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Your Questions Answered from the ‘Loneliness During Covid-19’ Webinar

 Dr. Kelly Haer, Director of the Relationship IQ program at the Boone Center for the Family and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California, answers the most pressing attendee questions from the "When Loneliness Becomes Overwhelming" webinar.

Loneliness is impacting many people in many ways during Covid-19, as shown by the questions that poured in at the end of Dr. Kelly Haer's webinar on "When Loneliness Becomes Overwhelming." Below are several of those questions — answered by Dr. Haer.

Click here to view a recording of the webinar on demand.

QUESTION
"I heard you speak about anticipatory grief (I think it was), the grief of wanting but not having a partner for singles. How does this relate to loneliness? How can singles (with also few prospects for meeting anyone with COVID) best deal with the grief and the loneliness?"

ANSWER
For singles who desire marriage, the absence of a spouse often prompts loneliness. Recall that loneliness is the feeling that arises when we lack relational connections. Hence, the absence of a desired spouse is a place of missing relational connection. It's important to recognize that other satisfying relational connections with family, friends, colleagues, etc. can go a long way in helping to mitigate the loneliness that singles face. Though, these other relationships will not eradicate the loneliness attached to longing for a spouse that a single person who desires marriage experiences.


 QUESTION

"Do you think loneliness comes from identity or trustworthiness?"

ANSWER
Loneliness can prompt pain associated with identity or pain connected to a lack of safety. Recall that our experiences of love shape our identity and our experiences of trustworthiness shape our sense of safety. When a person is experiencing loneliness because of a deficit of satisfying relational connections, it's common for this person also to feel unloved, insignificant, or unworthy--painful feelings connected to our identity. On the other hand, when a person is experiencing loneliness, it's also possible for this person to feel out of control, powerless, or abandoned--painful feelings associated with safety. Furthermore, when a person lives out of their painful feelings of identity or safety, the person tends to behave in a way that results in greater relational disconnection. Hence, loneliness can be the chicken or the egg to pain!


 QUESTION

"What do you recommend regarding self-care?"

ANSWER
My hunch is that this question is asking about how to promote a healthy relationship with self to mitigate against loneliness in relationship with self. Knowing and responding well to oneself is at the heart of relating with self. Taking time to slow down and create space where you won't receive inputs from others is a good beginning. In this input-free space, reflecting, journaling, or listening to music that prompts your mind to wander are all good ways to stimulate knowing oneself. As you get to know yourself--and become more in touch with both the good and the bad of you--it can be helpful to learn to respond to yourself with playfulness, love, acceptance, curiosity, empathy, and challenge.


 QUESTION

"What would you advise in circumstances when you are vulnerable and tell people you are lonely, but it seems like your friends and family don't care very much?"

ANSWER
Three thoughts come to mind here. First, check and make sure your feelings of loneliness aren't negatively shaping your vision to perceive that your family and friends don't care very much, when in actuality they do care. Sometimes the feelings of disconnection can be accompanied by beliefs that others don't care about us and that belief can shape how we perceive others. Second, if you discover that your family and friends aren't responding in a way that communicates that they care about your loneliness, you might ask yourself if you're responding to them in a way that inadvertently works to push them away. For instance, if you share about your loneliness in a way that functions to blame others, shame yourself, or control others, you might want to try sharing about your loneliness with a demeanor that seeks to nurture others, value yourself, and offers balanced give and take. These alternative ways of talking about loneliness might work better to draw people toward you. Finally, if you've worked through the first two thoughts, and you find you're in the same place of others not demonstrating care about your loneliness, it might be best to discontinue sharing with these friends and family members about your loneliness and choose to share with those who can offer care.


 QUESTION

"When you live alone and didn't have good community before the virus, and now everyone is clinging to the community they have in seeing neighbors etc., I can feel even more lonely and depressed. But everyone is lonely and depressed so it's more universal and normalized. Except that it's even deeper for the people who already were feeling it."

ANSWER
I can relate to your experience of having less than robust community prior to COVID making the experience of COVID more difficult. Though I'm not living alone, as one for instance, my family was in the process of looking for a new church home before COVID hit. In the case you've described, I'd say it's even more critical to add structure and intentionality to reach out for connection with God, yourself, and others a several-times-a-week practice.


 If you or someone you know is having a mental health emergency, please call the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration free helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA's National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.