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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Keefe


That wide, empty, vacant, painful space. In the centre of your life, or the space around you. Miles and endless miles between you and the world and other people.

The irony is, that at a time when the world is more connected than any time in history, through the internet, smart-phones and social media, there are more people living with loneliness than ever before and social media can make the problem worse: everyone else always seems to be leading happier, more prosperous lives and to have more friends. Its often not true: many people are just good at selecting and photoshopping / filtering photographs to share which make it look as if they are having a wonderful time, (when actually their lives are no more glamourous than other peoples) but if you are lonely, viewing the world through the prism of social media can magnify the feelings. Relationships and friendships lived exclusively through social media platforms can also be ultimately unfulfilling, reduced as they often are to likes and brief, fleeting comments.

#Loneliness effects people of all ages: a woman in her eighties whose husband and friends have died and whose children are busy with their own lives, a divorced man in his forties, a homesick student, a child being bullied at school. Everyone feels lonely at some point in their lives and it can hit you quite unexpectedly - redundancy, a sudden bereavement or breakdown of a relationship can leave you lonely, bereft and lacking in confidence.

Many people are happy with their own company of course, content to be alone without feeling lonely. For others, it is a huge problem and one to which society often responds quite unhelpfully, however good its intentions: telling someone who really struggles with relationships to just go out and meet people, just doesn't help.

I don't want to say much more about what being lonely feels like as if you are lonely, then you will know far more about what its like than I do. What I do want to do is talk about how Psychodynamic Psychotherapy might be able to help:

#PsychodynamicPsychotherapy (PDP) is a #relational #therapy, which means its all about relationships: in PDP, client and therapist explore the client's early experience of relationships with parents, carers, siblings, friends and how these experiences impact on your experience of other people and relationships in the present.

Client and therapist form a therapeutic relationship and use this to explore what relationships are like for the client: it becomes a safe space in which to notice patterns from the past as they play out within this new relationship and to play with other, alternative ways of relating where these patterns are causing a problem. This can be a great relief:

If you have a pattern of being let down by the people around you when you were younger, you may have formed an expectation that people cannot be trusted. This may make you wary and guarded about meeting new people and getting to know them. You might have been abused by parents or carers as a child and have formed the expectation that current relationships could turn abusive. Being able to talk to a therapist about your worries about the therapeutic relationship (that the therapist might let you down, that you are not sure if you can trust them) and to have the therapist listen supportively, can lift a weight from your shoulders.

There are of course millions of different reasons why someone might be lonely, but I think there are people who are lonely because they find it really stressful to develop and maintain lasting relationships because they have been let down or treated badly in earlier relationships. This can be a cold and painful place to be: imagine you have a condition for which there is a cure, but you find the idea of the treatment terrifying.

Loneliness, over a long period, can have lasting psychological and physical effects. There is a cure for having no-one in your life, no-one to spend time with and share the ups and downs of life, mark the changing of the seasons and the festivals of the year. But the cure society often prescribes is other people, and if you are scared of other people or find them untrustworthy you are left to struggle with the dilemma of deciding between the pain of loneliness or the risks and dangers of trying to form new relationships.

#Mentalllness, including #depression and #anxiety, is both a cause and a symptom of loneliness: being depressed can make you isolated as it undermines your confidence, whispers negative thoughts and drains you of the energy you need to go out and socialise. #SocialAnxiety can also have a devastating impact on your ability to access the places people go to mingle and socialise. And of course, being isolated can make your depression and anxiety worse.

A therapist could help you overcome this by trying to discover the difficult memories and experiences which create the negative thoughts that undermine your confidence and keep you away from others. You can also use therapy to name and work through your anxieties about particular situations, finding ways to overcome them. (#EMDR has a protocol for working on and resolving "Future Anxieties", a powerful way to help people access activities which they thought were beyond them, through resolving memories of earlier stressful situations and helping the person visualise themselves coping with the situation without fear), or to think about alternatives or easier first steps .

The beauty of #psychodynamicpsychotherapy, is that it involves getting to know another person. Safely. A good therapist will be reliable - they will agree to meet you for a session at a particular time on a particular day, in a particular place and room and they will always be there. This regular, reliable contact with another person can in itself can be helpful in reducing feelings of loneliness. The therapist will want you to be able to trust them but will understand that trust is an elusive, fragile quality: if your trust has been betrayed in the past, if people you should have been able to rely upon have let you down, it is not at all a simple task to bestow your trust again on someone new, even upon a therapist, from you have every right to expect reliability and security.

A good therapist will realise they have to earn and win your trust, will be curious to discover how to do this and committed to working sensitively and openly with you to help you feel safe with them.

Now you might think the same issues will apply with going into therapy as for any other solution proposed to a lonely person who is worried about meeting new people: meeting a therapist to talk about your fears of meeting new people, involves meeting a new person, and that is true. The difference is that a decent, professional therapist will be aware of and more sensitive to your fears of other people and just how challenging it can be. They will encourage you to talk about your worries and fears about meeting them and opening up about yourself. It can be a chance to slowly open up to another and begin to feel what it might be like to form relationships again.

This can still feel daunting, especially if you quickly find yourself actually travelling to meet a therapist in their consulting room, which is why many therapists (myself included), are happy for initial contacts to be by phone, text or email, to build up some sense of safety before agreeing to meet. Engaging with a therapist is a way to practice getting to know another person and exploring what it might be like to meet more.

The first step along the path.

Please message, email, text or phone me if you would like to discuss how therapy might be able to help you.

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