Get rid of unrealistic social expectations to alleviate loneliness
In my previous post,The The dangerous soulmate myth, I examined how this myth is part of the belief that external factors can fix our incomplete psyche. The symptoms of an incomplete psyche is a psychological disorder which is called loneliness. Contrary to popular belief, loneliness is not dependent on the number of social interactions a person has. A person can have many friends and acquaintances and yet still feel lonely. This post will provide solutions on how you can tackle the problem of loneliness.
Despite 20% of the population experiencing loneliness, little is know about this condition. In some cases it is linked to clinical depression, in that case treatment for depression might be required. Experts differ on what causes loneliness and often their solutions are contradictory. I am speaking from practical experience and what I did to deal with loneliness. First lets examine the psychological definition of loneliness.
Loneliness is defined as the distressing experience that occurs when one’s social relationships are perceived to be less in quantity, and especially in quality, than desired. Being alone and experiencing loneliness are not the same thing.
The key word in the definition is perceived, which is closely related to the word expect. Perception and expectation are related to how we believe the world should operate.
First lets examine the definition of expectation.
a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen.
The key word in the definition is the word belief. Beliefs are not reality. Anger or disappointment is caused when you do not get the desired results for certain actions. This occurs in the subconscious of our brain, we are not aware of it happening. Expectation is a learned behavior.
When you put coins into a vending machine, you expect that when you push a button the desired product will come out. If the Coke machine fails to dispense a soft drink. You will feel disappointment or anger. These emotions might cause you to feel like hitting the machine. This anger was caused because you expected the Coke machine to dispense soft drinks when you put money into the machine and pressed a button.
Expectation is a result of classical conditioning, what Pavlov did with his dogs. Imagine you are a small child or a person who has never seen a Coke machine. You do not know what the machine does. You put coins into the vending machine and push a button, nothing happens. You do not feel disappointment or anger since you where not expecting anything.
People are not machines and yet we have a tendency to think they are. A machine when it is functioning correctly reacts the way you expect. When people do not react the way you except, you can not take them apart and repair them.
Improving your ability to socially interact with other people helps combat loneliness. Intuition tell you that it is because you now have the ability to increase your number of social interactions. In my opinion this is a incorrect. To successfully learn social skills, you need to get realistic expectations of other people. While learning these skills you will gain confidence. These are internal factors.
Problems happen when you have unrealistic expectations or you experience emotions which cause you to behave irrationally. How do you remove these unrealistic expectations ?
Learning to live in the moment does not mean behaving irresponsibly. It means concentrating on the task which you are doing right now. Most people either live in the past or they are living in the future. Feeling regrets about the past distracts you from the task you are doing right now. Worrying about something that has no occurred yet, distracts you from the the task right now. You want to concentrate on what you are doing in the moment. You want to achieve mindfulness which is defined as:
a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
To start achieving mindfulness, you do not need to take up meditation or some new age religion. These techniques are helpful but it is better to start with practical techniques which you can use right now.
First come up with a simple plan. When starting out, have a tendency to create grandiose which over complicate things. You can have a long range plan in this case Learn how to interact with others better. People usually stop at this step. You need to create a smaller plan which will help you achieve this goal. Here is our simple plan, I will walk to the store to buy something. On the way there I will talk to one person and on the way back I will talk to one person.
Probably you are sitting on the sofa. All of this thinking is making you tired. You might be experiencing anxiety,laziness or other excuses for procrastination. What are you going to do ?
What is the first step you have to do ? Stand up. So you tell yourself stand up. All you think about at that moment is standing up. Amazingly enough your body ends up in an upright position. Then think about putting one foot in front of the other until you get to your shoes. Put each shoe on at a time. The trick is to only think about each event as your are doing it. Keep on breaking things into simple steps till you are out of the door and on the way to the store.
Probably most of you do not need to break things into as small of steps. When I was starting out, I had severe social anxiety and felt self conscious. Sometimes I had to actually do what I described. This trick for other activities. It is a simple way to practice mindfulness. You are supposed to talk to one person on the way to the store. Who should you talk to ?
Initially The best type of people to practice social skills on are ones who do not see you as threatening. You should also not see them as threatening. If you are a big black guy livings in an area where there racial tensions between blacks and whites, don’t try starting a conversation with an elderly white lady. Especially if it is dark and there has been news reports about big black guys who have been mugging elderly people. If one of you is anxious, it will cause the other person to feel anxious. This will cause a vicious cycle. For now stick to the basics. Later when your social skills improve, you can try these types of conversations.
Do not attempt to talk to people who appear busy. People who are occupied generally speaking do not like to be disturbed. Elderly people and service people are in my opinion the best to start with but don’t be afraid to try new things. An elderly person waiting for the bus or a newspaper vendor without any customers are good.
Often we feel that we need to say something profound. It actually does not matter what you say providing you are polite. So an elderly person who is waiting for the bus, you could say “Excuse me, do you know when the bus will come ?”. You then could say, “I wonder if I should catch the bus or walk to the store ?” A newspaper vendor, you could ask a question about a newspaper headline. It is usually best to make the comment in a form of a question, that way the person will be inclined to answer.
If they make a comment, you can ask a question about that. You see a headline about the terrorist attack in France. You ask what happened ? You then could say, “Maybe Trump isn’t so crazy wanting to ban all those Muslims ?”. If the question is asked in that manner, it leaves it open ended. A left leaning person will react to the words Trump and crazy. While the right leaning person will react to the words Trump and Muslim. Later on, you will learn that it doesn’t really matter what you say, providing you do it in a civil and polite manner.
If the person starts to appear bored with your questions, thank them for their time and move on. If you are talking to a service industry person, ask them if you are preventing them from doing their jobs. If uncertain ask the person. Providing you are polite rarely are they offended. Remember you can’t read other people’s minds, that is why you need to ask questions.
Before talking to someone, I would always ask myself this question. If I am polite, what is the worst thing that can happen ? With most social encounters the worst possible thing that can happen is the person will say “Fuck off”. You then have two options, the safe one is to say “I am sorry I disturbed you” and then leave. The slightly more risky one is to say “You seem to be having a really bad day. Would you like to talk about it ?”. If the person says no, apologizing for disturbing them and leave.
You do not know what is going on in another person’s mind. Possibly the person just found out they where fired from their job. When people are upset sometimes they have a tendency to lash out at others. Or maybe they just want time alone. People who are self conscious usually think that they are responsible for the reactions of others. The person you are talking to is not obligated to like you. By the same token you are not obligated to like other people. Some people have a tendency to rub me the wrong way, for no apparent reason I don’t like them. By the same token I expect that I have the same effect on others.
Learning social skill is like learning how to ride a bicycle. If you do not know how to ride a bicycle, think of some other skill which you can do without consciously thinking about it, for example swimming. Think back to when you where learning how to ride a bike. At first you had to consciously think of doing many things at once. First there was the problem of balancing on the bike. Simultaneously you had to think about steering and peddling the bike. Possibly if you thought too much about balancing, you might forget to steer and you ran into a tree. Despite a few scrapes and bruises you kept at it.
Then a few weeks later, to your surprise, you noticed that you where just riding your bike. No conscious thought was required. When learning social skill, the same principles apply as learning how to ride a bike.
Things rarely go according to plan. Things will go wrong. The only person whose actions you can change is yourself. If a person does not react the way you expected them to, first ask what could I have done differently ? Most cases you might not have the answer right away, set it aside and do not dwell on it. If you came up with some ideas what you could have done differently, next time when you are in a similar situation try it out.
People are afraid to make mistakes, they then attempt to shift responsibility by blaming others. Mistakes are part of learning.
When I was in my early twenties, I asked myself this question. Why do you need a soul mate to have a fulfilling life ? The short answer is you don’t. Once I had accepted this reality the next step was putting my plan into action.
Experts agree that loneliness is contagious, this has been my experience also. If you are associating with people who are always complaining about being lonely you will become dissatisfied also. There is a difference between being negative and realistic. A negative person will only see the worst possible outcomes in every situation. A realistic person will see both the negative and positive outcomes in a situation. He then does a risk analysis, what are the chances of the negative outcome ? Then he figures out way around negative outcomes.
The techniques I described here can be used in other areas. Go eat a fancy dinner by yourself. Go to the bar by yourself. Go to a social function by yourself. In this case I used social activities as an example since most people are scared to do these things by themselves. By doing these things you will overcome your fears.
Stop expecting, live in the moment. Start smart and you will be surprised what will happen.
If you would like to be updated when I make new posts follow me on twitter @sir_wankalote.