In September 2020, I carried out a survey for the loneliness research: the “Connection Inventory”.
The full data analysis and associated report is still in production. Having said that, we can start to take a look at the initial results.
I used the 20 UCLA loneliness scale questions. The questions relate to topics that can contribute to loneliness, whilst the words lonely or loneliness are absent. Examples are “how often do you feel left out?” and “how often do you feel shy?”, and respondents choose from 4 options: Always, Sometimes, Rarely, Never.
As often happens in research, we are left with more questions that we started with, and I wanted to explore further what might be underpinning some of the results.
This article reveals the question that most contributed to loneliness, presents the themes that emerged from our video discussion, ending with my final reflections and how counselling can help.
A stand-out question
There is one question that stands out statistically, for all ages and for both men and women. The question that most contributes to loneliness was identified as:
“how often do you feel no-one really knows you well?”
“does anybody really know anybody?” “do you like red cabbage?” “it’s just masking loneliness” “you need to open up”
The themes emerging from our discussion were: What it means to be ‘known’, the different ‘selves’ we present to the world, impact of the pandemic, Social Media, Young People, and how others can get to know us.
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The video short begins with Jade: “Does anybody really know anybody?”
It feels like a nebulous concept ‘to be known’. We chewed on this one a few times: is it our facts and history (do you like red cabbage?) or is it more about our values and beliefs, engaging with people we connect ‘on the same level’?
And is it our perception? Can we think someone knows us when they don’t and vice versa?
Does it need to be two-way? Or could one person know another really well without it being reciprocated? I used the example of my client work: clients may feel known by me, but they won’t know me to the same depth.
I noticed that we didn’t particularly care if we knew facts about our loved ones such as if we like coffee or know our middle names, but values such as taking care to remember a birthday card are more important to us.
This we circled back to a few times. We all present different versions of ourselves, depending on the context and who we are with e.g. work vs home. To what extent is that simply to fit in, based on the expectations of others?
We discussed the pandemic for a while. It has shone a light on existing connections, good and bad, for all of us, revealing who we can rely on. We find we have been evaluating what is and who are important to us.
Making and maintaining connections has been so much harder via Zoom, although Jenny in particular has been motivated some to make great, new connections.
And afterwards? It may be difficult to reconnect with those who have fallen by the wayside in the past year, and will we maintain the new ones?
Another significant topic was social media.
Observing the fake, or façade versus genuine posts, I used the term “curated life” as it’s what we all do when we choose what images and information to show. We may try to be the real person, but which parts do we choose to share and which do we hold back?
And is it different for young compared to older people? If you have more confidence in who you are, does that allow you to be more genuine on social media? That seemed to be the conclusion we were headed towards, although Jenny wasn’t quite so sure.
Jenny observed that some may use social media as a façade, trying to be something they aren’t, which is probably masking loneliness.
It was also commented that social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s an avenue to stay in touch with people we know, ‘maintenance’ for friendships. And it does allow us to get to know people we wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
Our survey was consistent with other research done before and during the pandemic: young people are the loneliest, and have suffered as a result of the pandemic.
It was stated that we must first know ourselves.
We thought about whether it matters how long we’ve known someone, and the feeling was that sometimes it does take a long time, but with others we have relationships where that isn’t the case.
And unless we open up to others, we are mostly leaving it down to guess work.
So what does it mean to be known? And what does it take for someone to know us well?
Knowing ourselves is an important part of being known by others, although we get to know ourselves best in our relationships with others, be they friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, or our psychotherapist.
Most of us have parts we usually choose to hide. This might be due to circumstances e.g. professional life, or relationships e.g. where we don’t know them so well. That can be ok, but it’s important to make sure we remain true to ourselves most of the time, where it matters. If we don’t, there can be unintended consequences later. Being something we aren’t just to fit in, because of shame or to avoid judgement, can lead to unwanted feelings of anxiety, anger and depression.
Social media can be a blessing or a curse. Both maybe. Used to maintain and grow genuine relationships on the one hand, or a mask to hide behind on the other. We can learn to use it in a positive, healthy way by curating posts that truly reflect who we are, and showing empathy to those who e.g. hide behind their posts or have different views to us.
Loneliness is such an issue for us today, and whilst the stereotype is the lonely old person, my research and that of others shows that the youngest are the loneliest. Modelling open, honest, warm connection for our young people, and engaging them in meaningful conversation is a way we can help them, and ourselves too.
The theme running through the whole piece, is that by being open and honest with others, learning to emerge from behind the mask, is what we need to be truly known by others. The problem is that’s often easier said than done.
And that’s where counselling can come in.
How therapy helps
Counselling / psychotherapy with an accredited therapist is a relationship you can trust. You can explore those hidden aspects of yourself knowing that your therapist will not judge you for your thoughts and feelings.
The experience gained from the relationship with your therapist, and the personal knowledge gained, nurture your self-confidence to be more open with others, to learn who to trust, how to be yourself in different situations whilst remaining true to who you are, and to walk away from relationships that aren’t serving you.
I hope this analysis, reflection and video prove informative and helpful.
If you could like to find out if counselling / psychotherapy is for you, please do get in touch. You can do this using our online booking system, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling 07968 767232.
I look forward to meeting you.