How To Talk To A Parent, Sibling, Or Friend You Think Might Be Lonely

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Though loneliness has been a human issue forever, modern loneliness is endemic among both old and young in societies worldwide. The issue is so pervasive that the UK government launched a landmark scheme to tackle loneliness nationally in 2018. But if you think somebody you know might be lonely, knowing how to talk to themabout it can be tough. Being lonely is still seen as a taboo thing, and we often lack the right vocabulary to talk about it.

third of people in the UK expressed loneliness in a survey in 2018, and in 2019, a survey in the U.S. revealed 47 percent of respondents experienced feelings of loneliness. It’s not confined to any age, either; millennials are lonelier than previous generations, according to a study in 2018. Studies show that loneliness may partially be caused by the isolation of relationships conducted via social media and the risk of burnout at work. Many of us are also experiencing the loneliness of cities; as humans live in ever-more crowded metropolises in the 21st century, we also become increasingly separate from others. “You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour [sic] to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people,” writes critic and artist Olivia Laing in The Lonely City.

If you notice somebody close to you appears to be feeling isolated, here’s how to have a conversation about it without making them angry, defensive, or feel more isolated.

1. Take It Slow

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A conversation about somebody else’s loneliness, even if it’s somebody you’re really close to, can feel awkward and raise issues. “Be patient,” Age UK, an organization focused on the elderly (who are particularly vulnerable to loneliness), advises. “When people are lonely, particularly if it’s associated with poor mental health or physical health, they may get irritable or feel misunderstood by others. You may need to offer gentle assurance.” This is not a condemnation or an intervention; it’s an expression of concern, and it may take a few conversations before they’re willing to talk about how they’re feeling.

2. Use A Meal As An Opportunity To Talk

Using meals as a gateway to start this discussion is particularly recommended around major holidays, where lonely people can feel isolated and opportunities for food and shared meals are common. “Why not demonstrate that you’re thinking about someone by making them a delicious meal?” wrote Sabrina Barr for The Independent in 2018. This will not only build closeness into your relationship, it’ll also offer an opportunity to talk about their loneliness and what they need as you prepare food or share it together.

3. Speak From A Place Of Empathy

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People who are lonely don’t just need to “buck up” or “get themselves out there.” Talking down to lonely people, particularly if they have challenges that mean they can’t socialize very much — an illness, a caretaker role, shyness or mobility issues — isn’t going to help. “The use of an infantilising [sic] voice is more often than not experienced as disrespectful and humiliating, and can bring about a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says the UK’s Campaign To End Loneliness.

4. Include Them in Bigger Events

Invite your parent, sibling, or friend to come to a big social occasion that will prompt them to feel a little less isolated, and then see if you can have some one-on-one time; in the light of their recent social interactions at your party or get-together, they may feel more relaxed about talking about their loneliness in general. It’s a double whammy; it helps lonely people feel more connected to others, and also offers a venue to chat where they might feel a bit more cheerful.

5. Come From A No-Judgement Point Of View

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Just as you wouldn’t offer judgment on a sick friend, you can help your loved one talk about loneliness without bringing up individual choices. “A warm, non-judgemental [sic] acceptance of the other person as whatever they are in that given moment during your helping relationship with them” is necessary when you’re dealing with their loneliness, the Campaign To End Loneliness says. “[Understand] that confronting painful feelings and changing their behaviour [sic] in some way can be a big step and a daunting challenge.” Focus on their feelings and how they’re choosing to express them, not your judgement of their situation.

6. Don’t Be Afraid To Talk About The Real Stuff

A survey of lonely American adults in 2018, TIME magazine reported, focused particularly on “meaningful relationships.” People who were lonely, the survey noted, had something in common: they said they had fewer people with whom they could “discuss matters of personal importance.” If you want to have a conversation with a lonely friend or family member, it may help to make time to hear about their life in general, and build meaning into your relationship.

Focus on being an empathetic listener. What are their day-to-day worries? What’s personally important to them? Creating or strengthening a meaningful relationship means you’ll have a better basis to talk about their loneliness, and they’ll be more likely to feel comfortable talking about it.

7. Let Them Guide The Conversation

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You’re ready to have a big conversation about loneliness — but let your loved one take charge. “Facilitate a conversation about loneliness, using the skills and qualities of empathy, openness, warmth and respect, and help people to understand their own circumstances and plan their own solutions,” recommends the Campaign To End Loneliness. You might have an idea or a thousand about things they could do to improve their loneliness — join a club! Learn a new skill! — but, the Campaign says, it’s better to let them take agency over the conversation (and what results from it).

It’s also valuable not to make assumptions about what they want; young moms might not want to do lots of stuff to do with motherhood or children, for instance. “We try and remove limits and expectations about roles and interests,” says the Campaign.

Loneliness can be a hard thing to battle — but a friend or family member who really wants to help is a valuable asset. Take on the job diplomatically, and you might be able to make a real difference for a lonely person.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

How to Deal If There Are Toxic People in Your Family

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Dealing with toxic friends, co-workers, bosses or neighbors is something we feel decently well equipped to handle. But what about when those difficult people happen to be your parents? Or your siblings? Or anyone in your immediate family who isn’t so easy to ignore or walk away from? These three steps can help establish healthier relationships with people you just can’t cut out of your life, for better or for worse.

RELATED: 30 FOOLPROOF WAYS TO DEAL WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE

Figure out what they can and cannot give you
No one makes you laugh like your dad, but when it comes to serious conversations, he never understands the choices you’ve made, and will never give you the validation you so desperately crave. And maybe that’s OK.“It’s important to temper your expectations about what others can and want to do,” says psychiatrist and author Dr. Abigail Brenner, “Accept that they are unable to change, at least at that point in time.”

In other words, stop thinking of your dad as someone you can go to for career advice or relationship feedback (you’ve got friends for that) and start thinking of him for what he can provide—a hilarious string of jokes guaranteed to pick you up after a stressful day.

Establish boundaries
Serious talks with your sister always end in screaming and tears. Rather than try to get her to understand where you’re coming from (spoiler alert: she never will), stop giving her opportunities to tear you down in the first place. If she tries to bring up a sensitive subject, simply don’t engage (the Gray Rock Method is one of our favorite approaches). Or, if she’s persistent, take a more straightforward approach by letting her know it’s not something you want to discuss. As the ever-wise Mary-Kate Olsen once said, “’No’ is a full sentence.”

If all else fails, it may be time to get professionals involved
You’ve tried everything to improve the state of your relationship, but still it’s not working out. It might be time to bring in the pros. Whether you choose to go alone, as a pair or even in a group, therapy can help heal by bringing in a neutral party, and give everybody important tools to understand each other and implement boundaries. Remember: You don’t have to do this all on your own.

Relationships Can Help in Borderline Personality Disorder

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For people with borderline personality disorder (BPD), relationships can be a struggle. The people close to these individuals themselves face significant challenges. With symptoms of the disorder that include difficulties with boundaries, instability of self-concept, inability to regulate emotions, and frequent attempts at self-harm, the individuals who meet this diagnosis may expect too much out of their relationship partners, react with outrage when they feel they’re being rejected, and be demanding of excessive reassurance and attention. Treatment for people with borderline personalitydisorder is generally given only to the individual instead of to the individual and close relationship partners. Such an approach not only leaves those partners out of the therapy loop, but also may fail to take advantage of the “data” a relationship partner can provide about the individual’s behavior outside of the therapy context.

According to new research by Rutgers University’s Skye Fitzpatrick and colleagues (2019), early childhood relationships are important factors in the development of this disorder. However, theorists and researchers may pay less attention than they should to adult relationships. A biopsychosocial perspective to BPD emphasizes how the disorder is maintained within the close relationships that people have in adulthood. As the authors note, “When emotional intensity increases in people with BPD, SOs (significant others) attempt to escape the intense emotion rather than engage in effective problem-solving, emotional validation, or emotional tolerance” (p. 2). As a result, the SOs become less supportive and more judgmental, and can become demanding, critical, attacking, and withholding of affection. A downward spiral ensues, only exacerbating the individual with BPD’s distress and hence, dysfunctional behaviors within the relationship.

Fitzpatrick and her colleagues note that SO’s are involved in many other types of treatments for a range of other disorders from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. BPD would be an area particularly suitable for such interventions, given that the symptoms are so closely linked to relationship factors. Although some studies have included relationships with family members, they do not take into account the very important contributions of nonfamilial relationships. There are, Fitzpatrick et al. note, a number of potential targets of treatment if close intimate partners are involved in the process. These include reducing BPD symptoms in the individual but also reducing the distress of the SO, and thereby reducing the general distress in the relationship. SOs could also be used in therapy as “coaches,” as targets of education about the disorder, and to help the couple work on reducing their relationship distress in general.

Using this as a background, the Rutgers University researchers examined the existing literature on the most well-established approaches to BPD therapy that fall into these three categories. The first, are those coachinginterventions in which the SO actively participates in treatment. In what is called “Systems Training for Emotional Predictability and Problem-Solving (STEPPS),” clients themselves learn about such well-established therapeutic approaches as cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, which encourage clients to challenge their thoughts, learn to manage their emotions, communicate effectively, and manage their behaviors. SOs are brought in for one 2-hour session so that they can learn about these techniques. They can bring the therapy home by asking the individual with BPD such questions as “Have you tried a skill?” when they are distressed. STEPPS was shown, in two well-controlled randomized trial interventions, to show improvement in BPD symptoms that persisted past the end of therapy.

The second way of involving family in treating people with BPD uses education and family-based interventions. In “Family Connections,” family members of people with BPD participate in 12 weeks of group therapy in which they receive information and support. They also are taught some skills from dialectical behavior therapy to learn how to build healthier relationships with the individual with BPD. The tests of this approach were mixed, and compared to STEPPS, did not appear to provide substantial improvement, and it therefore appears to work more as a support group than as a therapeutic intervention. One variant of this approach involves family skills training in methods shown to work for individuals with BPD in traditional therapy, but there are no empirical studies demonstrating its effectiveness. Small positive effects of treatment were shown in what’s called “Staying Connected,” that focuses on the SO’s distress rather than on the partner with BPD. However, there were not enough studies to support this approach’s effectiveness.

Disorder-specific therapies involve SOs in forms of therapy ordinarily used for individuals alone. In couple dialectical behavior therapy, couples are seen as trapped together in a cycle of “high emotional arousal, inaccurate expression of emotion, and invalidation” (p. 7). Therapy attempts to reduce suicidal, self-injurious, and aggressive behavior. The couple then goes on to learn how to reactivate their relationship by engaging mindfully in joint activities. They learn how to identify and express their emotions in an accurate manner, and acknowledge the feelings of their partners. The couple also learns how to manage conflict in ways that reduces destructive communication and helps to restore feelings of closeness. Couple dialectical behavior therapy, although tested only in one randomized study, showed positive effects on relationship quality as well as the SO’s levels of passion.

The next BPD-specific therapy tested in the context of couples counseling was “couple emotion dysregulation treatment.” Across 3 phases of a 16-week treatment, couples learn methods of dialectical behavior and couples cognitive behavioral treatment with the goal of reducing the couple’s levels of distress. In the couples cognitive behavior phase of the treatment, for example, couples learn to differentiate between sharing and problem-solving, and in the process learn to soothe each other and express emotion. Unfortunately, the one study testing this approach was an uncontrolled pilot study, but the results suggested that the method did yield some positive effects on relationship satisfaction that persisted beyond the end of active treatment.

Given that these studies are just a beginning, the authors believe that the involvement of SOs in treatment of people with BPD shows promise. One common feature of all these approaches is their focus on training in emotion regulation skills. Using skills taught to the individual’s partner, such an approach helps to provide consistency outside the therapy session and in the home, both in terms of the feedback the individual receives from the partner as well as through modeling. Another positive feature of this approach is that the SO learns to regulate his or her own emotions, helping to break the destructive cycle in communication that can result when their anger and frustration start to get out of control.

As noted by the Rutgers researchers, the studies that incorporate SOs have additional limitations in that most of the individuals with BPD were female. Furthermore, other theoretical underpinnings in the causes and maintenance of the disorder were not tested in the intervention context. The other major limitation, of course, is that couples treatment was not compared to treatment involving individuals alone.

To sum up, Fitzpatrick and her collaborators have laid the groundwork for a potentially crucial area of intervention research with individuals who have BPD. Taking into account the relationships that make up such an important context for the lives of people with this disorder should help advance not only the theories of BPD in adulthood, but also the everyday contexts in which this disorder affects people’s lives.

Feeling Lonely? Discover 18 Ways to Overcome Loneliness

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The great irony is that as we become increasingly “connected”—on social media, video calling, and messaging—we simultaneously feel increasingly lonely. And even though we may use technology to feel more connected, it may be exactly what’s leading us to feel lonely.

Are you feeling socially connected? (take this well-being quiz to see how you’re feeling). If not, try some of these 18 strategies to stop feeling lonely.

1. Practice self-kindness when you’re feeling lonely

In difficult moments, it’s essential to practice self-kindness. Blaming ourselves when we feel lonely is not helpful. So limit your hurtful self-talkengage in some self-care, and just generally give yourself a break. Perhaps a walk in nature or a day at the spa may be helpful for getting yourself into a self-kindness mood.

2. Capitalize on the present moment when you’re feeling lonely

When you feel good about something, share it with others right away, and I don’t mean “share” by posting on your social media. You could share by calling or texting a friend. Or share with the people you work with. Keep in mind that the positive things that you can share don’t have to be big. You could simply have woken up on the right side of the bed and think, “Hey, I’m feeling great today.” By sharing these moments, you create small moments of connection with others that can help you overcome loneliness.

3. Connect in real life when you’re feeling lonely

Connecting in real life may not be as easy as it once was. We often default to using our smartphones—it’s easier, and now, and it’s culturally accepted. But we can decrease our loneliness if we build stronger in-person connections. We do this by looking people in the eyes, listening, being mindful, and choosing not be distracted by our phones or other technologies.

4. Rethink how you spend your spare time when you’re feeling lonely

When we feel lonely, sometimes we just want to retreat into a corner and hide. Other times, our endless to-do list may leave us too exhausted to go out and be social. But opting to stay alone every night with our phoneswatching Netflix, or playing on Facebook can really get us stuck in loneliness. We’ve created a life for ourselves that deprives of us of meaningful social connection, and the only way to get out of it is to start living differently.

If we instead use our loneliness to motivate us to reach out to people, then we can strengthen our relationships. By opting to cope with our loneliness by seeking out social support, we create more social moments with the people in our lives that matter to us, which usually reduces our loneliness.

5. Do more things with people to feel less lonely

Engaging in face-to-face social interactions tends to improve our mood and reduce depressionActivities that involve other people — such as attending religious services or engaging in sports — are also likely to have positive effects on our mental health. So find ways to be around people more.

6. Talk to strangers when you’re feeling lonely

A growing body of research suggests that even seemingly trivial interactions with strangers — like chatting with a barista or cashier — may be able to keep loneliness at bay by helping us feel more socially connected. So reach out to other human beings to say hello, ask them how they are, or chat about whatever’s on your mind. These small acts can make a big difference and help you reduce feelings of loneliness.

7. Be active online when you’re feeling lonely

Instead of passively surfing the net or your social media, if you want to go online, opt instead to do something that involves the active participation of other people. For example, you could play games with others, chat about something you care about, give advice on a forum, or have a video call with a friend. The more you interact with others while online, the more connected you are likely to feel.

8. Share for real online when you’re feeling lonely

Somewhere along the way, the word “sharing” got co-opted on social media to describe what is really just “humble bragging.” We post about cool things we did, nice meals we ate, or a fun party we went to—all things that we didn’t actually share with the people who are viewing our posts.

Instead of posting about things you did, reclaim the word “share” for what it really means—to give a small or large portion of what is yours to someone else. You could share advice, words of support, or even empathy all from your smartphone. As a result, your connections are likely to be more kind and supportive.

9. Stop focusing so much on you when you’re feeling lonely

It’s almost inevitable in our modern technology-crazed world that we start to believe that we don’t have enough. Bob got a new car. Sherri got a new house. Sonja got a new job. We also see false or unrealistic images—models Photoshopped to have perfect waists and abs—and we feel envious. As a result, we become increasingly focused on how we are not measuring up.

Instead of focusing on what you can get, shift your focus to what you can give. You could sell T-shirts online to raise money for a good cause. You could ask friends to donate to a charity for your birthday. By giving to others, you take the focus off yourself and do good at the same time, helping you to feel more connected and less lonely.

10. Stop your negative thought cycles when you’re feeling lonely

We might repeatedly think about what we could have done differently to prevent ourselves from feeling so alone. We ruminate on the events or people or causes, because we mistakenly believe that thinking about our loneliness over and over again will help us solve it. Unfortunately, it does us no good to get caught up in our thoughts instead of taking the actions we need to feel better.

To put an end to these negative thought cycles, we need to take action—do something different that stops these thoughts and changes our experience of the world. For example, if I’m feeling lonely, I’ll go to the gym or schedule lunches with friends for the next few days. And it helps.

11. Generate a sense of awe when you’re feeling lonely

Awe (like when we witness the birth of new baby, or a majestic mountain) makes time seem like it’s standing still and helps us be more open to connecting. Something about feeling small in the context of a big world appears to help us see ourselves as a part of a whole, which may help us feel less alone. So expose yourself to something that creates awe—like landscapes, new experiences, or new foods.

12. Spend money on experiences when you’re feeling lonely

If we’re spending all our money on things, we wont have the cash to spend money on experiences with others. And it turns out that spending money on experiences is way better for our mental health. So get creative and think about what you want to do with others. For example, I might go on a canoeing trip, go wine tasting, plan a beach party, or host arts & crafts night. What group activities might make you feel less lonely?

13. Pay attention to the things that matter when you’re feeling lonely

How do we expect to improve our loneliness when we don’t know what causes it? It’s hard. So it’s helpful to start paying attention to the present moment. What are the experiences that make you feel lonely? And what are the experiences that make you feel connected or like you belong? Identifying these moments can help you reduce loneliness because you can limit engagement in the activities that make you feel lonely and increase engagement in the activities that make you feel connected.

14. Create a vision board when you’re feeling lonely

I keep a vision board tacked up by my desk to remind me of my goals. A big chunk of my vision board is about connecting—building community, networking, spending time with family, and the like. Sometimes I have a hard time sticking to it, but having the vision board reminds me to. Once you discover the things that make you feel less lonely and more connected, it can be helpful to create a board or list or plan for what you’ll do—something to keep near you so you remember what you need to do to combat loneliness.

15. Tend to your network when you’re feeling lonely

Sometimes we can end up feeling alone even though we are connected to lots of people. So it can be helpful to reach out to these people and schedule times to catch up. Aim to schedule at least one social hour per week—a coffee date, lunch, or happy hour. Who knows, maybe an old friendship can be reignited.

16. Join an online group of like-minded people when you’re feeling lonely

You can now find people online with just about any interest—for example, politics, cooking, or sports. Joining one of these mission-oriented groupscan be a way to feel more connected to others, even when you don’t have access to face-to-face interactions. You might get to know some new people or make life-long friends. You can even try out a few groups to see which ones fit you best and decrease your loneliness the most.

17. Volunteer remotely or in real life when you’re feeling lonely

For some of us, it’s hard to find people to spend time with, let alone connect with. So we have to find new people. One way to do this is by volunteering for a cause, either remotely or in your town. Just be sure you’re working with others. Working on an important problem with others can help you decrease loneliness.

18. Be nice to yourself when you experience failures

It’s important to practice self-compassion when you fail at things. Remember, everyone fails, and there is no need to be a bully to yourself, feel guilty, or put yourself down. That kind of attitude won’t help you decrease loneliness now or in the future. Instead, try talking to yourself in a way that is supportive, kind, and caring — and you’ll be more likely to acknowledge mistakes you may have made in trying to decrease loneliness, and hopefully do better next time.

Want to learn more about how to build well-being? Check out Berkeleywellbeing.com.

“Very little is needed to make a happy life it is all within yourself in your way of thinking. -Marcus Aurelius” What we think therefore we become. If we truly want to be happy, Its a matter of making that choice. if you are going through a tough situation its okay to break down, we are all […]

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