Is life throwing you a curve? Perhaps your husband of 15 years suddenly wants a divorce, although you thought things were going pretty well. Maybe you were surprised by a lay-off and now struggle to get a job, even though you are a great candidate and deserve the positions you apply for. Maybe you are facing a serious illness or trying to mend a broken relationship with a child or loved one. These are not uncommon issues, but none of them are easy.
When I have a client come to me with issues like these, I always ask, “Who’s got your back?” Regardless of the client’s gender, age or status, this question always causes my client to stop and think. The answer I hear most often is “no one.”
Not many years ago I went through one of the toughest periods of my life. Having survived cancer twice, and overcoming several other personal and emotional setbacks, I was truly doing my best to be a good person, do what is right and work hard; but I just wasn’t happy and couldn’t get out of a deep rut of depression and sadness. What made it worse was not having anyone to confide in. Counseling hadn’t worked in the past. I didn’t want to burden my friends. And I certainly wasn’t going to talk to my parents. I felt totally and utterly alone – not physically, but emotionally. I call this acute loneliness.
You experience acute loneliness when, although you are surrounded by others, you feel as if you are facing life’s challenges and problems alone. Acute loneliness made my problems feel bigger than they really were and made me feel as if my problems were unique and that I had to figure them out all by myself. Both my thoughts and my emotions were distorted because I had no one to help me calibrate my feelings and help me unload the baggage I was carrying.
Likewise, when my clients answered that “no one” had their backs, they, too, were suffering from acute loneliness.
Are you like my clients? Do you feel as if no one has your back? If so, here are a few things you can do to reduce your feelings of acute loneliness and start to create supportive relationships so that someone has your back:
1. Write it out: Journaling is quite therapeutic and can help you make sense of what you are feeling. This can take on many formats, such as writing a letter you do not send, or jotting down feelings, thoughts and emotions, or writing a story.
2. Make a list of people that you might be able to talk to. Start out by listing the people that come to mind without deciding who you are going to talk to. Once the list is made, rank the people on your list in terms of emotional safety, with the safest person at the top.
3. Take a risk: We all feel vulnerable sharing our problems with someone. One way to overcome feeling vulnerable is to pick a topic or a single issue to discuss with someone we trust instead of dumping all your problems at one sitting. As the safety grows, you can share more.
4. Know that people want to listen and help: Remember that people on your list who can offer you some level of emotional safety most likely want to help and are willing to listen.
5. Set some ground rules: When you do decide to confide in someone, I highly suggest that you set some ground rules. If you only want them to listen and not give advice, let them know that up front. If you just want to vent, say so.
6. Seek professional help: If your list does not yield someone you can trust or feel safe with, then it may be appropriate to seek help from a counselor or life coach. Many employers provide anonymous services for counseling. If counseling isn’t your thing, seek a coach or mentor that will listen and provide objective feedback and wise perspectives.
7. Grow your support network: Happy and optimistic people share something in common – they have a strong support group of people they can turn to. Try being a friend and confidant to someone as a way to grow your own network of friends.
8. Use social media with caution: While you don’t want to post your problems on Facebook, you can reach out to people in your network and ask for help or support. You would be surprised at how many people care for you and are willing to help.
9. Forgive: I know this is hard, but one powerful way to stop feeling acute loneliness is to forgive those who have offended you. This is a great way to rebuild relationships and create safety.
10. Exercise: Believe it or not, taking a walk or performing strenuous exercise will help you feel better about yourself and will help put your problems into perspective.
You don’t need to feel alone or assume you will burden others by opening up about your challenges. As for my clients who initially feel that no one has their back, we are always able to find someone who can offer support. Whatever you are going through, don’t go through it alone.
Kirk Wilkinson is the Founder and President of The Happiness Factor, a best-selling author, two-time cancer survivor, speaker and life coach. The Happiness and Factor and the Fresh Start for Women Foundation have partnered to bring you a powerful and uplifting on-line coaching program.