Counselling for Loneliness, Abandonment and Empty Nest Syndrome
Loneliness can be something we are familiar with or something new to us. We can surround ourselves with life, socialising, work and keeping active, however when we suddenly experience the isolation of feeling lonely, which can equally happen within a marriage or partnership, it can be shocking and catch us off guard. Counselling for coping with loneliness can help you to ‘reconnect’ with your life or with those around you, working on ways to cope with whatever is the root cause to your feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness in modern life:
Many of us can suffer from loneliness at some point in our lives, which is different to choosing time to be alone. If we are feeling isolated, depressed, have experienced loss, separation or grief, this may all tie in with a sense of disconnect from ourselves, friends, family and work and can affect us at any age. A feeling of loneliness may often go hand in hand with shame, which can prevent us from reaching out and finding help or admitting we feel alone.
What is causing this Loneliness, why do I feel isolated?
Feeling lonely can lay dormant for many years as we seek, often unconsciously, to distance ourselves from what can feel like a void or numbness, only for the feelings to reappear unexpectedly. We may choose to constantly be around others or be in an ongoing relationship in a bid to avoid the feelings and experience of loneliness
Some people use other methods of avoidance, such as substance abuse, drinking, eating or buying things, in a bid to tolerate or cope with feeling lonely.
The emotional consequences of loneliness
Loneliness is not an easy feeling to admit to ourselves or to others as it does not fit in to societal expectations about succeeding, which may include being in a relationship, having a good job, lots of friends, being social, happy and confident. At the times we’re meant to feel happiest such as birthdays, Christmas or Valentines, it can often highlight our isolation and cause pain, sadness, anger and feelings of low self-esteem.
Some of the feelings or experiences you may have;
- Thoughts that people don’t like you or want to be around you
- An experience of numbness, feeling frozen or disconnected
- Sadness and loss
- A sense of abandonment
- Feeling shy and awkward socially
- Substance abuse as a way of avoiding your feelings
- Remaining in unhealthy relationships to avoid feeling lonely
- Seeking unhealthy relationships or sexual encountersIsolation, heaviness, struggling to do anything
- Anxiety and stress
- Suicidal thoughts
When did I start feeling lonely?:
While some of us are familiar with isolation and feeling lonely, having experienced it from a young age, others may be a newer to this experience, which may be triggered by some life event such as:
- the ending of a relationship
- the start or end of university
- a job loss or retirement
- a bereavement of a partner, family member, close friend or pet
- following the birth of your child, postnatal depression
- children leaving home or empty nest syndrome
How loneliness can happen or feel at different times in our lives
Loneliness from birth to early adult
Loneliness can start in our families of origin, where we may feel misunderstood, feel out of place or where we are not the priority, as children, due to abandonment, loss, neglect or more simply because we had busy parents with demanding lives who were unavailable to us.
This can translate into our general experience of life, where we do not know our value or self-worth.
Sometimes school or university can be a catalyst for isolation if we don’t find our ‘place’ and the friends that fit for us. As we reach adulthood, we may struggle with our identities and sexual orientation, which can be confusing and isolating too.
Loneliness from young adult to middle age
As we try to figure out who and what we are in our lives, there are many pivotal moments where we can feel isolated and lonely. Moving from University into work, or the process of looking for work, after leaving school. Finding a relationship and choosing whether to have or if we want to have children. Divorcing or staying in a relationship in which we feel isolated and misunderstood.
If we have never experienced feeling lonely then we may not have an awareness of cutting ourselves off from others or that we are struggling away to understand this for ourselves.
Loneliness in Middle age onwards
As we grow older, we may have found many satisfying ways to fulfil our lives, but start searching for meaning in our life, perhaps triggered by the realisation of our own mortality. Other life events such as coming out of a long-term relationship/marriage or losing a partner or close long term friends can be painful and unknown and leave you feeling lonely. Children growing up becoming independent, and no longer needing your daily support and guidance, then leaving home can also leave you feeling left behind and alone, or we may not have children and that can bring feelings of being alone. We are also beginning to deal with our changing bodies and getting older, leading to physical barriers to getting out, socialising and being with people
Relationships and loneliness
Whether we’re in a relationship, at the end of one or looking for one we can find ourselves isolated and lonely.
If you are in a relationship and communication has broken down, it can be very painful. It is hard to talk about the messy, difficult and tough elements of being in a relationship as we may shame ourselves or be unaware of patterns of behaviour that hold us in the ongoing problems. Most of us do not want to broadcast problems in our relationship which can add to us feeling alone, angry, blaming, ashamed or critical of ourselves or others. Even though almost all relationships have difficulties, many of us can feel trapped and on our own, compounded by pretending we are ok and fulfilled to our families and the outside world.
Single and looking for a relationship
There is immense pressure for people to be in a relationship in our society. While we are given the option to explore relationships in our young adult life, once we hit our late 20s and early 30s the pressure builds. Our parents, friends, media and societal messages may push towards expectations of finding love, relationships and building a family. Even the words ‘Batchelor’ and ‘Spinster’ speak volumes about how men and women are judged if they do not find the perfect ‘other’. Women are valued by desiring, forming and maintaining a relationship as an indicator of success, while men are pressurised to sow their wild oats, be ‘manly’ and provide.
If we have come out of a long-term relationship, marriage or have been bereaved and are looking for a relationship it can also be a tough process. Not only because the dating landscape has changed immensely, but the age old issues of finding someone, such as expectations, children (melded families) and ultimately our vulnerability in allowing us to get close to someone are tough and lonely things to navigate.
The reality is that looking for, finding and staying in an intimate relationship can be an incredibly hard and challenging process.
Parenting and Empty Nest Syndrome
Parenting can be challenging in general. Before we have children we may have all sorts of expectations, wishes, hopes and dreams of how it will be. The reality of becoming parents is generally different to what we expect and we can’t know how we’ll feel until we’re knee deep in it. Combined with the change in our working lives, hormones, lack of sleep, the change from two to three or more in the relationship can be really tough and isolating. There is very little room for anything other than caring for the baby at the beginning and it’s easy to lose a sense of who we are, feeling disconnected and lonely as a result. We may also feel that our partner has changed and we have less to give and communication can be harder.
At the other end of the Spectrum, when children begin to leave home, our identities and roles change again. We have built a life around a family and our children may have taken centre stage while they developed. Whether you can’t wait for them to be out the door, or are really struggling with letting go, it’s a big transition to negotiate.
Counselling for loneliness and Isolation, how I can work with you
I’ve covered some examples of how we may feel lonely at certain points in our life, but there may be no specific trigger, other than we know we are feeling lonely.
While the feeling of being lonely or isolated may be shared by all humans, our experience and circumstances will be specific to us. I will work with you to understand what it is like for you to feel alone, sad, angry or frustrated with your life. We will go at a pace that feels right for you, so you can grow an understanding of why you are feeling this way. We will also look at specific triggers and work on strategies so you can manage and become aware of what may be causing your isolation and loneliness, whilst growing your awareness and bringing change into your life.