Category Archives: patterns and ruts

The internet is no substitute for a social life

People bang on about how the Internet makes us more connected to others and how it opens up more social opportunities. To a degree, this is true. What’s not advisable (and concerning) is to rely on the net for your social needs. Here’s why;

  • It can be downright LONELY with a capital L
  • RE networking sites, seeing all those people who have it all (posting the best bits about themselves) can make you feel rubbish, lacking & missing
  • You can feel like a small fish in a big pond, not a part of a group (many avenues)
  • You may talk to people you find you’re on the same page with, but not be in the same space with them, this can be great but make you feel profoundly lonely not being in the same space
  • No replies; whether it be threads on forums, videos on youtube, posts on blogs, seeing no replies, that can be a degree of loneliness that we would not have known existed, this is worse than being in a bar waiting for a tardy friend to turn up
  • When dealing with anonymous strangers, people can say things they wouldn’t dare to in real in life & be much more cutting than they would dare in real life
  • If you’re socially-isolated & get most your social contact through the Internet it can expose you to the darker sides of people, what you wouldn’t see in real life
  • The Internet can make social anxiety worse; since people say things they wouldn’t say in real life, there’s a danger of worsening social anxiety. If most your exposure to people is through the Internet, you’re going to see a worse version of people than you’d encounter in everyday life, then expect that worse version. This will make you more nervous around people

The plus side

It’s not all negative, the net allows you to gain access to new people that your local social environment might not allow. It can allow us to find real-life ways to socialize and mix with new people that wouldn’t have been possible in former times. It’s a convenient tool (read ‘tool’) & a communication device.

To end

I do not recommend relying on the Internet as a substitute for real life social life. People who have a high reliance on the Internet for their social life have higher rates of depression and substance use disorders. Given the reasons above, it’s not surprising why. This is not saying ‘don’t use the Internet’, this is saying recognize if you’re using it as a substitute.

See also;

Meeting people

Breaking the comfort trap of loneliness

One thing that can happen in any unhappy circumstance is that we can fall into a ‘comfort trap’; whereby our situation isn’t happy, but comfortable enough for us to get by. This is applicable to many situations including loneliness.

Why do we fall into comfort traps?

There are two forces at play; expectation of pleasure & fear of pain. The fear of pain on changing & expectation of comfort on continuing, the lack of fear of pain on not changing the lack of expectation of pleasure on making changes.

We think that the actions that are needed to change our circumstances for the better are going to be painful, fraught with difficulty or doomed to failure, yet at the same time we may have lost track of what’s making us unhappy & the ability to visualize & dream of a better quality of life. Especially if being in the habit of pushing our sources of unhappiness to the back of our minds and getting on with it might be part of the problem.

The ‘what’ vs. the ‘why’

When we focus on the WHAT needs to be done to change our situation for the better, it can sometimes de-motivate us, make us feel overwhelmed and discouraged. When we focus on the WHY we need to make those changes, we increase our willingness to put ourselves through the discomfort.

Two good questions to ask

  • What would you like to be different
  • What can’t you stand about your current situation

Sometimes the former can be harder to answer.

What can’t you stand about your situation?

A good place to start if you’re unhappy but comfortable & lacking in motivation is to ask this question. Remind yourself of what you’ve had enough of, what you wouldn’t miss about your current circumstances, what you’d want to see the back of. Some examples might be;

  • Having no-one to meet up with & being cooped in too much
  • Having to do things on your own, wishing you had someone to do things with
  • Never getting to meet new people
  • Never getting to mix socially with people of the opposite sex your age
  • Painful lonely summer afternoons; seeing all those happy couples and large groups of friends
  • Never getting to go on dates
  • A sense of missing out on life
  • Not having anyone to share your interests or life with
  • The painfully lonely evenings

If you’re lonely and comfortable, do any of the above apply? If they do it can be helpful to remind yourself of those times you’ve felt particularly lonely, worked-up or frustrated. Don’t shove this to the back of your mind, use it as leverage to drive you to take actions. From there, you’ll be able to start to dream of a better social lot.

Update; What would you like to be different?

It’s also important to have compelling reasons to make changes for those times when your situation is no longer painful enough to keep you motivated, it’s also important to dream of how you want your social life to be different. What would you like to be different? Just imagine;

  • Having people to do things with that you might currently (be forced to) do alone
  • There being reasons to leave the house
  • People to share your interests with
  • Losing track of time with people in conversation
  • No longer feeling at a dead end
  • Actually getting to mingle if you’re single
  • Having doors open and options to meet new people; a greater sense of assurance that dating could be a possibility

Conclusion

If you’re unhappily lonely, you know what actions you might need to take, but are lacking motivation due to feeling comfortable, I wouldn’t rule out that part of the reason could be due to your situation being content & losing sight of those times you’ve felt particularly lonely & your reasons for making those changes. Sometimes, it can be good to remind yourself of those moments you’ve felt particularly bad. Sometimes if you’re unhappily lonely, you can be painfully reminded of these things at certain times of years such as Christmas and summer. This is a good thing, use it to create leverage. Although the things we don’t like about our situation & what we’d like to see the back of can be good motivators initially (the ‘stick’), our motivation can drop when our situation starts to become less painful. This is why it’s also important to think of all the possible benefits that taking action could have for you (whilst ignoring the negativity brigade and nay-sayers). This is so important for getting leverage to drive you to take action.

Traps socially-isolated people can fall into

Sometimes when people become socially-isolated, they can become stuck in a rut & fall into a pattern of avoiding social opportunities & losing motivation to take steps to connect socially. Social isolation can be likened to an evil clown with lots of dirty little tricks up it’s sleeve. This article will address patterns people might fall into which may make them either too de-motivated or fearful about taking steps to improve their lot.

The patterns are;

  • Hiding lack of social life
  • Fear of not having anything ‘interesting’ to talk about
  • Focusing on why things won’t work
  • Falling into a ‘comfort trap’
  • Blaming external factors
  • Withdrawing from the social world

The good news is every single one of them is something the individual has control over. All will be covered. Lets begin.

Trying to hide a lack of social life

When people are lonely or isolated, particularly after some time, they may become ashamed of it and may fear being judged if people were to find out. What if they find out I don’t do much? What if they find out I have no friends, will they think I’m weird? This can cause some isolated people to avoid social opportunities and put-off taking steps to meet people.

Escaping the trap

If this is a fear stopping you from taking action, remember that the truth is, when we meet people we’re more concerned about whether we enjoy their company & have things in common than how many friends they have. Also, most people have better things to think about than why someone hasn’t got very many friends or an active social life. When we find people with things in common who’s company we enjoy, we generally don’t give a damn about this. How many friends one has or how socially-active one is isn’t always an indicator of what they’re like to get on with. If people do judge you or come to any conclusions based on something like how many friends you have or how socially-active you are, that’s them projecting their own silly prejudices. Even so, many of the reasons we can become socially isolated & lonely are more relate-able. The truth is when we’re lonely, the fears about how people will react become amplified and exaggerated.

Fear of having nothing ‘interesting’ to talk about

Closely-related to the above. Many people believe that in order to be ‘interesting’ conversation partners they need a busy social life with tons and tons of impressive stories to share. They may fear that if they don’t, they’ll be seen as boring & be rejected. The thought of this happening can be another psychological barrier to taking steps. Whilst life experience and knowledge can certainly be assets, and being more well-rounded will give a lot more material for conversation & finding common ground with people, the truth is you don’t need an active social life & tons of stories to share to be able to have great conversations. Again, with loneliness, all fears can become amplified.

Escaping the trap

Realize that meeting people is all about connecting over common ground, not about impressing people with awesome stories & flaunting well-roundedness. Even if you don’t have an interesting social life or spend lots of time isolated, there’s loads of things to talk about. There may also be things you’ve enjoyed doing in the past & things you’re contemplating doing alone. Then there’s always curiosity about other people’s interests.

Becoming focused on reasons why things won’t work

Loneliness can make you feel down and bad about yourself & lower your mood. It can also make you feel a bit more pessimistic about avenues to meet new people and can also make you prone to finding reasons why things won’t work & not seeing the point in trying. The reasons for this could be many; we may think things like there’s no good people in the area, we may start to believe that we’re just too unlikeable and socially-inadequate, that there are no good social opportunities, there’s no-one with the same interests. This can make you feel discouraged and lacking in motivation. The lower you’re feeling, the more likely you are to focus on evidence from your life to support the idea that something won’t work than you to focus on evidence of things that have worked in the past.

Escaping the trap

I’s important to dispute the negative thoughts that affect us when we’re lonely. The truth is the loneliness and isolation is not a sign that you’re too inadequate, unlikeable and have no potential, that’s just the loneliness talking. Remember that building a social life takes time & it will require patience. Don’t be too quick to write off social opportunities if they disappoint. Remember that the reasons for not taking steps are the loneliness talking. If you try something and it turns out to be a disappointment.

Falling into a comfort trap

Even if your social circumstances are rubbish and mediocre, we can become comfortable. Social isolation is a devious little monster. You see, it can keep us in a place where we’re unhappy, yet we’re not in enough pain to do anything about it. People who’re lonely and socially-isolated often become masters at distracting themselves. They may absorb themselves with games, tv and other solitary hobbies or working. Some people may engage in less healthy distractions like drinking or drug taking. There’s nothing wrong with solitary hobbies, but things like this can be a problem if they keep people comfortable enough to not feel like taking action. If coupled with any of the other traps mentioned here, even more so. A good way to tell whether you’re in a comfort trap would be feelings of loneliness biting during times when you’re not distracted.

Escaping the trap

If you’ve recognized with as a factor causing you to lack motivation and get lazy, a good strategy can be to remind yourself about what you can’t stand about social isolation. Think about a time when you’ve felt particularly lonely. What won’t you miss about your circumstances? What do you feel envious about of other people? Where there any times in the past when your social life was better? When do you feel at your most lonely and how would you like things to be different? These are seriously powerful questions. Remember; depression can be turned to frustration, frustration can then be turned into determination, determination then into action.

More detail here.

Blaming external factors

It may very well be true that for some people there maybe external factors playing a role in social isolation, such as the community we live in, living situations, employment circumstances, social circle factors. It can be comforting & helpful to acknowledge & realize that there are reasons for us being isolated, that our loneliness is not always due to us being horrible, unlikeable people. Yes, we want our challenging situations to be acknowledged. It’s also understandable that we might feel a degree of overwhelm when thinking about the changes we might need to make & focusing on how we’ve been done wrong can help give a degree of comfort. Sometimes life can be unfair and there are factors outside our control that contribute to it & we may well feel angry. The important thing is, the more we focus our attention on blaming external factors that we can’t change, the less we focus on what we can do to make change & the more we believe we have no power to make those changes. This can lead us to being de-motivated & stuck.

Escaping the trap

As unfair as it is, even if there are some factors outside our control that may have contributed to social isolation, it is up to us to make the changes that we need. We need to be focused on what we can do to make changes to our situation. It’s fine to feel frustrated and angry at our situation, but we must also remember that it’s our own responsibility to make changes. If we’re focusing on blaming external factors because we’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be helpful to focus our attention on why we need to make those changes rather than what we have to do. When we think about what we need to do, it can overwhelm us and make us feel discouraged, when we focus on the reasons why, it can help.

Withdrawing from the social world & losing interest

Like with many things in life, the less we do, the less we want to do something. Spending a lot of time at home vs. spending time in public places will make a massive difference in how interested & motivated you are in your social life. I’ve noticed that when I spend a lot of time at home isolated, my motivation to connect with people seems to wain. I don’t know the reasons why this is but I guess it’s partly because when we’re isolated, we’re not exposed to evidence that a wider social world exists out there, to incentives to better our lot & to reminders as to what we don’t like about our situation.

Escaping

If we’re very isolated & losing interest in meeting people, sometimes just spending more time in public or in social settings can help with breaking the pattern. At the very east it can remind us that a wider social world exists out there. This can help raise our interest and curiosity in taking steps to meeting people. It can start off a virtuous cycle of feeling more interested and motivated, getting out more and so on. Do make an effort to be in the social realm, whether it be meeting existing friends for coffee, or doing things you’re interested alone or taking a book or laptop into a coffee shop. Al this can help to break the vicious circle of social isolation.

Conclusion

Social isolation can become a vicious circle that becomes self-perpetuating. If people are socially-isolated yet are not doing anything about their situation, it’s almost certainly because there’s either some sort of fear or some loss of motivation that’s stopping them. Often it’s not enough to just tell a socially-isolated person to simply ‘get out more’. All the above traps highlighted can be major hurdles & can be paralyzing. People who’re stuck in social isolation can end-up feeling trapped & living in fear of never escaping. Depression can then set in. I believe that counselors should be aware of these patterns and be equipped with the tools to identify and help people overcome them.