Thoughts from Therapy – Loneliness and Friendships

Therapy has been a bit on and off these last few weeks, as my therapist has been away training. I have to admit to feeling a bit let down, honestly, as most of two weeks has passed between sessions and lots of things have come up which I would really like to have had the chance to reflect on in a session.

This, and a few other things, have highlighted how lonely I feel down here. I’ve fallen out of contact with friends I had in London, and I definitely feel some resentment there. I feel like I made some effort to stay in touch, travelling to London a few times and contacting them to meet up, but it hasn’t felt like anyone wanted to keep in touch much. I guess we were never that close, but even in the absence of real closeness, casual contact and meeting and shooting the breeze is still something I miss. At the moment I don’t have anyone down here that I could just ring and ask to the pub. I mean, I rarely feel the urge, but a few times this week a day has been tough and the prospect of talking about nothing over a pint has really appealed.

I have definitely missed meeting my therapist, and whilst some of that is down to our specific relationship, some of it is just feeling lonely in general. I wonder if part of what I do in our sessions, raising things I have struggled with in the past week/am struggling with, I could do just as easily with a good friend. But how do you find someone like that? So many people my age are preoccupied with raising children, or working jobs which I find frankly mind-bogglingly boring or pointless. How do I meet people who have a similar moral/ethical perspective, are intelligent and emotionally mature?

And in writing that, I’ve realised this is probably the same problem that a lot of middle-aged folk have when they’re trying to find a partner. And I definitely have a new-found sense of sympathy with that!

I guess part of the problem is that I’m not very average. I’m not going to find people who I gel with very often, because my interests and my ethics and my passions are not common. People also worry I’m judging them, and I’m not, I’m just disagreeing with them, but when I use evidence to back up my opinions and I’m usually articulate, I think that can be really intimidating. Actually, sometimes even having an opinion seems to put people’s backs up, like I’m supposed to just blandly clap from the background whenever people say something.

I know I do have good friends, scattered around the country, but I could really do with some local ones. Though right this minute is probably not a brilliant time to be looking for new friends, let’s be honest. I’m emotionally vulnerable, occasionally sad and sometimes prickly. But on the flip side, part of that is down to feeling lonely, and the only way to deal with that is to try and form friendships.

It’s just hard to know where to start. Neither job has introduced me to people I feel any closeness to, though part of that might be my mindset – I suspect that I throw out some serious barriers. That’s great for seeming professional, but I wonder if I’m missing the chance to form closer relationships with some of the many intelligent people I meet and work with in my primary job. I’m not sure how one goes about changing the barrier issue really, but I deeply suspect it has a lot to do with actually being myself. I’m really good at being pleasant, friendly, and listening to people. But to get that closer connection I’m missing I need to share my passions, to let my emotions show and to risk some vulnerability.

I think that might really be the key. In the past few years I’ve gotten so  good at boarding over my real self, in the pursuit of not offending people and not making people feel like I was getting angry at them, that I’ve pretty much stopped showing them any substantial emotion at all. I mean, I had gotten to the point where I was pretty much avoiding outwardly experiencing much in the way of emotion at all. In light of that, it’s not surprising that I didn’t keep that many of my London friends. They must have experienced me as blank and unengaged, even whilst I was saying all the right things. I guess the change was so slow no one noticed it, because I wasn’t always like this, I know.

So maybe instead of looking for new friends, I should think about repairing things with a few of my older friends. There are people local who I’ve fallen out of contact with, a little. We were never close, but how could we if I wasn’t being close to almost anyone anyway? That’s not repairing then, but building a real relationship from scratch, for the first time. It feels like something that’s worth a try, at least. Maybe it’ll just end up being a loose collection of friends who rely on me to organise pub trips and food – I’ve been there before – but in some ways even that would be good right now, I think.

Thanks for listening. Turns out, even blogging can be a reasonable stand-in for a therapy session. Writing to strangers on the internet is surprisingly relieving experience. Give it a try, if you feel lonely, and maybe let me know how it feels? I’ll be down here on the coast, taking old friends for a drink in pursuit of new friendships.

 

Thoughts from Therapy – Loneliness and Friendships

Thoughts from therapy – sitting with your emotions

I thought it might be interesting to share here some of the things I’ve been learning in therapy.

This week I tackled feeling things. By that I mean, sitting with the emotion, rather than stuffing it down out of sight. I’m not very good at just feeling things, and am very good and repressing them. Which means that things I do feel? Well, by the time they’ve burst back up into my experience, they are really un-ignorable. And by that I mean, totally fucking overwhelming. I would bet a solid £1k that almost everyone who reads this knows exactly what I mean, as well. I think everyone probably does this a little bit, so I’ve learnt not to feel too weird about it, but it doesn’t mean I don’t to fix it a bit.

The big problem is that, as I actually said this week, it’s rather hard to want to engage with suffering. By that I mean sadness, or fear of loss, or despair. It’s hard to want to sit with these things and let yourself feel them, when you can much more easily push them away. Who wants to suffer? My therapist did not look particularly impressed when I said this, pulling an expression I would call her ‘calling out bullshit’ face. Again, I’d bet everyone pushes stuff away to avoid suffering sometimes too, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t right. Pushing away your emotions just makes you more miserable down the line, sadly. They all get so big and powerful that the moment something lets them loose it feels like they will crush you, or send you mad.

Another, perhaps more personal problem with actually sitting with negative emotions is that it all seems rather pointless. Objectively, I can guess why this I think this. I mean, if you spend your childhood expressing how miserable you are with a thing*, and your parents response is either to get angry when you express those emotions or to just to tell you that you have to do it anyway, and this happens every week for ten years you would be forgiven for learning that expressions of pain, anger, despair or fear are largely pointless, right? That’s a personal example, but I anticipate plenty of us learnt similar things from our parents. Every time our parents failed to take our fears or hurt seriously, or every time someone close to us when we were growing up mocked us for showing emotion, we learnt to bottle it up.

I know, academically, that the people who I care about and who I love now are very responsive to my emotional expression. But it’s taken almost ten years of practice (and a careful collation of friends and family) for me to understand that, and it still remains rather a factual kind of knowledge, rather than an internalised, real understanding. In the spirit of honesty, I therefore told my therapist it all felt pretty pointless. Again eliciting her ‘yes, and you know that’s bullshit too’ face! But we did settle on one way that there is a point to feeling the emotions, beyond the hand-wavey hippy-dippy it’ll-make-you-healthier crap:

Basically, if you feel the emotions in the moment, they are less overwhelming.

If you aren’t afraid of them, don’t struggle, and let them rise up and then run away like sudden tide, they will not overwhelm you. If you try and dam them, then eventually they overwhelm you and you are beaten black and blue by their passage. If you just feel things in the when and how they need feeling, they pass quicker and are less powerful.

For someone who struggles with overwhelming emotions, who describes their feelings as ‘turned up to eleven’, that’s a pretty strong motivation!

So this week I’m trying to sit with emotions. Not just the bad ones, the good ones too (because heaven knows I’m afraid to do that in case they will inevitably be crushed – but that’s a story for another day!).

I hope if you’ve read this, you might give it a try too.

 

*Before you worry – this isn’t a tale of physical or sexual abuse.

Thoughts from therapy – sitting with your emotions