My Loneliness Story (Self-Destructing and Frustrated) :: Warning Signs of Loneliness in Kids, Part 6

No one would want to play with me anyway. I don’t have any friends. No one likes me, I’m dumb.

Or:

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.

My Loneliness Story

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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Over Attachment to Media :: Warning Signs of Loneliness in Kids, Part 2

What came first: the chicken or the egg?

This seems to be the question that comes to my mind when I think about loneliness and the use of media. I don’t believe that all who use media in their homes as a means of connection, entertainment, or knowledge of the world will wind up lonely as a result.

So instead of writing philosophically on the topic, allow me tell you my story.

As far back as I can remember, I was fascinated with people. Relationships, conversation, behavior – all of it. And one thing TV shows provide is a pretend window into the lives of other people. It allows for a type of role play. In all of my free time, I would choose to engage in any television show in order to curb my appetite for understanding humanity. Constantly pushing the boundaries that my parents put on me, I wanted to watch shows too mature for my age.

At a young age, in elementary, I started practicing the scripts. Setting my mind to learn the dance of dialog, I would practice these speeches with any listening ear. With some I became popular, but with most I was just plain weird. I didn’t have many true friends. I didn’t have many interests or hobbies outside of watching TV. My life was full of people, but empty of life.

I was bored. I tuned in with hopes of filling up that need to do something, and it only robbed me of my time. The more I watched, the more the emptiness inside grew. As the emptiness grew, so did my loneliness, and the need to fill this gap was demanding. I could only quiet the demand with another show. (Also, the commercials were feeding another demand. The discontent I felt with my emotional life was nothing compared to the discontent I felt about my physical life.)

What I didn’t realize until my late teens was that scripts aren’t real life. I prided myself on how well I knew all the characters in all the shows, I even idolized the people on “reality shows” because I thought they had somehow made their fascination with television reality and found the secret door into the other side of the screen.

Even talking about shows with “friends” at school fooled me into thinking I wasn’t harming myself in any way. But what we had was really just fan clubs, not true companionship.

And that’s the need. Loneliness is being in a state of aloneness that lacks companionship or support.

The TV had lured me in with its people, characters, exotic places, and luxuries, promising to fill my need for purpose and connection. I’ve always been an introvert so this felt like a win, win. But in the end, I felt disconnected and depressed. These negative feelings steam rolled into my twenties and as I grew in responsibility, my ravenous need for companionship and support grew but the ability for shows and characters to provide diminished.

Finally, God intervened. I was alone for what felt like the millionth time, watching a game show that I could not have cared less about, filling my evening with nonsense, and He spoke to me. “Get rid of it.”

I turned it off, and sat in the silence. I was a little afraid of what the cost of “getting rid of it” would be. Not only to me, but for my 2 children. They were 3- and 1.5-years old at the time. Using Praise Baby or Dora to take a shower was classified as a NEED in my life.

But I obeyed. I unplugged the beast and put it in a closet.

In the silence, I found the peace and companionship I was longing for. I felt satisfied for the first time in my life.

I thought about the friendships in my life and the little effort I had put into them. The ones I had were mostly because of convenience to me. I could see lots of effort on their part, and the realization became clear that from the earliest age I hadn’t been taught to “make friends.”

It’s never too late to learn, I thought. It’s time to make up for what was lost.

And so I began investing in relationships starting with the ones closest to me. Little by little, I began to see growth in the amount of love that came from within me. It wasn’t by my design. I know the One who is to credit for my freedom and healing.

My story concludes on a happy note, but what about all the kids growing up in this digital generation? Are they going to be taught how to make friends in the real world? Are their connections with friends more like a fan club with the only exchange between them words about the video game levels or what the hero accomplished in the episode this week?

Can they handle their emotions when everything is silent? Can I?

I want to answer these questions and address the part of my story that includes facebook and loneliness in the future post on coping mechanisms and destructive relationships. Stay tuned.