5 Ways to Free The Loneliness Trap

lonely-path

Do you want to feel more connected with others, yet are unsure how to penetrate a cloud of loneliness?

Your relationship warning light is blaring bright, but trapped in feelings of loneliness. Research psychologist, John Cacioppo, has found that “prolonged loneliness can be as harmful to your health as smoking or obesity.”

In his book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, Dr. Cacioppo and William Patrick, share his (social neuroscience) research with personal stories and easy to understand language. He stresses the importance of making personal connections with others for our health and well-being.

“Chronic feelings of isolation can drive a cascade of physiological events that accelerates the aging process.” ~ John Cacioppo

So, if prolonged loneliness makes us more at risk for poor health and untimely aging, then how do we stop the cascading avalanche before it covers us up completely? It is possible to free yourself from the trap of loneliness, whether occasional or prolonged.

What is Loneliness?

Loneliness is not being alone. It is the perception of isolation from others. For instance, even in a long term relationship or surrounded by people, you may still feel like no one really knows you. This is loneliness.

Dr. Cacioppo stresses that it is not how many contacts you have, it’s how meaningful and satisfying the contact is to you. If you are already stuck in the loneliness trap, you may be thinking that no one wants to make time for you or listen to you. This is how the loneliness trap gets it’s cascading claws on you.

Anxious Loneliness Trap

We all feel lonely sometimes. It’s a cue that we need to reach out to someone. It only becomes a problem when you get stuck in the loneliness trap, and don’t make personal contact with others.

“Loneliness becomes an issue of serious concern only when it settles in long enough to create a persistent, self-reinforcing loop of negative thoughts, sensations, and behaviors.” ~ John Cacioppo

Staying walled off from others or coming across as desperate are some of the behaviors that keep people more isolated. These actions attempt to prevent rejection, yet instead prevent personal connection. You end up creating what you fear, and reinforcing your assumptions.

“Whenever we feel like we might fail at an important task, this bias can cause us to handicap ourselves, producing insurmountable obstacles to our own success.” ~ John Cacioppo

5 Ways to Free Yourself from the Loneliness Trap

Don’t settle in the loneliness trap. Know you can free yourself. You can break down your own barriers again and again. In Dr. Cacioppo’s book, he presents 4 steps to “EASE into social connection.”

E = Extend Yourself – Experiment with getting “small doses of positive sensations that come from social interactions.” Pick safe places to experiment, such as in public, with strangers, or volunteering. Make contact with others without expecting anything in return.

A = Action Plan – Detail how you can change your thoughts, expectations, and behaviors toward others. Knowing you can do something different is empowering.

S = Selection – Choose where to invest your social energy. Identify how many relationships you want to invest in and where you want to meet people.

E = Expect the Best – If making contact doesn’t work out each time, don’t overanalyze it. Expect the best will develop over time. Don’t get hung up on one encounter.

I’m adding #5: Interrupt Worry – When you manage your worry better, you will be more open to making meaningful contact with others, both selected and unexpected. Clear out the negative, so you can give and receive.

“The soothing power of social connection depends on having a clear channel to receive it.” ~John Cacioppo

How do you successfully respond to your signals of loneliness?

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If you are looking for more ways to manage anxiety and worry, read my free e-book called Take Charge of Your Worry. 

For more information: Listen to John Cacioppo’s video on loneliness

Photo Credit: “The Lonely Path” by Paree Erica

13 responses to “5 Ways to Free The Loneliness Trap

  1. Hi Marci,

    Back in my twenties in felt lonely. That was before I started participating in my own life. Once I reconnected with my childhood interests, my life took off. Then I found my people, like the ugly duckling id. Now, many years later I can’t wait to start each day.

    I believe our schools and work settings teach us to be lonely because they divide us, to try and conquer us, to mold us into lonely folks who buy consumer goods to feel less lonely.

    g.

    • Welcome Giulietta: You bring up some great points. Thank you for getting the discussion rolling…

      Know ourselves and we will find those we want to connect with. I think some times we have to reach out and extend ourselves even when we are lost.

      And, yes, many do buy things to feel the void, only to be more lonely and more in debt. For me, meaningful contact with “my people” lasts longer than a new purchase.

  2. In answer to your question, I reach out to a close friend who knows me on that deep, ‘what makes you tick’ level.
    I think we as humans need to feel known and understood on a very visceral level.
    It’s great connecting with people on the internet but we need those few people who really ‘get’ us in that emotionally intimate way.
    Emotional intimacy washes away the feeling of lonliness. It’s not about the number of friends or people in one’s life; it’s about the quality of the relationship.
    This is such an important concept and issue in today’s society. We’re so hooked in to people through all our advanced technology but is it really meaningful and fulfilling connections that get to our essence?
    Just saw the documentary, “Connected”. It speaks to all this.
    Thanks for this great post. Food for lots of thought and discussion.

  3. I hear you Harriet, I may have more than 200 “friends” on FB, but my online communication isn’t usually the satisfying connection I yearn for. It may be a substitute for some, but it really doesn’t quite get at the true meaning of connection.

    Your comment reminds me of a guest post I did called, 3 Missing Ingredients for Fabulous Facebook Connections (http://counsellingresource.com/features/2011/03/15/3-missing-ingredients-for-fabulous-facebook-connections/). I talk about the reality of using social media as a tool not a meal!

  4. Great article!
    I think reaching out to people, being honest and especially listening is what makes you feel connected.

    Since I work a lot from home I have often felt cut off. Spending entire days without meeting another person.

    But one or two short conversations with friends changes everything.

    • Thanks Daniel. So true, on the days that I’m home with my son, I do feel more cut off. For me, all it takes is at least one great conversation too. Great point, that each one of us might find something different as a connection. For others, it may be quietly connecting, where for me it’s almost always verbally connecting.

  5. Thank you for posting about loneliness – it feels like an issue that isn’t discussed enough and it’s really close to my heart.

    I’ve read some of Dr. Cacioppo’s work too and he also says that loneliness makes people change their behaviour. That explains why lonely people might refuse invitations to events or fail to pick up the phone when it rings. When I’m feeling lonely, I often withdraw even more – it’s like being in a catch22 situation.

    I have started running retreats for people who are lonely – not for profit, just because I thought it would be nice to meet other people in a safe environment and discuss things. It’s very empowering meeting people with the same problem!

    If anyone’s interested and you’re UK based, I’d love to hear from you!

    • Jen, Thank you for offering the resource. I wish you were in the US, and I’d be happy to promote your retreats to my clients!

      I thought Dr. Cacioppo’s research was very interesting too. Personal contact/connection impacts so many parts of us from cognitive function, immune system, cardiovascular system. And, yes, it is a negative catch 22. I’m so happy that you are finding your way out of the circular trap.

      I think it helps to realize that we all feel lonely sometimes. And, too know what we do that makes us even more lonely is liberating – to know we can do something about it.

  6. We forget how we can experience loneliness in a family or a crowd. I like what Harriet points out about loss of connection. I want to see that documentary. I ‘ve not heard of it.

  7. I’d like to see Connected too – don’t suppose it will reach England 😦

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