The New Epidemic: L.O.N.E.L.Y.

July/August 2017

lone·ly [lohn-lee]
The discrepancy between what you want from relationships and what you feel you get

The truth is — we’re all somewhat scared of loneliness to varying degrees:

  • of being alone
  • of being left out
  • of not being loved
  • of not being included
  • of not being needed
  • of being left behind
  • of not being cared about
  • of being rejected or abandoned

Lonely strikes a chord of fear in all of us even if we don’t admit it.

What’s shocking is the increased prevalence of chronic loneliness. John Cacioppo, director and researcher at the University of Chicago, studies loneliness and his most recent study indicates “lonely” has reached toxic levels with 2 out of every 5 people stating that is a common feeling for them.

Why?
We aren’t as closely bound. We no longer live in multi-generational villages with grandparents, cousins and aunts/uncles living in the same house or 3 blocks away. Instead, parents/grandparents live in nursing homes and grown children live 3 states away.

Divorce numbers are high – so more families are disjointed and disorganized.

Companies are less loyal and no longer provide the stability of a life-long job. Losing a job or constantly moving for career opportunities creates a feeling of not belonging.

Relationships are transient….20% of the population moves each year. Therefore, neighborhoods, communities, church groups and work groups are constantly in flux.

The Internet creates an effortless opportunity to know more people without actually needing to “know them.” Sherry Turkle, Professor at MIT states that the Internet creates an illusion of “friendship without the demands of companionship.”

What’s the Cure for Lonely?
(1) Admit it
(2) Realize that the loss of close friends/connections is normal
(3) Do something to rebuild it

I would challenge anyone who is struggling with loneliness to pick up, Friendships Don’t Just Happen by Shasta Nelson. Even though it is written for women — men can gleam a lot of wisdom from the author’s ideas

Shasta smashes the myth that we should wait for friendship to happen to us and she normalizes the fact that friends come and go.

The author confidently states that friendships that ward off “lonely” have 2 endearing qualities; (1) deeper levels of intimacy and (2) consistency.

She has us remember times when we easily gained new friends; at recess on the playground, neighborhood kids who were always ready to play, girl scouts, high school sports teams, college dorm friends, sorority sisters and study buddies. Shasta states, “Repetitive time together is what happened automatically back then, not friendships. There’s a difference.”

That ebb and flow of friendships is normal. If we try to pretend that our friendships are close, frequent and fulfilling when they are actually shallow, sparse or 1-sided — then lonely sets in.

“I need friends” is not an admittance of failure — it’s an admittance of the truth that friendships change and we need to do something to nourish ourselves.

Shasta provides great tools to assess the strength/weakness of current connections and provides a hands-on approach to make the needed shifts. She uses a tool called the 5 Circles of Connectedness to help you see and categorize your current friends/connections based on the (1) level of intimacy and (2) consistency.

From there, you can gain awareness as to what’s lacking in your current friendships — either intimacy and/or consistency. And, put together a simple plan to fill in the gaps.

Friendships Don’t Just Happen lays out a simple, brilliant and executable concept to admit loneliness, embrace its message and then do something about it.

A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT THE ELDERLY & LONELY:

Having lived with my 93-year old mother the last year of her life — I understand the loneliness that is unique to the very old.  They don’t have the same vigor or ability to maintain connections, having lost friends to illness and death over the years, as well as losing the simple freedom to drive. 

The elderly often feel “who would want to be friends with an old person.”  Yet, they still crave connection because they are still humans beings.

My message around that — take yourself into the life of someone who is old and provide them consistency and the ability to be heard.  Sit with them and listen.  Cry with them — laugh with them.  Be someone who offers them a smile at their story.  Be their window to the world.   Be present … with kind eyes and big ears.  

I’ve been doing that for the last year.  My new and special friend is Agnes — she’s 96.  I see her 3-4 times a week.  Agnes tells me stories about her life and asks me to tell stories about mine.  

Agnes is a faith-filled woman who tears up when she talks about her “big day” — the day when she dies and meets God. She asks me, with a bit of trepidation in her voice, if I’ll pray for her.  I smile, hold her hand, look her in the eyes and respond, “For the rest of my life, I’ll pray for you.”  She smiles lovingly and responds back, “And I’ll pray for you, my friend.”

Anyone who says, “old people have nothing to give” …. has never met Agnes.  

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