Many clients eat for comfort when they’re lonely. As I’ve blogged before, we’re all lonely once in a while. That can’t be helped. The kind of loneliness that clients are referring to is a chronic feeling which some people remember having had since early childhood.
It is not isolation, per se, that causes loneliness problems, but “the subjective perception of isolation—the discrepancy between one’s desired and actual level of social connection.” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, “Loneliness and isolation aren’t the same thing” by Jane Brody, E24, 12/19/2017). We all know people who have few social connections and seem just fine with their quantity and quality. We may know others who surround themselves with friends and family, but still seem disconnected from them and also, perhaps, from themselves.
There are a number of reasons that people might be lonely. Some came from small, isolated families who had or saw few relatives. Outsiders weren’t trusted and seclusion was intentional and the norm. Alternately, some came from families that moved around a great deal and deep friends were difficult to come by or stay connected to. Many clients mistrust others and fear depending on them due to having dysfunctional parenting. They make poor choices in friends or lovers, which only confirms that people can’t be trusted. Some clients are introverts and others are socially anxious, feeling more secure and comfortable on their own, yet yearning for a sense of belonging.
Some clients fear being hurt, abandoned, abused or betrayed by others and avoid connections to avoid being vulnerable to wounding. Others seem connected, but don’t know how to open up and share intimately, so their relationships remain superficial and lack emotional depth. Often, clients say that there’s nobody who’ll be kind to them, no one who’ll be a good friend and that they’ve made so many mistakes with people that they’ve given up trying to make friends. I always tell them how invalid this perception is because I generally have a caseload of lovely clients who feel the very same way. Sometimes I wish I could just run a group in which they’d all get to meet each other.
Did you know that loneliness cannot only affect people mentally, causing depression, but physically, as well, raising “levels of stress hormones and inflammation, which in turn can increase the risk of heart diseases, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and even suicide attempts”? Instead of viewing being alone as helping you avoid hurt, it’s time to think of how it is a threat to health and happiness, not simply in terms of “normal” eating, but to both your emotional and physical well-being.