“I feel like such a loser, I don’t have any friends to call to hang out with.”
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard some variation of that statement. Maybe it’s not having a birthday party because you don’t know anyone to invite or maybe you want to go to an event and have no one to go with you. When you don’t have friends, it’s easy to judge yourself as less than.
What do you do?
Imagine that two cavemen sit in the grass on a warm summer day. One is a problem-solver, like us. His skin is broken out and he worries and frowns a lot. Hyper alert, he is often agitated and jumpy. He thinks about the noises outside the cave last night andwhat the rumbling in his stomach means. He walks around, looking for fruit and keeps his eye out for tigers. The other guy sits quietly, counting his breath and feeling the breeze on his face. He’s easy-going and popular among other cavemen. He doesn’t react to what others say and is accepting of different ideas and personalities.
In his book, Urban Mindfulness: Cultivating Peace, Presence and Purpose in The Middle of It All, Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D. writes about applying mindfulness to your daily life experiences. His book is divided into sections about where you might practice mindfulness, such as “At Home,” “At Play,” and “At Work.”
Emotionally sensitive people often find noise, crowds, strangers, lack of space or privacy, and clutter dysregulating. Yet all these experiences are often part of life, particularly in an urban area. Turning to mindfulness may not seem natural as a way to cope in these situations. Kaplan’s book offers ways to apply mindfulness to everyday life.
Profound loneliness can go back many years. Some sources say that the roots of profound loneliness come from experiencing lack of love as a young child. Sometimes a deep loneliness comes with having a physical difference or suffering from a mental disorder that leads to discrimination and isolation. For others loneliness may come from struggling with friendships in school, perhaps having been bullied or having no one to sit with at lunch. Being on the playground with no one to play with can be a very lonely feeling. Having different interests, such loving sports when others are into video games, can be very lonely. Maybe as a child you had a single friend who moved away or you had an argument with that friend that led to a loss of the friendship. Loneliness in childhood seems to be related to loneliness as an adult, including an increased sensitivity to loneliness.
There seems to be a strong stigma about loneliness. Many people will admit to being depressed before they’ll talk about being lonely. Fearing being judged as unlikeable, a loser, or weird, they don’t discuss their sense of aloneness, alienation, or exclusion. That horrible experience of being the last one chosen for teams in school seems to continue into adulthood, though the reasons are different. If you don’t have friends, then there must be something wrong with you. Headlines that describe the Unabomber, John Hinckley, the mass murderer at Virginia Tech and other criminals as loners add to the fear of being judged if you are alone.
I’m no talking about solitude. Loneliness is a different experience than solitude. Solitude is being alone by choice and wanting that aloneness or being comfortable with it. Loneliness means there is a discomfort– you want to be more connected to others.
If you are working on developing new coping skills, you may find that understanding the skills and how they work is much easier than actually using the skills. You may be able to tell someone else about the skill, write out the steps involved, and answer questions about it but find you do not use it in your life. You may find that you keep going back to familiar ways of dealing with emotions and stress, even when those old ways are not good for you in the long run.