Lonely people suffer from higher levels of depression, despair and anxiety. They also die younger. They are more likely to commit suicide. If this isn’t enough, studies indicate that they also suffer from more health problems than others who have a good support and social group. Belonging has been studied in psychology forever and all the research points in the direction of it being necessary to our well being as well as survival.
But not everyone is comfortable in social situations or in groups. There are those of you who may feel perfectly content to exist as a loner, until one day you don’t. Then you are presented with the options of either a lonely future or having to find your tribe, your peeps, whatever you want to call them.
There are many reasons why you may not have been comfortable developing relationships in the past. Due to some type of dysfunctional background or family situation you may have learned that it is safer not to trust others. You may not have experienced anything rewarding about interacting with others, feeling that you are normally let down when you do. If your parents treated you poorly, what in the world would strangers do?
If you came from what I call an abandoning family you may believe nothing lasts. You may have attachment issues that interfere with your ability to bond. You might make friends but are indifferent if you lose them as you expect that relationships don’t last anyway. It may be hard for you to understand the lifelong bonding of friends that others enjoy. You may shy away from having groups of friends as you feel they will oust you from the group at some point and you may as well save yourself the rejection.
If you identified or were closer to one parent than the other you may find yourself gravitating more toward friendships with that gender. If it is the opposite gender from you it may make it difficult for you to be comfortable with groups of that gender. I have had many female clients who are very comfortable in friendships with men but shy away from groups of women. My male clients who are more comfortable with women tend to isolate themselves more, feeling a social taboo about joining in with “the girlfriends”.
Both genders often find a significant other who serves as the whole social circle. There is nothing wrong with that dynamic but it may not serve to meet all your social needs. If something happens to that person you may find yourself very alone without a support group to help you through the tough time. Or you may become dependent on that person for all your attention and recreational needs which can bring about resentment in the relationship if the other person has other interests and friends they want to be with. This unbalance can negatively impact even an otherwise healthy relationship.
You may suffer from low self esteem and believe that you don’t fit anywhere. This is a product of your low self esteem, not of reality. We all fit somewhere to some degree. Its a matter of finding the right fit. It is worth the effort.
The first step in addressing loneliness and the desire to fit in somewhere is to acknowledge the need. Be bold in addressing it, not shy. If it were not important it would not cause such unpleasant problems when it is missing from your life. You don’t have to feel tough and protect your emotional self by telling yourself that it doesn’t matter and that you are fine without anyone. Obviously this isn’t true. It is a defense mechanism to alleviate emotional pain and the possibility of rejection.
So start the process by telling yourself:
- I need friends!
- I need support!
- I need fun!
- I need companionship!
These are the words and acknowledgements of an emotionally healthy person. Getting your needs met is a large part of an emotionally successful life. There is nothing weak, wrong or ridiculous about this.
Then go into a trial period. You may have to test drive several groups before you find the right ones. Then you may have more than one and you may want to rate them in terms of how much time you devote to each. You may start this process by deciding what is most important to you in terms of your social time and where you want to find your place of belonging.
By this I mean:
Do you want your social time to be community centered? Do you want to be remembered later in the community as someone who was active in helping others and various causes? If so you may find your tribe within the Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, a church or involved with other community programs. Within whichever you choose you can start to find the subgroup of friends. You may not like or fit with all of them and that is fine, you don’t need 40 close friends. If you don’t “click”, don’t take it personally, just keep moving to the next one. Its fine, not a failure on your part. You may go through many before you find the right fit. There are a lot of people out there!
You may instead want to base your social time around a sport or hobby, so finding like minded individuals in the community will be your first step. For everything there is a group that is already formed and out there, your task is to find them, try them out and carve a place for yourself. There are Meetups for every type of thing out there as well.
Again, don’t be discouraged if you feel you don’t fit in some or click with everybody. That is normal, not a product of something wrong with you. Your job is not to force yourself into some unhappy and uncomfortable situation but to find one that brings you joy and the comfort of bonding with others. If you notice, these things are very intentional, not random. Carving out your niche in society is an active and ongoing part of a healthy life.
That is why a dysfunctional past or dysfunctional thinking patterns get in your way and cause problems. They often don’t allow for us to realize that we have to create our well being and it is possible. Your limiting beliefs about yourself keep you stuck and unhappy. You may be basing your whole life around the belief that you are a misfit, unloveable, not smart or whatever toxic message you were given in the past.
When you do find a place you would like to fit:
Notice how others behave in the group, are there expectations of each other? For example, will you be required to host a meeting at your house, are gifts given at holidays, snacks brought to share? You will want to make sure you meet the expectations of the group.
Participate actively. Volunteer whatever is reasonable in order to contribute.
Don’t be argumentative. If you have a difference of opinion fine, but if you want to actively discuss problematic matters or politics you are better off on the internet. Hardly anyone wants their free time spent focused on negativity. If they leave your presence feeling worse than when they entered it you will not be well received. Strive instead to lift others spirits, they will feel better about you.
Don’t monopolize conversations, everyone is eager to be heard. If you drone on and on you will repel others.
The above are the biggest faux pas people make in social situations other than stalking group members or weird staring. Avoid those behaviors and you will find where you fit. It can be fun and exciting.
Getting intentional about your life and having plans on how to accomplish what you want makes you feel in control, which is very important. Obviously we don’t have total control over things but taking steps to make your life more fulfilling brings an excitement with it that you wont have if you just sit back and let things happen.
If you feel you may suffer from dysfunctional thought patterns that are keeping you depressed, anxious, lonely or unable to break free from problematic behaviors, please visit us at Psychskills and get the free resources How to Stop Wasting Your Life Being Depressed, Anxious and Unhappy: The Top 10 Strategies of Emotionally Successful People and/or How to Break Free from 12 Dysfunctional Thought Patterns.