Dear New Shrink,
I have been feeling terrible. I think I might be depressed but my doctor doesn’t think so and when I read up on depression, I don’t have the symptoms. I just feel sad and often hopeless and I have been feeling this way since I lost my husband. He was my best friend and I just can’t seem to replace him. I try to get out to social events, call my friends, but I even feel lonely when I am with them.
I am thinking of getting a pet, but otherwise I don’t know what to do about this pain or even why I have it.
I hope that what I write here can help you some. You are right in describing the horrible pain of loneliness. It is very painful and there can even be a feeling of heartache that goes with it. Do you have that?
Loneliness comes from not being able to fully connect with others. If you can be lonely in a room full of friends, this may be a big part of it for you. You didn’t have it with your husband because he was, as you put it, your best friend. This to me means that you trusted him and really connected with him.
You probably don’t want to replace him and you don’t have to. But you might need to mourn your loss and move on. I would imagine he would want you to be happy, and clearly you are not.
A bereavement group might be a good place to start.
I say this because a group might help you to start connecting with others again while at the same time, also begin the process of getting over your loss.
The key to eliminating loneliness is to look at what is holding you back from getting closer to or connecting with others. Do you have trouble trusting people? Are you afraid of rejection? Or are you the type that believes you don’t need anyone; you are better off taking care of things on your own? This might make you a tad standoffish.
Start by answering these questions and then take baby steps to go directly up against your fears and negative beliefs. Among your social acquaintances, pick the one or two that you think you have the most in common with and who you feel you can trust the most. Then slowly begin to befriend them. Invite them over or out to lunch. Try sharing some personal things about yourself, to whatever degree you are comfortable and then be sure to ask about them. Let the trust and comfort grow slowly but surely. Stay with it. Odds are that over time you will begin to feel connected and the loneliness will begin to subside.
If you are going to get a pet, maybe pick one that is similar to what other people around you have because sharing pet walks and talks about your pets can be a great icebreaker.
Now I just said, “go against your fears or negative beliefs.” I really mean this because if you have had trouble connecting, then you have trust issues of some kind and to protect yourself you may find yourself subconsciously looking for what is wrong with others instead of what is right. You must challenge your own fears and negativity, which is almost always a defense.
Look for the good in people. Give them a chance, a fair chance. Notice when you are being negative or judgmental and stop yourself. No one is perfect and if you want to rid yourself from the heartache of loneliness, you are going to have to give others a chance.
You should also know that loneliness is not just emotionally painful; it is actually a high risk factor in early mortality. This is because with chronic loneliness, it elevates your systolic blood pressure and that in turn can lead to premature death. This has been demonstrated in a number of research studies that controlled for other related variables as well.
Catch your loneliness early. Don’t let it become chronic. Not only is it harder to change the longer it goes on, but also your health risks go way up.
Having said that, it is never, or at least rarely ever, too late to change.
Start your change now so that you can feel better and live longer. And if you are successful, pass it on. Share the positive change with others.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist with offices in Brentwood. Send your questions and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind; let us help you with your life matters.