In a recent article, I discussed three things that may keep us lonely: Being critical of others, our tendency to shame people, and believing that we should be perfect. Here are some additional reasons we may find ourselves feeling isolated.
Fear of Taking Risks
If we hold the unrealistic belief that we should be perfect, we may be unwilling to do anything that might expose our imperfections. We may be so paralyzed by the fear of failing that we won’t take steps that might alleviate our loneliness. We might think, “Yeah, I should go out more or write a personal ad for a dating site… and some day I’ll get around to it.” But that day never comes.
Or, we may think about asking someone out on a date — or even just meeting someone as a friend or potential friend — but we can’t bear the prospect of a negative response. We may hear “no” as a personal rejection and conclude that we’re flawed. Being overwhelmed by fear and shame, a more benign interpretation may not occur to us, such as their life is too busy or they’re not seeking new friendships.
Rather than take an intelligent risk to reach out, we may procrastinate. We cling to what is known, rather than risk possible rejection and failure. We may find a curious comfort in what is familiar, even though it keeps us painfully isolated and disconnected.
The Fear of Feeling Shame and Embarrassment
Underlying our fear of risk-taking may be a fear of feeling shame or embarrassment. We don’t want to look bad in someone else’s eyes — or in our own eyes. Toxic shame, the belief or feeling that we’re flawed or a failure, is one of the most painful human emotions.
Toxic shame is so painful that we’ll do almost anything to avoid it. Or more accurately, there are many things we won’t do in order to sidestep the prospect of experiencing shame. We won’t reach out to people, we won’t engage in new enterprises, and we won’t put ourselves in situations where we might not do well. Without a guarantee of success, we’re reluctant to expose ourselves to possible embarrassment or humiliation.
But of course, life offers no guarantees. Without a willingness to take informed risks and face possible rejection or failure, we remain paralyzed, thereby perpetuating our loneliness and isolation.
We need to realize that even if we’re rejected, it doesn’t mean we are a reject or that something is wrong with us. Our challenge and inner work is to inwardly hold ourselves with dignity and respect regardless of whatever outside events befall us.
The Fear of Being Vulnerable
Taking risks that might move us toward satisfying relationships and a more fulfilling life means being willing to be vulnerable. If we reach out to someone, we may not get a rousing response. Being vulnerable means accepting that we don’t always get what we want. A part of life is feeling sad or disappointed sometimes. That’s just the human condition.
The good news is that we can learn to have a more friendly and accepting relationship with these feelings, perhaps through the help of a psychotherapist.
Moving toward a less lonely, more connected life means cultivating resilience. It means finding the inner strength to say “yes” to ourselves when others say “no” to us. It requires affirming our worth and value regardless of how others respond to us.
This is the practice of self-love: valuing ourselves and developing the capacity to rest comfortably in our body and being as we venture out into an uncertain world. We come to trust that we can take a breath and affirm that we’re ok just as we are. As psychologist Carl Rogers put it,
“The curious paradox is that when I can accept myself just as I am, then I can change”.
Being Friendly with Ourselves
We experience the world as a friendlier place as we become more friendly with ourselves. As we trust ourselves to deal with life as it unfolds, we can take more risks to be vulnerable. We can extend our hand to others with courageous vulnerability, knowing that if we’re not met with a positive response, we can feel good knowing we tried… and move toward those who might be more receptive.
Most of us feel at least a little lonely sometimes. If we can hold ourselves with gentleness as we experience our loneliness, it may begin to shift. And as we ask ourselves, “What would feel like a small step forward with this loneliness?” we might feel moved toward some action that may help us feel more connected.
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