This is episode number sixty nine: Loneliness and belonging.
Welcomed the Mindset for Life Podcast. This is Bethanie, your Coach, from DrBCoach.Com, coaching with power, purpose, and practical tools to help you show up with confidence.
Have you ever been lonely? I mean really alone. I have. I moved to a new town when I was a young adult for my first job out of college. I didn’t know anyone. I was from a different state. I didn’t have any neighbors I had met. I literally was completely alone, except for the telephone. I could pick up the phone and call my family two states away.
It was incredibly lonely those first few weeks, until I started my new job and made some friends in the workplace. Many people only know people at work. They don’t go to a church group. They don’t have neighborhood acquaintances. There are a lot of people in our world today who only know people at work. And in a period of pandemic times, with social isolation and people working from home, that can be incredibly lonely.
But what about in non-pandemic times? We can still be lonely in a crowd of people.
Loneliness is Common and Has an Impact on Us
Loneliness is a real problem in our world, and it can have devastating health consequences. First of all, there are some statistics about loneliness. I’m always interested in those. So, I want to share those with you. In a current survey posted on NPR in the beginning of 2020, the survey noted that three out of five Americans are lonely. Apparently 61% of all Americans are lonely. Of course, that was taken from a sample of ten thousand people and generalized to the entire population. The pandemic came along, and loneliness really picked up. So if you’re not feeling the effects of loneliness, chances are that you have done things to overcome this and create connection. If you are feeling lonely, you’re not alone. Many of us are lonely.
There’s a lot that happens when we are lonely, because belonging is a basic human need. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of this, but there is a hierarchy of human needs, and belonging is one of the main needs that humans have. If you are alone, it can cause mental health problems like anxiety, emotional distress, addictions, depression. It can increase all sorts of health risks and decrease your quality of sleep. It can make it very difficult to stay asleep, if you are able to fall asleep. Social isolation and loneliness in older adults are also serious public health risks, and this does affect people all over the world. Belonging is the antidote to loneliness.
When it’s missing, it hurts our participation in all sorts of things. So even if we go to work and there are people there, we may suffer from loneliness. It’s difficult to show up at work and be our best selves. It compromises our participation at work. It also makes it hard to be a good spouse, a good parent, or to achieve at anything. When we’re lonely we feel like discouraged and despairing. And if it happens for a long time, it can even generate attitudes of pessimism, cynicism, emotional isolation, and challenges to your faith. It can also take away your zip and yours zest for life, when it is there.
Belonging Strengthens Us and Begins Within
When we do feel a sense of belonging, it can bring pride in our family, in our neighborhood, and our friendships with peers we have at work or other places, pride in our community. Belonging can also give us emotional strength, self-assurance. It can help us handle all sorts of challenges and difficulties. Belonging increases warmth and motivation. I’ve been in situations where a person was lonely and many people around them reached out and tried to connect, tried to build community. And that person did not respond. They were not lifted up by these other people, even though their efforts were sincere and genuine. Why is that?
Where does the real belonging come from? It’s interesting to think about creating belonging yourself. You can fortify your own sense of self and learn to accept yourself so that you’re open to accepting other people into your life. If you are very hard on yourself, rejecting yourself, self-critical and having a hard time embracing who you really are, it can also be difficult to let anyone else into your life and have that sense of belonging, even when it’s offered to you.
You can be part of social groups. You can build relationships with other people. And, this one is one of my favorite options, you can belong to something greater than yourself. This could be a religious group. It could be a social cause. A community group. A work team. There are many ways to belong to things that are greater than we are. And whenever we tap into those parts of us that contribute to the greater good or the group, this is going to help us feel a sense of belonging.
It’s so interesting to think that it takes effort on our end to feel belonging, even though belonging actually comes from connections with other people. Part of this makes me think about how critical it is to have all those connections with other human beings. We cannot be alone, or that is, we can’t be at our best if we just stay alone all the time. So what is it about fortifying your individuality and accepting yourself that you can do today?
How to Begin Generating Acceptance
Well one thing is to get to know yourself. You might think that you know all about yourself. I know I did. I’m pretty reflective person, and for most of my life, I have known a lot about my own thinking patterns, my interests, and my talents, and things like that. But I didn’t know what some of my beliefs were that were making it difficult for me to be a better me. For example, for some reason, I used to have many relatives who were overweight, and I thought that that was just something I was born to be. I believed that I would be overweight my whole life and it was genetic. And there was nothing I would ever be able to do about it. Until I lost weight.
At some point, I lost one hundred pounds, and it was a diligent effort. It did not happen on its own. But it really surprised me that I was not genetically predisposed to being overweight at all. I only thought I was. So many times, we have thoughts that we are unaware we’re thinking. That are not necessarily true. Like that one of genetics and my weight issue.
We can examine our thoughts, our strengths, our weaknesses, and get to know ourselves much better. Especially if we can examine our weaknesses and get to know ourselves, and be compassionate about those weaknesses. No one can be perfect at everything or good at everything. I have known some people who can speak five or ten different languages with fluency. And to me, that may be a skill that I never pursue or would never be great at. But there are some people in this world who are phenomenal at that kind of talent. Each of us has a different talent or a whole range of talents. There are so many things that you bring to this world that are unique to you, especially in the combination that you hold.
Your strengths and talents are special. They are what make you YOU. And your values are, too, those things you care most about. On the flip side, we all have our weaknesses, and those things are also unique to us, just as we have our own combination of strengths and talents. We have our own combination of weaknesses, too.
So, if we can acknowledge our weaknesses and realize that even if we pretend we don’t have them, everyone else might already be aware of our weaknesses, once we come to accept our weaknesses, we can accept all of ourselves. We don’t need to hide. We can be who we really are. Be authentic and accept ourselves. When we do that, we are open to accepting other people. And we can feel belonging. We can connect to other people.
How to Adjust, and Belong in a Group
A sense of belonging involves a few things. One is gaining acceptance for yourself, from yourself. And another is gaining acceptance from other people. This doesn’t mean that you need to be a people pleaser. It means that you need to be able to connect with other people. And if there are some things about you that sometimes are off-putting to others, for example, if you’re a little too blunt, if you’re rude, if you’re overly direct, and don’t have some sensitivity to the fact that someone might need a little more explanation or context, something, that’s a skill that you can learn. And if you have those kinds of things going on with yourself, it might be worth learning those skills so that you can generally gain acceptance from other people. But it’s not a personality contest. It’s not a popularity contest.
Gaining acceptance from your group could be something like if you belong to a church group, and you go to the church group, and you learn people’s names and get to know them. And go regularly. They start to know you, and they start to rely on your membership and your participation. And they care about you as well, because you’re part of the group.
Giving Acceptance and Belonging to Others Meets Our Needs Too
Another thing that a sense of belonging involves is attention. We have to pay attention to those places and those people that we want to belong to. Another thing that a sense of belonging involves is support from members of the group and providing the same attention back to the other members. If we’re always taking support and attention from the people we want to belong with, we have to give it too. If we never give it and we’re only taking it, then pretty soon those people are going to think that we’re just taking from them. We’re not giving back. Were kind of one-sided people. That are not helping them in any way. It’s not that they expect our help, it’s that that’s what group members do. We help each other, back and forth. We care about each other, back and forth. So if we want a sense of belonging, we need to also be willing to give the same attention to other members of our group.
Now when you have belonging, it’s going to bring you greater happiness and overall well being, because it reduces anxiety. It connects you to other people. So it also reduces loneliness. It can help you reduce social anxiety, because you know a lot of people and you get to know a lot of people. It can also reduce your feelings of depression and hopelessness when you’re connected to others. This can support you and help you feel loved and cared about.
Take Steps to Connect with Other People, Today
What can you do right now? Especially if you’re still working from home, and it’s still the pandemic for you. Well, one thing you can do is to seek out places where you can engage with other people, even if it’s online. If you’re not able to go somewhere physically yet, you can find an online group or take a live synchronous online class, where people will show up all at one time. You can make an effort to do this and you will be able to connect with some people and feel a sense of belonging.
Another thing you can do to increase your sense of belonging is to be patient as you join a group, class or a workshop, or get to know people in your church group, neighborhood, or your workplace. It does take a little bit of time for people to get to know you and for you to gain acceptance. Sometimes certain groups have norms or phrases or culture that is common to the group, and you might even need to learn about that culture. Be patient and be willing to give it the time it takes to become part of the group.
And then lastly, give acceptance back. This means you have to stay open, and focus on ways in which you are similar to other people, instead of ways that you are different. The best way is to focus on similarities. To get curious and get to know people. Ask questions. Because you have a genuine interest in connecting with others and you can get that sense of belonging that you truly need.
Remember, belonging is a basic human need. It’s not optional. We don’t need to sit alone all day every day and wish that someone would reach out to us. We can find places where there are people we can get to know and belong with a neighborhood, a family, a workplace, a volunteer situation, in your community, an online class or group, a religious organization, and more. There are many places we can connect, put the time in, and gain that sense of belonging that we really need. But most of all, we can give a sense of belonging to others and fight off the loneliness that otherwise could take us over. I encourage you to think about how you might connect with others this coming week.
Where do you belong? Where are some of the groups in which you feel really comfortable and accepted? And where would you like to build better relationships in the future, as you’re on this journey to become an even better version of yourself? Think about how you might stretch this area. Who needs your companionship right now? I wish you all the best in pursuing belonging. And, I hope you’ll connect soon with a coach. Working with a coach can help you find new ideas and new opportunities to enrich your sense of belonging and feel connected to others even faster and more effectively, in ways that matter to you. I wish you all the best this coming week in pursuing this, and in being the even better version of you.
This has been a podcast called Mindset for Life, by Bethanie at DrBCoach.Com. To find me on the web, you can visit my blog or my website at www.DrBCoach.Com.