Linda: Chronic loneliness is an epidemic in our materialistic culture that fosters competition rather than cooperation and support. According to Elaine Aaron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, when those who are most sensitive experience rejection, there is a tendency to withdraw in order to protect against the pain of further rejection, and they can get caught in the cycle of loneliness. Such isolation worsens the original problem because the only way out of the pain of loneliness is to make and deepen connections with others.
Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, and a political scientist and professor of public policy at Harvard University states, “Social connections affect one’s life chances. People who grow up in well-to-do families with economically valuable social ties are more likely to succeed in the economic marketplace, not merely because they tend to be richer and better educated, but also because they can and will play their connection. Conversely, individuals who grow up in socially isolated rural and innercity areas, are held back, not merely because they tend to be financially and educationally deprived, but also because they are relatively poor in social ties that can provide a hand up.”
Americans are connecting less and less every year. The pace of decline of social visiting over the last twenty-five years is alarming. In the 1970s, 80% answered Yes to the question: “Are most people honest?” By the end of the century, the number agreeing had fallen to 49%. This ongoing diminishment of trust is a significant factor in increased alienation that fuels our sense of disconnection.
Feeling alone and unsupported reinforces this mistrust and influences us to blame our partner for not making us feel more secure. Many of us buy into the myth that our partner should be all things to us and meet our every need, although this is an impossibility. In the Buddhist philosophy, there is a central teaching referred to as Sangha, meaning a community of like-minded people. This philosophy holds that the possibility of achieving the highest level of actualization exists only if we are surrounded on a regular basis with others moving towards higher consciousness.
The only way out of the self-defeating avoidant cycle is to begin by telling the truth about how much pain loneliness brings and how much fear must be faced to move out of the avoidant pattern. By being specific and exposing the myths we brainwash ourselves with, we can examine them to see if they are really true. Here are some examples:
- If they wanted to know me, they would reach out by calling me, texting, or e-mailing.
- We don’t have anything in common.
- I’m sure they have all the friends they want already.
- They would probably find me boring.
The Dialing for Dollars List: The Antidote
The antidote to loneliness is to develop the courage to reach out. Rather than succumbing to the mind-numbing pain of the hopeless inner orphan child that fears that no one cares and that no one could love us, we have to risk testing that assumption. Our friendships are our real wealth in life.
I call my friendship list my Dialing for Dollars list. A longer list is better of course, but starting with just a few gets the process going. Pick out your most attractive people and set your intention to let them know that you are interested in spending time with them. The commitment to daily practice is what renders results. In the early stages, as with any new skill, a supreme effort is required.
With consistent repetition, outreach becomes less difficult. As the rewards of connection begin to trickle in and then pour in, we experience our life becoming transformed. Depression that accompanied the loneliness subsides, self-esteem rises, and embedded in a network of psychosocial supports, more risking begins to characterize our lives in general. Of all the many choices available for enhancing our happiness and well-being, creating webs and networks of support is the most direct, efficient, and abundant gift we can give ourselves.
Our tribe is a collection of like-minded people who get us. They will provide valuable professional connections and support for our ongoing career development. And they will also be our friends who will encourage us in times of adversity and celebrate with us in times of triumph. Our tribe is likely to contain a mentor or mentors, those in the graduating class ahead of us. To be blessed to have a sensitive engaged teacher who is accomplished in the ways that we aspire to become accomplished is, both inspirational and practical. Spending time on a quest to find our people is time well spent.