No one would want to play with me anyway. I don’t have any friends. No one likes me, I’m dumb.
Why do you always… why can’t I ever… you never let me…
And it may be that both have been said by the same child. I know I said both.
People mean well when they want to help or fix these bad feelings. But it isn’t as easy as choosing not to be grumpy by putting on a smile. When the root of the matter isn’t being addressed the bad feelings grow and it becomes a habit. The struggling child expresses self-pity or disrespect consistently.
It is heartbreaking when adults ignore these signs because they label the child as “pitying themselves” or “rebelling against authority.” While both of those labels may be true and trained through with the child –it is feedback behavior.
Again, heavily focusing on these words and the feelings behind them are not going to produce the desired result. The words or the attitude isn’t the primary issue. The root of the issue isn’t that the child needs better self-esteem or deeper submission. Spending energy trying to train a child to put on a better attitude or to quiet their expressions will not stick. It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches.
The pain from loneliness has been internalized and the child believes that they are wrong or broken for having needs that are going unmet. It causes a reaction of distrust and resentment toward parents for not knowing or helping the child.
In young children, this can also create a sense of panic or fear.
Fear and pain have a way of motivating us. I was a little powerhouse of words, attitudes, and emotions growing up. I would speak up to anyone: anytime, anywhere. Collecting labels that only grew more burdensome as I grew older. As my feedback behavior was being disciplined, punished, quieted – the pain grew and my fight with it. I tried every wrong way to force others to notice me and meet my needs for support and companionship, but very few adults could tolerate me.
This was true for me: hurt people, hurt people. And anyone close to me was hurt by me.
If only I could go back to my teen years and take back the awful things I said to my parents. The ongoing frustration I felt toward them was simply caused by misunderstandings and lack of communication. We addressed the surface issues, labeling actions and emotions as character flaws. But on my own, I didn’t have the tools to change my character – who I was becoming felt like a freight train that had lost its brakes.
Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I became who we all feared I would become. The labels and the troubles crushed me.
It took me years to unravel the pain and fear. After the social stages of schooling, I was on my own and alone, and that’s when I began to understand how loneliness had been at the root of so much of my destructive behavior.
And after more than a decade of healing I am able to share and learn from this painful part of myself.
Learning to work through pain and to help others is the motive behind writing this series. The amount of compassion I have for kids who are hurting is beyond my physical reach. That’s why I’m writing. If you’re reading this, anything you can gain from these observations can be used to heal and help provide support and companionship.
Also, lest I close the series leading anyone to believe I no longer struggle with loneliness allow me to reveal how I recognize red flags as an adult: I act is some counter intuitive ways. I put on personalities that aren’t mine, and they don’t fit. And it looks like one or more of these:
- Suddenly becoming bubbly and outgoing, with a strong desire to be the life of the party
- Spending money impulsively and a ravenous desire to have something I’ve been saying “no” to for a long time
- Gradually becoming isolated: ignoring phone calls from close friends and family because I just don’t feel like being with anyone
- Feeling panicky when I don’t know where my phone is – checking social media compulsively
- Mismanaging time and emotions – becoming angry and frustrated with myself for an overall lack of discipline
- Speaking negatively about myself to others and rejecting encouragement
Why is there an ongoing struggle with loneliness? Because it’s hard to ask for support when I feel unsupported. It looks weak, it feels vulnerable, and it requires reflection and work to resolve. Often, I don’t know where to start, I’m overwhelmed. Guilt lies to me.
Moving forward, I look at my core needs and work up from there: security, identity, and then belonging. And like Dr. Kathy Koch taught me: Belonging is “who wants me” not “who needs me.” Belonging is a need, and healthy relationships are possible.
If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series, you can check out the titles here.
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