The Loss in Loneliness

Loneliness or feeling disconnected from others can impact your mental and physical health.

We were created for connection. We are naturally social animals. It begins in infancy. From the moment of birth, the infant needs human contact and connection for survival. Years ago, we discovered that babies deprived of humanloneliness hurts mental and physical health connection fail to thrive, and sometimes die.

As humans grow, the impact of isolation continues. Disconnection from peers is a major reason for school dropouts. Teenagers, who identify themselves as outcasts, often slip into delinquency, other forms of antisocial behavior, violence or suicide.

In adults, extended loneliness can lead to depression, alcoholism, and physical illness. Studies show that a lack of social or family support can increase the risk of heart disease. It tends to elevate blood pressure, make the heart muscle work harder, and raise the levels of stress hormones. Loneliness can also heighten our perception of stress and cause insomnia.

So, is loneliness the same as being alone? Not really. Feelings of loneliness are experienced most acutely when other people are around us, but we feel disconnected. In his book, “Traveling Light,” Max Lucado points out that “Loneliness is not the absence of faces. It is the absence of intimacy. Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from feeling alone.”

There are many potential causes of loneliness. As we get older, we experience the death of more-and-more relatives and friends. The older we get, the more likely we are to lose our core social connections. The feeling of disconnection is a major cause of depression in the elderly.

Sometimes, loneliness in adulthood can be traced to negative childhood events. Children who experience parental distance or rejection are more likely to feel lonely as adults. They tend to see themselves as less likeable or lovable, making them less likely to approach others. They may reject others before others have a chance to reject them.

Often, we feel lonely because of inaccurate perceptions. We do mind reading, where we assume others are thinking critical or disapproving thoughts about us. We assume they don’t like us or don’t care about us. We may assume we are disconnected, even when others like us or love us. We assume that we are different from others.

So, you were created for connection. Your mental and physical health will benefit from having positive relationships. Put some energy into reconnecting with old friends, strengthening current relationships or creating new ones. Don’t assume that they won’t like you or won’t have time for you. Make a call. Set up a lunch date. Start a conversation. You’ll feel better for the effort.

The Oppression of Other’s Opinions

Worry about other's opinions will increase your stress, and limit your life.

So, how much do you worry about other people’s opinions? Do you guage your choices or behaviors on what othersworry would think? Is your life measured by anticipation of their approval or disapproval? Does it limit your joy, your peace, or even your life?

 

It’s a common problem. We all do it sometimes. In fact, a total disregard of other’s opinions may be pathological. It can be one symptom of a sociopathic personality.

 

The habit may even have survival value. In primitive times, your survival depended on the approval of the tribe. If your actions earned their disapproval, you may have been ostracized from the tribe. You wouldn’t survive in the jungle alone.

 

Fear of disapproval may have served our ancestors, so it is a natural tendency. But today, it can do more harm than good. Worries about other’s opinions doesn’t protect us today. In fact, it hurts us because it creates significant stress. Imagining and fearing negative judgment creates the same bodily reactions as a physical attack. Our hearts race and breathing speed up. Our muscles tense, and our bodies release stress chemicals, which damage our organs and speed up the aging process.

 

So, let’s imagine that you have messed up. You made a bad choice or a mistake. You did something embarrassing. You imagine that everyone is judging you or disapproving. Let’s consider some reasons why such thoughts are a waste of time and energy.

 

Most importantly, you need to remind yourself that you are mind reading. You can’t read their minds. You don’t know what they are thinking. You may feel quite sure of your imaginings, but the ultimate truth is you don’t know. You are only imagining. Also, you are more likely to assume disapproval than approval. We tend to assume the negative.

 

Breaking the imaginary “others” into categories can be helpful. The people you’re worrying about can be divided into the following groups.

 

  1. Most others fit into the group of “don’t know or don’t care.” Many people don’t even know what happened. News of your mistake has not spread as much as you imagine. It has not been a focus of everyone’s conversation. Some may have heard about the mistake, but haven’t thought about it since. They are focused on their own life events and haven’t given your mistake much thought.
  2. A second, much smaller, group has heard of your mistake, and are busy judging you. They may take pleasure in gossiping about your mistake. They may feel superior because they haven’t made the same mistake. They may look down on you. But, do these people really count? Most likely, they are simply judgmental people. They like to judge and gossip. If they are judging you, they are giving someone else a rest. It seems to me that Jesus was hardest on the Pharisees, who were the most judgmental people of the day.
  3. The last group consists of those who have heard of your mistake, but view the event with caring and compassion. Their opinion of you hasn’t suffered. They are supportive and understanding. They don’t think less of you.

Try this mental exercise. Think of someone you like and respect. Now put them in your shoes. Imagine that they were in the exact same circumstances, and that they made the exact same mistake. How would you judge them? Would you think less of them? Would you be as harsh in your judgment of them as you are with yourself? I suspect not. The people in group 3 perceive you in the same way, and group 3 is the only one that counts.

Monitor your thoughts for worries about the opinions of others. Treat such thoughts as a bad habit, and remind yourself that such thoughts are destructive. We should always strive to do the right thing in any situation, but we shouldn’t allow our lives to be limited by the opinion of others.

Holding On To Our Hurts

We worsen the pain and long-term damage when we hold on to our hurts.

What do you do when someone hurts you? Notice that the question is when, not if. Everyone gets hurt at times. It’s unavoidable. The important issue is how we respond to those hurts.holding on to our hurts

Some people strike back. Their hurt quickly turns into anger, frustration or irritation. The transition is usually so fast that they don’t even recognize the hurt. They only feel the anger. They may claim that they don’t feel hurt, just angry. I would argue, however, that underneath all anger is a sense of being hurt.

Some people hold their hurt in. They don’t say anything to the offending party. They just get quiet and withdraw. They protect themselves by distancing. It’s harder for them to hurt you if you distance from them. This distancing can be physical where you stay away from them altogether, or it could be emotional distancing where you just build a wall around your heart. Either way, you distance.

In many situations, the most effective response is an assertive one. An assertive response lets the other person know they their words or actions hurt you, but does so without being aggressive. Your tone and words are direct and serious, but not angry or attacking. An assertive response addresses the hurt without damaging the relationship.

But what about your long-term response to being hurt? Are you able to let the event go, or do you hold on to your hurt? Do you replay the event over-and-over in your mind? Do you continuously analyze what they meant, why they did it, or what you wish you had said to them? Do you find yourself thinking about it as you lie awake in bed?

Holding on to our hurts or anger creates several problems. Here are a few:

  1. Sustained anger or irritation creates harmful chemical changes in our bodies. When we experience resentment, irritation or anger, our bodies release cortisol. This chemical helps our bodies prepare to fight or flee when we are faced with physical danger. However, it is intended to be released as brief bursts, where we defend ourselves and then calm down. Holding on to negative emotions keeps the cortisol elevated, which damages the body over time. For example, research shows a clear connection between sustained anger and heart disease.
  2. Continued ruminating about a hurt can increase our general negativity. When we replay negative events in our minds, we are more likely to anticipate future negative events. We expect the worst. We tend to distrust others more. Our negative expectations of others can hurt other relationships.
  3. Repeatedly replaying hurtful events or analyzing them to death takes up valuable mental space. Our negative thoughts can ruin times we could have enjoyed. When we obsess today about a hurtful act that occurred last year, we give that hurtful person our afternoon. We don’t enjoy the afternoon because of our ruminations about the person who hurt us. And, by the way, that person is probably enjoying their afternoon without think about us at all.

So, the best immediate response to a hurtful act is usually an assertive one, but the best long-term response is always to let it go. It isn’t easy to let go of our hurts, but it’s always best for our well-being.

The Dangers of Desensitization

There are some events that should never become acceptable.

As I write this, the FBI is investigating yet another mass shooting in America. Apparently, a lone gunman with a history of mental illness shot unarmed strangers in a Florida airport baggage claim area until he ran out of bullets. At this time, five people are dead and six are wounded.

The tragedy of the incident is overwhelming. We can only imagine the pain and loss. Some were preparing for a cruise. Others were meeting family.

There are more mass shootings in the United States than in any other country in the world. A CNN report from July, 2016, indicated that, while the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, we had 31% of all the world’s mass shootings.

And the frequency of mass shootings is increasing. An FBI report indicated that the number of incidents of mass shootings and the number of casualties have risen since 2000. The FBI defined mass shootings as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

The time interval between incidents seems to be decreasing. An analysis from the Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University found that between 1982 and 2011 mass shootings occurred every 200 days on average. Between 2011 and 2014, shootings occurred every 64 days.

Of course, I’m concerned about the phenomenon. I question what it means. I feel compassion for the victims. I wonder what we can do about it, but I have another concern.

Are we getting accustomed to it? Are we becoming desensitized? You see, we get used to anything that we repeatedly experience. This is called desensitization. It applies to everything. Over time, we get used to loud noises, heavy traffic, warm or cold temperatures. We also tend to get used to hearing cursing and seeing sexual and violent content on television and movies. We are no longer shocked or appalled. Unfortunately, we can also get used to mass shootings if we see them often enough.

It seems to me that the attention given to this most recent mass shooting in Florida was a bit less than expected. Actually, I think that I have heard a little less shock, concern and fear for the last few violent events. Are we becoming desensitized to random, senseless acts of violence? Do we see it as just “one more shooting.”

I hope not. Some things should shock us. Some acts must remain unacceptable. We should be alarmed. We may not know what to do about the problem yet, but we can’t accept it as the norm.

A Time for New Beginnings

Start the new year right with the best personal goals.

As we celebrate the new year, we often think of new year’s resolutions. I don’t hear people talk about them as often as I used to, but the topic still comes up. I think most of us consider resolutions a waste of time, as they’re usuallyProper goal setting can bring success. forgotten by February.

But still, a new year can be thought of as a new beginning or a new start. We hope that this year will be better than the last, that we will finally make that positive change, or at least have better luck. We look toward the future.

While New Year’s resolutions often fail, there is a benefit to setting goals. Research shows that most top athletes and business people set goals. They often attribute their success to proper goal setting. Their goals help them focus their efforts and increase their motivation.

So, how do we set goals that actually make a difference? Here are some guidelines to consider.

  1. Make your goals measurable.

    A goal should be specific so it is easy to determine whether it was or was not met. Saying you want to be a better person is nice, but your success will depend on the day of the week and who you ask. Saying that you will show some act of kindness every day is a little more manageable. Saying you will be healthier is too vague. Saying you will love twenty pounds is measurable.

  2. Give yourself a time frame.

    Set a specific time where you will check your success or failure. Saying, “I will lose twenty pounds by March first” will increase your motivation and focus.

  3. Don’t set too many goals.

    We can become overwhelmed by too many goals. Keep the number at three or less at first. If you succeed at those, you can add more.

  4. Visualize your success.

    There is tremendous power in visualization. Picture the time when the goal is a reality. Imagine yourself twenty pounds lighter. Picture the project as already completed. Be as detailed in your visualization as possible. Notice what you see, feel and hear in that moment. Notice the look on your face. Notice how good you feel with your success.

  5. Avoid self-criticism if you fail at a goal.

    You will not succeed at every goal you set. When you do fail, just start over. Try to identify why you failed and make corrections. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t beat yourself up with them. Self-abuse never helps. It just crushes your motivation and morale.

 

As this new year rings in, consider how you want your life to look. Self-growth is a good thing. You often can improve your circumstances. For years I have said, “I want to live my life deliberately.” Be intentional. Set a goal or two this new year, and see what happens.

 

The Dangers of Self-Pity and Benefits of Self-Compassion

While self-pity can ruin your day or your life, you can benefit greatly by learning self-compassion.

“There’s something about self-pity; it’s just so satisfying.”

                                                                   Unknown

 

It’s a strange thing. It is true that feeling sorry for ourselves can be oddly satisfying. We can easily drop into a state ofself-pity can ruin your life self-pity and then wallow in it. It can seem to provide a momentary comfort from the pains of life. When we’re in it, we just want to sit, and do nothing. For some reason, we humans can be drawn to it.

But self-pity is a bit of a trap. The mindset that feels comforting in the beginning soon turns into a crippling condition. It never serves to improve our circumstances, but rather, worsens them. We lose the motivation to take action. We wallow.

There’s little to recommend self-pity. But we all do encounter painful life events, and have to endure difficult circumstances. When life is particularly painful, how can we react? What mindset should we choose when life becomes especially difficult?

We know that self-pity isn’t helpful, so we often hear people admonishing themselves, or others, to avoid having a pity party. Such critiques are not helpful. They only add to the pain of the situation. They certainly offer no kindness or compassion.

A better alternative to self-pity is self-compassion. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. defines self-compassion as extending compassion to one’s self in situations of perceived inadequacy, failure or general suffering. To be self-compassionate, we must be open and aware of our hurt feelings, be kind to ourselves, and recognize that we are only human. Basically, we try to show ourselves the same compassion we would extend to a loved one who was experiencing the same painful circumstance.

When we are self-compassionate, we are more likely to take steps to recharge or heal. We may allow ourselves a day of rest, seek out the support of a friend, or do something nice or ourselves. We try to think kind thoughts about self. We avoid the harsh self-criticism that so easily floods the mind.

With self-compassion, we don’t wallow. After a brief moment of self-kindness, we take action to improve the negative situation, when possible. If we have hurt someone else, we apologize or try to make amends. When possible, we try to fix, or improve, the problem. We take steps to prevent the difficulty in the future.

With self-compassion, we recognize that we make mistakes, that we have weaknesses, and that sometimes life is painful. We recognize the truth, treat ourselves with kindness, and then move on to improve our lot. Seems pretty healthy to me.

Ten Negative Consequences of Self-Esteem Wounds

A self-esteem wound can impact the victim in many different ways.

Most would agree that a low self-esteem is harmful to the individual, but we may not realize that self-esteem woundsdepressed_man_001 can present themselves in many forms. People rarely come to see me complaining of low self-esteem, but they often come in because of the results of low self-esteem.

 

Self-esteem wounds can be the driving force behind many psychological difficulties. Here are a few.

 

  1. Depression:

    There are several types of depression. Some are primarily cause by a chemical imbalance, and can be inherited. Most depression, however, is brought about by negative life experiences, and negative thinking patterns. Self-criticism fuels depression. The individual is bombarded by negative thoughts about himself, and negative thoughts about his future. Treating depression usually requires helping the person alter negative thinking patterns. When the self-esteem improves, so does the depression.

  2. Anxiety:

    Self-esteem wounds often come in the form of inadequacy feelings. The person doesn’t feel prepared to deal with difficult life tasks, and anticipates failure. Everything begins to feel overwhelming. Anxiety is the natural result.

  3. Social Anxiety:

    This is when a person feels anxious in social situations. She assumes that others are judging her, and is afraid of saying the wrong thing or not being able to say anything. She assumes that others are better than she, are more comfortable in social situations, and therefore, are judging her inadequacies. With treatment, she learns to see herself as equal to others, thus lessening the social anxiety.

  4. Withdrawal:

    Similar to social anxiety, here the person avoids interactions with others. He may withdraw because of a fear of judgment, or simply because he no longer enjoys social interaction. He may see himself as less competent than others, or as less likeable or important. Assuming that he will not be liked, he avoids occasions where rejection is possible.

  5. Irritability and Temper Outbursts:

    When the person perceives herself as inadequate, she may assume that others are judging her. Her reaction may be anger. When she perceives herself as unlovable or unlikeable, she may perceive rejection even when it isn’t there. Her reaction to the perceived rejection may also be anger.

  6. Poor Relationship Choices:

    It may sound strange, but people tend to find themselves in relationships, that deepen their self-esteem wounds. The abused girl often grows up to marry the abusive man. The rejected boy is often attracted to the distant woman. The criticized boy often marries an overly critical wife. These choices are unconscious, but are common results of self-esteem wounds.

  7. Arrogant Behaviors:

    This one may surprise some people. We usually assume that someone who displays arrogant behaviors actually thinks too much of themselves. While this may be true at times, most arrogant people are actually compensating or hiding insecurities. They see themselves as less than others and try to hide that by bragging or acting like they are better than others.

  8. Underachievement:

    People with self-esteem wounds will not pursue opportunities as frequently. They doubt themselves. They expect failure, so they don’t attempt things. They dismiss their dreams because they think they are possible.

  9. Overachievement:

    This may sound strange, but some people with low self-esteem put too much effort into achievement. They sacrifice everything to succeed. They try to succeed to prove their former critics wrong. Such attempts are like pouring water into a bucket with a hold in the bottom. No matter how much you pour in, it never gets full. No amount of success will heal an inadequacy self-esteem wound.

 

The list could go on. Self-esteem wounds impact people in many ways. You may have seen yourself or a loved one in this list. If so, take steps to address the wounds. Self-esteem wounds can be healed with time, treatment and persistence.

 

Comments: Can you think of any other consequences of self-esteem wounds? Please share!

The Hidden Nature of Self-Esteem Wounds

Your Assumptions About Other's Self-Esteem May Be Wrong.

There are several common stereotypes regarding self-esteem issues. Our misperceptions can hamper our ability tohappy_people effectively address such issues in ourselves or in those we love. Let’s examine some common self-esteem stereotypes.

 

Some imagine an individual with low self-esteem frequently verbalizing self-critical, or self-derogatory statements, while avoiding eye contact, and sitting in a corner.  We also tend to imagine a certain physical appearance. We might picture an unattractive person in plain attire, slumping and walking with a shuffle.

 

We often assume that we would be able to recognize a low self-esteem from external appearances. We assume that very attractive people automatically have a good self-esteem. We assume that success, high paying jobs, or high status positions reflect confidence and feelings of self-worth. We assume that outgoing, talkative people are socially comfortable and that they have a good self-esteem. These assumptions are often wrong.

 

In fact, you would be quite surprised if you knew the self-esteem wounds carried by some of the people around you. There are probably some people you think you know well, co-workers, fellow students, even people you admire, who suffer silently from self-esteem wounds. Despite their admirable traits or accomplishments, their minds are filled with self-criticism or self-doubt. Some may have even experienced early life trauma or abuse beyond your imagination.

 

Of course, many people have a fairly healthy self-esteem. They see themselves as equal to other human beings. They recognize that they have strengths and weaknesses, but accept themselves. They are able to maintain a good balance between striving for improvement and being comfortable with who they are now.

 

So, how do you tell the difference? How can you tell whether a person has a good or poor self-esteem? That’s the point. You can’t. Don’t assume. The only correct answer is that you don’t know.

 

When you recognize the fact that you can’t know another’s experience, struggle or heart, you are slower to judge. You may find it easier to be kind. You will be less likely to compare yourself to them. When you recognize that others, like you, are fellow travelers on this life journey, you may feel more connected, more comfortable in your own skin.

Comments: What are some other ways that we tend to misjudge other’s self-esteem?

Grieving Loss or Celebrating Life

There are several factors that can impact the experience of grief.

As a psychologist, I have had many occasions to help people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, and of casketcourse like everyone else, I have had to deal with my own grief at times. I have learned a few “truths” about grief that I may be helpful.

First, I never try to help someone stop grieving. Grief is a healthy response to the experience of loss. In fact, grief is essential when dealing with the major losses of life. I tell people that trying to avoid, block or stuff grief is unhealthy. I warn them that the feelings will just come out later, in a less healthy form, like depression, anxiety or anger. I use the analogy that grief is a bit like plumbing. It works best if it’s not stopped up.

Second, there are two types of grief, simple and complicated. In simple grief, the person experiences a loss and grieves. The grief is normal and healthy, as noted above. In complicated grief, the loss is complicated in some way. It may be that the person had a negative or love-hate relationship with the deceased person. Feelings of loss accompanied by anger toward the deceased can definitely complicate the grief process. It may be that the grieving person feels there was some unfinished business that now can never be resolved. It can also be that the survivor somehow blames himself for the death of the loved one. In any case, these complicated feelings can complicate the grief process.

Simple grief gradually gets better over time, but the amount of time varies tremendously from person to person, with no proper time period. In simple grief, there are up-and-down days, but there is a gradual improvement. Complicated grief doesn’t improve over time, and sometimes even gets worse. Complicated grief has a greater tendency to lead to depression or anxiety symptoms. If your grief doesn’t seem to be improving, or seems to be getting worse, you may want to talk to a professional about it.

Finally, one’s reaction to grief is sometimes impacted by where the person focuses attention. Many times, we tend to focus our attention on the death or the experience of watching the illness progress to the point of death. We visualize the hospital scene or the dying moment. It is possible to think so much about the death, that we don’t think about the life. The visual images of our loved one in the hospital or dying can fill our minds. We can repeatedly experience those moments. In doing so, we can lose touch with the precious moments of the person’s life. We may have lived with the person for thirty years, and experienced their dying for three months, but tend to think about the three months to the exclusion of the thirty years.

So, it is healthy to let yourself grieve. If your grief is complicated by other factors, talk with someone to work that out. And finally, deliberately focus your memories on the life rather than the death. Be deliberate and persistent in the effort.

COMMENT: Please share your insights regarding healthy vs. unhealthy grief reactions.

You’ll Get Used To It

We need to be aware of the negative impact of desensitization.

In psychology, desensitization is defined as decreased emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulusviolence after repeated exposure to it. In other words, we become less sensitive to anything that we experience a lot. You can get used to just about anything.

Sometimes this is a good thing. The emergency room nurse becomes less sensitive to the gore of wound care so that she can do her job. The diabetic gets used to the daily insulin injections and states that they don’t hurt as much anymore.

Desensitization is a commonly used technique in psychology. When a patient comes in with a debilitating fear of something (a phobia), we use desensitization to help them get over it. We get them to expose themselves to small doses of the thing, while helping them relax. We gradually increase the intensity of the exposure. The more they are exposed, the less anxiety they experience. After a while, they lose the fear.

The technique works quite well. I’ve used it many times to help people deal with fears of spiders, snakes, flying, crowds, heights, etc. Of course, most folks don’t sign-up for such treatment unless the fear is impairing their lives. Examples would include the individual, with a fear of flying, but a business that requires such travel, or the person who develops a fear of driving after an auto accident.

Sometimes, however, desensitization is a bad thing. Sometimes, we get used to things we should not get used to. We see so much more violence in movies and television than we did in earlier years. For those who are a little older, think about the difference between the violent scenes on Gunsmoke versus those of CSI. We pay money to see graphic violence that would have turned our stomachs in past years. In fact, our desensitization actually forces Hollywood to increase the graphic violence to get our attention.

The same principle holds true for sexual content. We get accustomed to seeing things on TV that we would have never imagined a few years ago. You might remember that Lucy and Ricky had to sleep on twin beds, even though they were married in real life and on the “I Love Lucy” show, because sleeping in the same bed was deemed “too suggestive.”

My biggest concern, however, is what we see in real life. Are we becoming desensitized to the violence in our world? Do we already pay less attention when we hear about a murder or an abused child? Do such stories hurt us less? Do we just feel relief that it didn’t happen to our family or in our neighborhood?

And, how many terrorist acts will it take before we begin to see them as commonplace, as well? Will we get to the point where a bombing or a mass shooting barely warrants a dinner discussion? It has happened before in other places. There are just some things that we should never get used to.