Loneliness

Loneliness is often not talked about as much as other stressors but recent discoveries have shown that loneliness harms psychological and physical well-being to the point that it has been described as an epidemic and public health issue. So it’s time to start talking about it, removing any stigma attached and addressing the issue.

Connection is a psychological need so we are driven to connect. Without intimate connections, we would probably not have had and raised enough children to reproductive age to prevent extinction. Without our tribes, we would not have had the protection and shared resources to combat the harsh scarce environment, competing tribes and famine. Without a connection to the world around us, we may not have been able to find enough food and shelter or be able to predict opportunities and dangers.

If our drives for these connections are not satisfied they may cumulatively create the stress we call loneliness. I’ve described three types of connection drives in the previous paragraph and these can be mapped to three of the most recognised types of loneliness:

Emotional loneliness: The unmet need for intimate connection, to be highly valued by another person.

Social loneliness: The unmet need to belong to a group of people, to be valued as a part of a group.

Existential loneliness: The unmet need to feel connected to and be a part of something bigger than oneself, that can include a sense of connection to nature or supernature. Existential connection brings a sense of purpose and can also come from intimate connection, as in raising a family or social connection, as in strengthening and securing the future of one’s social group.

How Can Counselling Help

Although we come pre-programmed (genetically) to form these connections, there is a wide variability in skills that can facilitate the connections and developmental and life experience factors that can get in the way. Counselling can increase skills such as communication & understanding and address the factors that get in the way such as anxiety and inhibiting perspectives.

Emotional Loneliness: Increasing the chances of meeting people compatible for intimacy. Increasing the depth of intimacy in existing relationships. Working with attachment styles, perspectives, personality and limits in understanding which may be harmful to developing secure intimate relationships

Social Loneliness: Exploring your social identities to help you find and connect with like-minded others (finding your tribes). This is especially beneficial if you have been through recent life transitions that may have impacted your identities and perspectives. Exploring your place in your social networks to identify where you can best focus energy to increase your sense of belonging.

Existential Loneliness: Finding greater meaning and purpose in life through connections with others, parts of yourself or nature.

 

Your Counsellor, Annie Mundy

Although I have little lived experience of loneliness, I have often witnessed it in those around me. So often the people I see are not connecting with others as they want because they are not looking for it in the best place or way. For example, some may be seeking sex in the hope of finding emotional intimacy or they may be identifying with groups they don’t relate well to because of societal expectations rather than their authentic selves. I also see that it is difficult for many to reach out for help because of a sense of shame, where it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Often it is not a deficit in the person as much as a deficit in society and this means doing a bit of extra work to overcome the obstacles that living in this society has given us.

Seeing the distress of loneliness has me interested in working in this area. I look at the evidence-based solutions to loneliness and can identify how they are similar to practices I have put in place in my life to find meaning, authentic connections and intimacy which gives me the confidence that they may also work for others.

I have made my loneliness sessions 2 hours long compared to 50 minutes for standard individual sessions. This is to allow for a less intense and more companion-style therapeutic relationship. There are still professional boundaries and counselling therapeutic goals to address loneliness, however, taking an earlier break from loneliness with a more companion-styled session may ease some of the loneliness stress that may otherwise inhibit therapeutic progress. Despite the longer session, currently (January 2024) fees are still the same as individual standard counselling

Other Stuff

Ending Loneliness Together website: https://endingloneliness.com.au/

State Of The Nation Report: Social Connections in Australia 2023. Report (PDF), Infographic (PDF).

The Great Separation – SBS On Demand (Requires free account registration)