NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, December 11, 2017

How Therapy Can Help You to Overcome Loneliness

I've written prior articles about being alone, isolated and lonely, including:  Overcoming Loneliness and Social IsolationWhen There's Loneliness and Lack of Intimacy in Your RelationshipOn Being Alone and Emotional Strategies That No Longer Work For You: "I don't need anyone." 
In this article, I'm focusing on loneliness and some ways that you might be getting in your own way with regard to connecting with others.

Overcoming Loneliness in Therapy

Everyone Feels Lonely At Some Point
Loneliness is an issue for everyone at some point in their lives.

Whether you're in a relationship or not or whether you have lots of close friends or not, it's a fact of life that sooner or later you'll feel lonely.

Just because you have people around you doesn't mean that you feel connected to them or that these relationships are meeting your emotional needs.

Although everyone experiences loneliness at some point, there's a difference between feeling lonely occasionally and feeling lonely most of the time.

Taking a Look at Whether You're Open to Connecting With Others
People who feel pervasive loneliness often feel that they're flawed in some way and that other people wouldn't want to connect with them, so this prevents them from connecting with others (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

Feeling unlovable isn't a feeling that people are usually aware of on their own.  It's often an underlying feeling that they don't become aware of until they start therapy to overcome their loneliness.

The way that these feelings of being unlovable usually come to the surface is through an exploration in therapy.

When all the practical reasons for not connecting with others have been set aside, it's not unusual for people to discover that they're deeply ambivalent about connecting with others because they believe they're flawed in some way and that others will reject them (see my article: Overcoming Fear of Rejection).

At that point, in most cases, it's a matter of working through these underlying issues of feeling unlovable so that they can connect with others.

A Fictionalized Vignette About Overcoming Loneliness in Therapy

For most of her life, Sandy felt alone and lonely.

At the point when she came to therapy, she was in her late 30s and feeling close to despair.  She didn't really believe that therapy could help her, but she didn't know what else to do, so she started therapy with a lot of ambivalence (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious or Ambivalent).

Overcoming Loneliness in Therapy

Sandy told her therapist that she grew up as an only child with parents who were distant and cold with her and with each other.  With no other relatives close by, Sandy spent much of her time at home alone.

She grew up feeling that her parents thought she was "defective" in some way, and she was aware that they didn't really want any children.  She assumed that she was "an accident" (see my articles: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect? and What is the Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Problems Later On in Adult Relationships?).

When she started school, Sandy kept to herself.  She didn't think the other children would like her, so she didn't make an effort to make friends.

There was one girl in her first grade class, Betty, who was very outgoing and who befriended Sandy.  She would often invite Sandy over to her home after school where Sandy was surprised to see that Betty's parents were loving and affectionate with Betty.  This was in sharp contrast to Sandy's  experience with her own parents, and it made her aware that she lived in an unhappy household.

Even though Betty went out of her way to seek out Sandy, Sandy was sure that it would only be a matter of time before Betty would drop her as a friend--as soon as Betty discovered the "real Sandy" (see my article: Overcoming the Fear That People Won't Like You If They Knew the "Real You").

Since Betty was outgoing and popular with other children, she included Sandy into her group.  But Sandy felt like she was only tagging along and still felt like an outsider (see my article: Feeling Like an Outsider).

Unfortunately, a year later, Betty and her family moved out of state, and Sandy withdrew from the other children in Betty's group after Betty was gone.  Then, she went back to keeping to herself.

By the time she went to high school, Sandy made a few friends.  Although she would socialize with her friends, she always feared that her friends would abandon her.

In college, Sandy dated a few men.  She usually chose men who were narcissistic and who didn't treat her well because she didn't have a sense that she deserved to be treated well.

Sandy drifted from one short-term relationship to the next with long periods in between when she spent a lot of time on her own and feeling lonely.

By the time she was in her late 30s, she felt hopeless that she would ever be in a healthy relationship and she feared that she would always be alone.  This is what brought her into therapy.

After she revealed her history to her therapist and gave her therapist many "reasons" why she thought she would be lonely for the rest of her life, her therapist helped Sandy to see how she was creating obstacles for herself.

The biggest obstacle for Sandy was that she felt unlovable and undeserving.  This feeling was so strong that no amount of talking about it could dissuade her.

Her therapist talked to Sandy about working through her early experience of emotional neglect and feelings of being unlovable using EMDR therapy (see my article: What is EMDR Therapy?)

At first, Sandy was reluctant to work on these issues because she was convinced that her situation was hopeless.  But her therapist also knew that Sandy's self perception was longstanding since childhood and that she was, understandably, afraid to let go of these perceptions.

When she was ready, Sandy agreed to try EMDR therapy.  Her attitude was "I have nothing to lose, so I'll try it."

Gradually, over time, Sandy came to see that her feelings of being unlovable were rooted in her experience with her parents, who were incapable of being loving.

For the first time in her life, she was able to step back emotionally to see that her parents were the ones who had problems, and their problems were part of intergenerational trauma:  Their parents were unable to be loving and their grandparents had the same problem--all related to a long history of unresolved trauma in both families (see my article: Psychotherapy and Intergenerational Trauma).

Recognizing that she wasn't inherently flawed for the first time, Sandy felt a new sense of freedom.  She thought back in her life to all the people who cared about her and she realized that they found her to be a lovable person--so she wasn't unlovable.

Overcoming Loneliness in Therapy

Although this new self perception freed Sandy to see herself in a new way and to venture beyond her usual social comfort zone, she also felt some regret that she had wasted so much time burdened by her negative feelings about herself.  So, she mourned this loss.  But she also made more of an effort to connect with others.

As she felt better about herself, she experienced an upward spiral:  Her new sense of self esteem allowed her to be more social, and as she extended herself, people were open to connecting with her.  And the more people were open to connecting with other, the more confident she felt.

For many people, overcoming loneliness is a matter of overcoming longstanding negative views about themselves.

Feelings of being unlovable are usually unconscious, so these underlying feelings remain hidden until a skilled therapist can assist to gently help to unearth them.

Trauma therapy, like EMDR therapy, is an effective way to overcome trauma and the related negative beliefs about yourself.

Getting Help in Therapy
It can be very challenging to come to terms with the fact that you might be getting in your own way when it comes to overcoming loneliness.

This isn't to say that feeling unlovable or undeserving are the only reasons why people feel lonely, but when loneliness is pervasive in your life, these are often unconscious underlying reasons.

Rather than suffering on your own and feeling hopeless and helpless, you could benefit from working with a skilled psychotherapist who can help you to work through these issues so you can be free from your history.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.