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The Issue of Loneliness & Friendship Resources

The Issue of Loneliness & Friendship Resources

Loneliness is a huge problem. We live in a deeply individualistic society that preaches independence above all else. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is one of many commonly used euphemisms to encourage the type of self-reliance our culture seems to value. 

But the problem with this ideal is that we have evolved to be interdependent; we are designed to relate to and connect with other humans. 

I’m not talking about being an introvert vs. an extravert, or loving your solitude here. Believe me, I get that. I am talking about having people in your life that you feel supported by, connected to, and, that offer you a sense of belonging. 

One of the problems that I have seen lately is the profound surge in loneliness since last spring, when the pandemic first hit. Some folx already had systems in place: family, neighbors, friends to check-in on, and commiserate with. For others, the pandemic gutted their support system, or underscored the gaping vacancy in their social lives. 

Many people relocated during the pandemic, fleeing the close-quarters of city life for the spaciousness of the mountains of Western North Carolina. Lots of people move to Asheville with zero contacts, leaving them longing for local relationships. 

 

Friendship Resources:

Some people struggle making new friends, some people struggle with the friends they have. For those in the former camp, I have a few resources for you: 

Books:

Friendships Don’t Just Happen by Shasta Nelson. Shasta Nelson is a writer, coach and public speaker who specializes in female friendships. This book is practical and informative, and may shed light on some issues you haven’t considered in the friendship domain. Her writing is accessible and inspiring and I’d recommend this book to anyone who is struggling to cultivate new friendships. She has another book called Friendtimacy, which is a practical guide on how to take superficial female friendships to a deeper level. 

A few other writers who have explored the issue of friendship include Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky, author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness and Kat Vellos, author of We Should Get Together

Apps & Websites: 

If podcasts are more your thing, Friend Forward is a podcast with Danielle Bayard Jackson, who speaks to Millennial women about the intricacies of female friendship. 

Online dating is no longer just about romance. Now there are Bumble BFF to find new friends, and Peanut, a free app specifically for moms (mostly new moms, moms of preschoolers and expectant moms) to connect. 

Meet-up is an old standby, which is a great way to connect with people who share similar interests. There are a number of different interest groups including hiking, running, biking, book clubs, age-related groups and much more. 

If you have time and energy to spare, and are interested in volunteering locally, we have a great site called Hands on Asheville where you can search multitudes of volunteer opportunities in and around Asheville. Volunteering can be a great way to meet others who are interested in serving the community. 

Taking a class or signing up to learn a new skill is yet another way to put yourself in a position to be exposed to new people on a regular basis. Remember how easy it was to make friends when we were in school? We sat next to the same people day in and day out. And sooner or later, we found our people. Same concept applies here; you’ve got to find ways to get yourself into the community, consistently to see the same people again and again. That type of familiarity can be a great breeding ground for new friendships. AB-Tech offers continuing education courses seasonally that help enrich your skillset and your social life. 

Need Something More Specific?

 

If finding new people to befriend is not your issue, and instead you are struggling in the relationships you have, that can be a great reason to get the support and perspective of a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. Because the possibilities are endless as to why you’re having a hard time, I’ve found that talking it through with a neutral person can be the best way to better understand the situation and get support. 

The Dance of Anger

The Dance of Anger

Written in 1985 by psychotherapist Harriet Lerner, PhD, The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships is a seminal book about women and their relationships with their own feelings of anger.

A Book Written For Women

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is Lerner’s differentiation between men and women, and the ways in which we have been societally conditioned to relate to our anger. The TLDR version: it’s just fine and dandy for men to feel and express anger (it’s one of the few feelings they are permitted) however, for women, anger is a massive no-no.

Lerner puts anger into the context of relationships, which makes sense, as anger is usually the result of something that occurs in a relationship. She stresses the value of anger as a signal, one worth listening to, as it lets us know that “we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right.”

Other Awesome Quotes

How can women – trained from birth to define ourselves through our loving care of others – know with confidence when it’s finally time to say ‘Enough!’?”

As women we have developed an important and complex interpersonal skill… we are good at anticipating other people’s reactions, and we are experts at protecting others from uncomfortable feelings… If only we could take this very same skill and redirect it inward in order to become experts on our own selves.

“It takes courage to acknowledge our own uncertainty and sit with it for awhile.”

More Specifics About the Book

Ownership and personal accountability are concepts that I talk about a lot, and Lerner clearly shares an affinity for these values as well. She writes in detail about the importance of naming what you are feeling and being curious about it as a pathway to deeper understanding and insight. I particularly enjoyed her brief discussion on guilt. She states “another person cannot ‘make’ us feel guilty: they can only try.” Ultimately, we are responsible for our own feelings, even our guilt.

Lerner uses examples from her personal life as well as many clinical examples of her work with clients to demonstrate how anger surfaces and why, and she gives instructions on what to do once you are clear about your anger. She also gives specific verbiage for having hard conversations, something I always find helpful.

Her insights about “over-functioning” and “under-functioning” in partnerships are enlightening and I imagine many of us can see ourselves in some of these dynamics. In short, she describes how we each try to maintain a certain level of homeostasis both intra and inter personally. If one of us is doing all of the emotional work in a relationship (all of the worrying, for example) it takes the other partner off the hook from having to feel or express much.

Lerner also uses the metaphor of “dancing” in relationships which has been more recently been explored in Sue Johnson’s work with couples in her book Hold Me Tight.

Get It

This is a reader-friendly book, one that I recommend highly to women of all ages and stages. Let me know what you think.

The Dance of Anger can be find at https://www.harrietlerner.com/

What is Complex Trauma?

What is Complex Trauma?

Most of us have heard about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and many of us associate PTSD with the military and experiences of being in combat. Post-traumatic stress disorder indicates a psychological response to an acutely traumatic situation. It was coined and popularized in the 1970s after veterans were returning home from their deployments in Vietnam exhibiting the effects of the extreme stress that they’d been under. This stress was often the result of a moral injury. I’ll be diving into moral injury in an upcoming blogpost, so stay tuned for that! For now, let’s dive into CPTSD.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which is also known as slow trauma, complex trauma, or developmental trauma, is trauma that occurs over a longer period of time, and happens during our childhood. It is a more recent development in the psychology world and in 2015, Pete Walker released his seminal book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. 

In his book, Walker takes us into the world of this all-too-common phenomenon and clarifies what it is, where, when and how it happens, and what we can do to heal.

CPTSD is a more severe form of post-traumatic stress disorder. – Pete Walker

CPTSD is often caused by growing up in a severely abusive and/or neglectful family system. This includes abandonment and abuse on a physical, emotional, verbal, and/or spiritual level. While many adults who have CPTSD were physically hit/beaten in childhood, that is not a mandatory factor.

The core wound in CPTSD is emotional neglect. This occurs when there is no safe adult to turn to for comfort or protection in times of real or perceived danger.

Five pernicious qualities of CPTSD are:

  • social anxiety
  • triggers that create intense emotional overwhelm/emotional flashbacks
  • a vicious inner critic
  • toxic shame
  • self-abandonment

 

Here’s a list of factors that, if present during your childhood years, may indicate your possible exposure to that Complex PTSD:

  • extended periods of physical or sexual abuse
  • ongoing verbal or emotional abuse (this includes being intimidated, threatened, shamed, or name-called)
  • being treated with contempt by a caregiver (with denigration, rage and/or disgust)
  • emotional neglect (not providing support, safety, education or advocacy during intense emotional experiences)
  • feeling that you didn’t have a voice, or that your voice/values/desires were not honored by your caregivers
  • your attempts at healthy self-assertion were met with resistance or retaliation/being called “selfish,” ignored, or punished by a parent

The good news, as Walker states, is that:

CPTSD is a learned set of responses, and a failure to complete numerous important developmental tasks.

In other words, CPTSD is something we can heal from.

If these words resonate for you, and you are ready to heal, reach out. Let’s get it going.

The Great Depresh

The Great Depresh

Last night I tuned in to Gary Gulman’s HBO special “The Great Depresh.” It was a 74 minute comedy special featuring a mixture of his stand-up routine and documentary elements from his life.

Gary Gulman: The Great Depresh 2019 Trailer

As a therapist and as someone who has had my own experiences with anxiety and depression, I’d say that Gulman nails it with his descriptions of both. He deftly brings humor and levity to the most serious of topics: that depression in extreme cases ultimately leads to suicide.

Gulman ends up back at his childhood home with his mother after a particularly pernicious episode with depression that zapped his ability to seek out a new apartment in NYC after his lease came to an end. He talks about how his depression started in childhood and explores his young life as the only child of a single mother growing up in Massachusetts.

The disparity between his own experience and his mother’s recollections are stark and, by today’s standards, of concern. His mother refutes any suffering on Gary’s part, emphasizing how his annual school photos portray “such a happy boy.”

One illustration he used highlighted the difference in the internal thought process between not being depressed and being in the thoes of depression. While a depression-less state allows us to smile at a beautiful sunset, depression can cause us to project our own misery onto the sun with thoughts like “yeah, you’re giving up too, I don’t blame you.”

Gulman talks about his long journey with medications and his rationale for taking them is compelling: any side effect is better than the crippling effects of major depression.

Braving the murky territory of psych-wards and electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), Gulman speaks to his own experience and skillfully normalizes and de-stigmatizes both.

He also confesses to attending years of therapy and how he feels it has benefitted him. He articulates his struggles sharing with friends and colleagues his own mental health challenges for fear that it would make them uncomfortable. This is both relatable and unfortunate.

What I love most about this piece of work and admire about Gulman is his vulnerability in pushing this conversation about mental health further forward. So many creative people in the arts deal with mental health challenges and often we find out about it too late.

Let’s keep talking about it. Mental health awareness matters.

The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist

The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist

This past week I read The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist by Debbie Mirza, a life coach and author in Colorado. I have a significant amount of experience with covert narcissism and feel that this work is a solid exploration of how this mental health disorder looks in relationships.

Covert: not openly shown

Passive Aggressive: displaying behavior characterized by the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive, passive way

Mirza states “the covert narcissist hides their dark attributes because they want people to like them.” In overt narcissism the assumption is often already made that others like, admire, or feel jealous of them.

Some additional important differences are:

  • while not empathic, covert narcissists can appear this way as they have learned how to act empathically
  • they often appear to be humble, kind, or generous (as with other types, image is very important to them)
  • while they tend to lack long-lasting friendships, they are rarely without a partner
  • they give you subtle messages that cause you to question yourself – over time this leads to a tremendous amount of self-doubt as you learn to ignore your own intuition

The Three Phases of Relationship with a covert passive aggressive narcissist are also explored in depth, and she provides a lot of clear examples of what these relationships look like, sound like and can feel like through each phase.

A few additional take-aways for me were the tendency for the covert-PA narcissist to project their own issues onto others, instead of taking ownership and accountability for themselves, and the fact that they “have no interest in making this a great relationship” as exemplified by their inaction when conflict arises.

Gaslighting, flying monkeys, hoovering, intermittent reinforcement, deflection, blame, minimization and other control and manipulation tactics are also well defined in this book. Control and manipulation are the names of the game with a covert passive-aggressive narcissist.

In her last chapter she offers a few suggestions on how to heal after such a relationship and she stresses the importance of boundaries, getting support, and coming home to the wisdom of your own being. This is often a process, considering that these relationships tend to cause a significant amount of self-doubt and uncertainty about trusting oneself.

I highly recommend this book.

If you have been in a relationship with a covert passive aggressive narcissist or think you might be in one, reach out for support today. These individuals can cause a significant amount of psychological, emotional and physical suffering in their victims.

Kristen Neff’s Self Compassion

Kristen Neff’s Self Compassion

 

I recently wrapped up my reading of Kristen Neff’s book Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found myself introducing my clients to ideas and exercises that I read about as I went through the book. Neff has a gift for writing and I particularly liked the way she combined her research with her personal experiences in a way that made much of the book both relatable and rooted in the scientific process.

One idea that seems to be coming up for me repeatedly, and which this book reinforced, was the importance of shifting from a “we’re all incredibly unique” mentality to a “we are all largely alike” mentality. Perhaps as a result of the time in which I was raised, I have always believed that we are all different, but I am coming to see the truth and value of the fact that we are really all similar. We all want to be happy, we all have skills at which we excel, we all deal with the same landscape of emotions, and we all must contend with life’s challenges on life’s terms. We all are wired for connection and tend to feel happier when we are in a state of connectedness, and we suffer when we feel disconnected from others. When I first came across this idea, I cringed, but the more I am exposed to it the more it makes sense to me: we are not really that unique after all.

Another idea that Neff explores is the myth of self-esteem. Once known as the holy grail of success, Neff accesses the inherent flaws with the pursuit of self-esteem and espouses the idea that self-compassion is a far worthier pursuit (a sentiment with which I agree).

Many of the exercises are relevant to myself and those with whom I work in my private practice. Anyone who struggles with a strong inner-critic or inner perfectionist would benefit from some of the tools Neff shares. My personal favorite is a manta to be utilized in moments of suffering and it goes something like this:

 

This is a moment of suffering.

Suffering is a part of the human condition.

May I be kind to myself in this moment, in the face of my own suffering.

What can I do, in this moment, to express care and compassion for my own challenging experience? 

 

I highly recommend this book. Have you read it? What did you like?