing, and longing to stop being so freaking lonely all the time. The key to choosing connection over comfort is to being willing to give it a try. Literally, that’s it. There’s actually very few ways you can pursue connection that are wrong. When you’re willing to give it your best shot, that actually (shockingly, I know) turns out to be enough.
Take a look at these four ways to see how you can achieve connection and banish loneliness.
#1: Engage Your Inner Michael Scott
One of the reasons you struggle with loneliness is because you have this inner voice that is desperately trying to protect you, but is instead really keeping you stuck. That inner voice of shame loves to tell us all the things that are wrong with us, pushing us to be better, to be perfect, so we won’t get rejected or fail, and so we won’t hurt others. Then, shame partners up with anxiety and creates this amazingly elaborate story about how one small action is the reason that we will absolutely be forever alone.
And that makes total sense that you feel shame, especially when it comes to engaging with other people! Shame often is a metric of how much and how deeply we care, about how we are perceived and how we treat others, it is a social emotion that evolved to help us know when we are stepping outside of our communities’ rules.
The problem is that many of us have a way overdeveloped shame response. Often a strong shame response indicates we grew up having to fit rigid standards of authority figures and/or peers. It keeps us boxed up, and doesn’t always allow us to tap into our creativity.
So instead of relying on shame to dictate how you interact with others, I want to challenge you to engage your inner Michael Scott. (If you don’t know who Michael Scott is, then you definitely need to put The Office in your Netflix queue–and yes, I know, I’m trying to convince you to not binge so much Netflix, but seriously, The Office is amazing). The most important thing to know about Michael is that he has no filter, and often blurts out whatever comes to mind.
You might be thinking, No filter? You want me have no filter? Jenn, are you fucking insane? Do you know how much trouble I could get myself in?
With clients, I encourage them to try out being filterless with me, to just share what they think, what they feel, and what they want. As a therapist, I can offer a container to hold stuff that might not be ‘socially acceptable’, but often the things they most want to express are neither offensive or outrageous–even though shame tells them in no uncertain terms that they are wrong to say any of this. Together we are aiming to lean into curiosity rather than criticism.
When you start practicing this, you will likely notice even though there are still things you keep to yourself, in general there is actually a lot that you want to contribute to conversations, and that people are often genuinely interested in what you have to say. You’ll begin to share more, and you’ll begin to feel more connected to others because they will know parts of you beyond your outward persona.
#2 Let it Be Messy
Another reason you struggle with loneliness is because you are trying to do the connection thing perfectly. You are looking for the right thing to say, the right thing to do, the right thing to wear, the right answer to all of the above. And that makes sense, because humans have a strong desire to fit in, to be a part of the group. And if we know the right everything, we can control where we stand in the group and feel safe.
Connection isn’t safe. When we’re vulnerable and real with people, we risk getting hurt, we risk hurting others. Things get messy in relationships. The irony of it is, even when we keep it neat and tidy, we still end up hurt. Loneliness pricks like Novocain. Hurting us, and then numbing us out to the hurt.
Together, my clients and I explore what part of them is scared to be messy–what are the specific fears of how they might get hurt? of how they might hurt others?
The past often works as our template for how we think the future will go, and often when we look back we can see that the hurts we fear feeling, we’ve already felt, and in fact, have not yet healed from. The more we hear something, the more often we’ve experienced it, the more we become convinced it was true, not only in the past, but also in the present and in the future.
So how do you do this? You don’t overly explain, you don’t try to read the other person’s mind, you sit in the often agonizing silence, and see what happens.
By letting things be messy, you trust that you do not know what is going to happen next (it may be amazing, and it may be awful, and it may be somewhere in between) and you also trust yourself, that you can handle whatever comes your way. When you are able to do this, you may find yourself anticipating the surprising way relationships evolve, and find yourself more curious about people’s responses rather than fearing them.
#3 Assume People Like You, Unless They Clearly Tell You Otherwise
A third reason you struggle with loneliness is somewhere you got the notion that the people you know are some the harshest, most judgmental, condescending pricks that ever walked the face of the earth. Now, if that is legit true, you need new friends. But likely, you just recoiled as you read that, “Jenn! That is so UNTRUE about my people, take it back. now.”
And yeah, I know, it makes complete sense that you would defend them AND still be scared to reach out to them. The issue is that your inner critical voice is telling you that they are going to judge you, dismiss you, minimize how you’re feeling…the list could go on and on. And so you just don’t share shit with them. You don’t take risks with them. Not because they’re pricks, but because you have this inner prick who keeps insisting that everyone is secretly super annoyed with you.
So, you need to try imagining people like you–deeply, wholeheartedly– instead. With my clients, I have them create a new mantra that they can repeat to themselves, as they are putting themselves out there with friends and new people. The mantra goes something like this, “I am likeable” or “other people feel scared like this too.”
When you start practicing using a mantra, you are cueing yourself to change literally how your brain interprets various stimuli. When you see someone smile and wave hello, you don’t think, “wow, Melissa is so nice to act like she’s excited to see me,” you think, “wow, its so fun that Melissa likes me as much as I like hanging out with her.” And you don’t think, “God, everyone else seems to be so good at chatting up new people,” but rather, “God, other people feel scared and are putting themselves out there–what can I learn from them?”
#4 Hit Send. Just Do It.
The fourth reason you struggle with loneliness is that you haven’t let yourself just do it–put yourself out there, lower your filter, let it be messy and not perfectly thought out or said, or allowed yourself to see beyond your shame. I get that you’re scared, and I know that the desire to not get hurt is so powerful.
But in the end, knowing all this information isn’t going to help you unless you actually do it. You hit send on that group text message, that email, or that Facebook messenger response. You just have to do it. Maybe after trying out each of the preceding techniques, this feels remarkable easy. And if so YAY! I’m pumped for you. I definitely want to hear more about what it’s like down in the comments below.
But, for those of you who are thinking, “nope, that was way easier said than done,” I hear you. When you schedule a session with me, we can explore in more depth why taking that next step is so hard. Often it’s because there’s a block in one of the other steps. That’s one of the most beautiful parts adding therapy to your life, you get to go deeper than any blog article can get.
what happens when you commit?
Achieving authentic connection can be exhilarating rather than exhausting–when you’re willing to give yourself some space to try out new things.
You absolutely can embrace your inner filterless self, allow yourself to be surprised by relationships, believe that other people actually like you, and take risks to reach out to others.
And I can help if all these tasks sound amazing and wonderful, but overwhelming to contemplate doing on your own.
So what are you waiting for? Netflix to run out of original programming? Schedule a free 20 minute consult with me today and let’s talk more about how to get you from lonely and sad to connected and excited for life.