Fighting Loneliness Begins with You

Silent Place

I have nothing interesting or important in my life; people must think I’m so boring.

I’m so fat. I never should have worn this dress. I bet everyone is talking about how pathetic I am.

I’m a total moron; people must think I’m so stupid.

Everyone here is so much prettier than me. I’m so ugly, and I just know everyone thinks I’m a loser.

Imagine having these kinds of thoughts racing through your mind, undermining any attempts you make to connect with people. How likely do you think you would be to take the risk of engaging socially with people—even people you already know—if you really believe that you are worthless and everyone knows it? If these are your core beliefs, how many dinners, parties, happy hours, and other social gatherings do you think you would attend? Further, do you think that any social encounters that you did have would be successful? Could such pervasive negativity be contained, or might it spill into the interaction? If you are plagued by such beliefs about yourself and how others see you, you likely will opt to spend more time alone and find that social encounters never seem to go quite right. And unfortunately, you are likely to view these two facts as evidence that your beliefs are accurate.

Many therapists, in well-intentioned attempts to alleviate the all-consuming pain of loneliness in their clients, are quick to suggest ways to increase social interactions, build social skills, and maximize existing social support. On the surface, these seem like perfectly reasonable and helpful interventions; however, if you are still holding on to deeply negative beliefs about yourself and how others see you, these interventions quite likely will fall short. It seems necessary to go deeper and directly challenge these core beliefs and replace them with more realistic views of yourself and how others see you. In fact, researchers at the University of Chicago reviewed many studies on the treatment of loneliness and found that the most effective interventions were those that helped people change the negative beliefs they held about themselves and how others perceived them (Masi, Chen, Hawkley, & Cacioppo, 2010).

This research can be deeply empowering—overcoming the pain of loneliness is within your control. Part of what can make loneliness feel so unending and hopeless is the oft-held belief that you have to meet an entirely new group of people. Drastically changing your social circle can be an overwhelming undertaking for anyone, but if you are already feeling painfully lonely and very negative about yourself, it can feel utterly impossible. This research suggests that it is much more beneficial to look internally and break this negative thought process.

Dramatically altering deeply ingrained thought processes and beliefs is a significant task, so it is probably a good idea to enlist the support of a therapist in this endeavor. Sharing your knowledge of this research with your therapist, whether you already have one or plan to find one, can also be quite empowering, as you will be working with your therapist to develop an evidence-based treatment plan. The combination of a strong therapeutic alliance and an evidence-based intervention may be the key to shedding your feelings of self-loathing and negative beliefs about how others perceive you. Imagine how it might feel to free yourself of this. Imagine how it might feel to go to a social event and feel confident in yourself and in your relationships with others. You’ll probably feel a lot less lonely.

Masi, C.M., Chen, H., Hawkley, L.C., Cacioppo, J.T. (2010). A meta-analysis of interventions to reduce loneliness. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 219-266.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC, Person Centered / Rogerian Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • leigh

    October 19th, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    It’s so hard to get out of this kind of funk when you have nothing but negative thoughts and feelings about yourself.

  • damien

    October 19th, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    I can clearly connect with this feeling.I am not comfortable around people,at times even the ones I have known for quite some time.I attend very few social gatherings as a result and would rather stay home by myself and do any activity than to hang out with friends.This seems to have been a characteristic for me since at least 2-3 years for me.And although I was never the life of a party I did not avoid social gatherings as much before.

  • liz

    October 19th, 2012 at 11:26 PM

    I know how this feels, but really we are our biggest critic.There is none more critical of our actions than ourselves.Sometimes it is unfair expectations while at other times it is blaming ourselves even when we did the best we could in the situation.It is a horrible trap and I am happy to be over that now.

    Its like a disease.Even when others around you do not think of you negatively you can do large damage by thinking negative of yourself.

  • ALEX

    October 20th, 2012 at 5:11 AM

    But how do I get the nerve to work up to going to a therapist? If I have so retreated within myself over fear and years of loneliness, then I am scared to even begin this difficult choice to start working to get past that. Even if I know that this is the only way to deal with my issues it is still pretty daunting.

  • Tami

    October 23rd, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    Going to a good qualified counselor is an absolute “safe” place to talk. It can do a world of good to share with a professional. There is great hope and recovery for your condition. :)

  • jam

    February 12th, 2015 at 2:20 AM

    I am struggling with lots of things, anxiety, paranoia, self esteem, confidence and violent urges and flashes but I don’t know a where to go for councilling, or how. I can’t take time off work, I can’t go to the docs as I want nothing on record as I keep getting turned down for life insurance because of medical history which is a bad circle as that just makes me more depressed and anxious, scared of my committing to my upcoming wedding and starting a family

  • Drake

    October 20th, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    I find that some people revel in their loneliness.
    They wear it like a badge of honor.
    They enjoy being down, as they think that this makes them more interesting and complex.
    It has so much become their identity then why would they ever want to do anything to alleviate it?

  • nam

    October 20th, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    its not easy alex.but just think of it this way-go out there and say everything out to someone you do not work or live with and have no consequences of having said whatever.the listener may suggest good things to you.does this still not motivate you?I dont think so! :)

  • Garrison

    October 22nd, 2012 at 4:39 AM

    When these are feelings that you have battled for many years then they are never going to be easy to overcome. I would have to take some pretty serious commitment to improving your self esteem to fight this successfully.

  • Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

    November 14th, 2012 at 9:09 PM

    Thank you for the lively conversation on loneliness. Alex, I hope you can find some inspiration in Liz’s success in dealing with this issue and I hope you also found support in the comments of others here. Therapy truly is a safe space as Tami said. It won’t be easy, but there is hope for a freer, fuller life.

  • Fran

    June 26th, 2015 at 6:05 AM

    This is an interesting article, but there a few things left out of the discussion. So, what if a person has been told by their therapist, to engage more with social groups, and then when they put themselves out there… the social groups ridicule, almost bully that person? Wouldn’t that just open a wound of PTSD? I have been in this situation before. I was contacted by some old friends, and they seemed thrilled to be around me, then slowly the insults, belittling, and bullying began. I firmly believe we must keep trying, but sometimes being alone… not loneliness… is good for a person. People can be cruel, especially if they just don’t care enough to understand PTSD. They say unkind things, expect too much “normal”, and are actually insulted if you reveal that you are sensitive… I have gotten remarks like, “everyone has problems, just get over it.” When I hear that, I just want to be alone with a person who understands me… ME.
    I would appreciate feedback on this, and how to deal with people who choose to remain ignorant to this illness, and reignite old feelings and abuse.

  • morphingisweird

    December 14th, 2015 at 3:07 PM

    Hi, loneliness is the hardest part. It’s all hard. But this is the hardest. It’s where our mind plays tricks. And aren’t we so tired of being told to ‘get over it’ it’s abusive, insultung. It left deep wounds. I have triggers. These won’t just move on immediately because it is out of my control to do anything to remove them. My advice is to seek out people who are going through what you are. Everyday friends do not understand what we are going through.

  • Maru

    December 13th, 2015 at 10:14 AM

    I believe overcoming loneliness after being in an abusive relationship is the hardest thing especially if you have low self esteem, depression and anxiety.
    I try to do these things anyway and not let the things get in the way. Much easier said than done but fighting it becomes a lot easier over time

  • Susan

    June 22nd, 2016 at 8:50 PM

    I left my family of origin because they were unsupportive (except my mother). I moved 1,000 miles away & worked at a job doing work requiring intensive interactions & communications with others. I was great at it, but in my personal life, my poor self esteem hampers my ability to feel comfortable around others or in trying to increase my circle of friends.

  • Jo

    September 17th, 2016 at 2:26 PM

    I am glad to read there is some hope for loneliness though a life time’s work I’m sure. There’s no quick fix. The inner landscape that is our perception of how and who we are must change and change for good. It is only a perception and is therefore a reality – for us. The same old problems and people crop up if this ”inner landscape” has not changed enough which is the same as changing long held beliefs about oneself. When our attitude is different, people seem different, they are the same, kind of, just not getting to you the same because the gapping wounds are not there that give so much pain. It is such a big ask for a client to go into therapy which will cause some of that inner landscape to change in good ways but, BUT then the client has no one they like as the ‘ole crew of family and friends’ are okay in small doses or not at all but it is essential to keep away from them and find others who are more like our new self – to help support that. In my case I love my sisters but they have not had the help I have had so their ways are sometimes toxic for me now and it is best to not see too much of them. Friends? are long gone. I try to make new friends but mostly people are caught up with their families/kids and don’t know me well anyway. I think about contacting old friends but if I’m that different inside then I’m afraid I won’t like them or be able to tolerate them so well and! disturb their pease also. It is quite tricky as one gets older to resolve these things.

  • Kelvin

    June 17th, 2017 at 6:57 AM

    Hi, I don’t often comment on these kind of topics but I was touched by what others wrote about their feelings of fears and anxieties. My personal experience is that fighting the problem sometimes results it making it bigger the old saying of what you focus gets stronger. We all need a place to go for shelter especially when the storm rages. We’re all the same in that respect just better at disguising our insecurities from ourself or other people but nevertheless still burdened by them. Solitude is lonely being alone doesn’t have to be. The greatest strength we have is our need to be fulfilled and our greatest resource is the quietness inside us, sometimes the simplest answers are the most effective it worked for me.

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