Breaking the cycle of loneliness (Episode 57)

In this episode, Kay Coughlin talks about how to break the cycle of loneliness and isolation. Why? Because Kay is seeing that loneliness is slowly chipping away at way too many of us.

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: Breaking the cycle of loneliness (Episode 58)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin. And you’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I am a sandwich family caregiver. That means I have kids at home and I am also the primary caregiver for my own mother. And I don’t believe the old stories and traditions about being a caregiver have to be true for us. I believe we can have dreams, even when we have caregiver responsibilities. We have value as individuals. We deserve to say no and to get some rest and to have our own lives. Nobody can do it all of course, but we can decide what’s okay with us, what’s not okay with us, and we can dare to be ourselves. This is episode 58.

I’ve got a little bit of housekeeping here before I dive into today’s episode on breaking the cycle of loneliness. I’m going to be taking a break from the podcast for a couple of months. Now we are already at work on the next season and the podcast we’ll be back in early 2022.

In the meantime, if you want to be in a community with other people who want to set boundaries and get some rest, I’d like to invite you to join my free online boundaries community. I am really serious about making this an emotionally safe and supportive space where you will not be judged or shamed. So it’s a private community. I do pay for this out of my pocket. This community is not connected to any of the major social media networks. And you’re just going to have to join if you want to see anything that goes on over there.

And over in that community, you can ask any question you want about boundaries. You can get help from me about your specific situation, whatever it is. And you can even practice saying hard things if you need to. And of course the very best thing about it is that it is a community with other people who want to be healthy and supportive. You can get that link if you go to facilitator on fire dot net slash boundaries (FacilitatorOnFire.net/Boundaries). And I will put that link in the show notes as well. Remember it is free, so don’t wait to join.

I think this issue of loneliness is a really big problem for most of us family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers. As individuals, we probably don’t want to admit just how much of a problem it is for us personally. We can kind of see that it’s a big problem for other people in our shoes, but maybe we don’t want to see how much it relates to us personally. And that’s because we’ve been taught that we can figure it out on our own. Or that we should figure it out on our own or that it would be weak or wrong to share our load with the people around us. And I’ll get into all of this in a minute why it is that we think that.

I’m going to use the terms loneliness and isolation interchangeably in this episode. They aren’t exactly the same thing, but I really do think that when so many of us were in isolation during the earlier days of the pandemic, it was like a wakeup call that loneliness and isolation are exceptionally unhealthy for us.

There’s a lot of data on loneliness, but basically what we know is that we humans did not evolve to be isolated from each other. And there have been a lot of studies recently on caregivers and mental health. Some of those were ongoing studies and some of them really were prompted by the pandemic. What these studies show overwhelmingly is that mental health is indeed a real challenge for those of us who identify as caregivers.

In fact, one of these studies showed that, and I hope you’re sitting down when you hear this number, 85% of people who identify as sandwich family caregivers say we are struggling with mental health. And that actually meets the criteria for an epidemic.

I love looking at data. So, if you want to see my sources, you can get those sources from me over in my boundaries community.Join me over there and we can geek out about the data together if you want to.

Just to be clear when I talk about loneliness and isolation. I am not talking about never having time to yourself. No way. I love a good walk alone or a car ride alone. And I even love camping alone when I can pull it off. Having time to yourself by being alone is not the same thing as being lonely or being isolated.

How do you know the difference though? Well, it’s about how you feel. Alone time is something that can restore you and refills you. But on the other hand, being lonely and isolated actually drains you. That’s how you can know the difference.

Before we get too much further into this, I want you to know that this topic today about loneliness and isolation is deeply personal to me. I have struggled with loneliness at different times throughout my entire life. For me, a lot of this is related to my perfectionism. In my heart, I just have to admit that I am very worried that when I’m in a community or in a friendship, that I’ll be judged for way too many things than I can possibly list here.

And I want you to know that I’ve even been avoiding recording this podcast episode because talking about loneliness and isolation feels a lot like, it feels like a kick in the gut to me. So, yes, it’s that hard. And if it feels that hard for you, I’m right there with you, but it’s also important enough that I just decided to kind of rip off the band-aid today and go all in on this episode.

So now I have to admit to you one way this has always played out in my life. I figured this would be hard to admit in public this way, but now that I’m actually saying it it’s way harder than I even thought it would be. I dread having people come over to my house because I just don’t keep a perfect house.

Now, there are four of us living here and we all have different ideas about what it means to keep a tidy house. So a long time ago, I had to choose between trying to keep a perfect house or spending my time and energy on things that matter way more to me, like loving my family and building my business and coaching caregivers.

But at the same time, I do see all of the pictures of perfect houses and I compare my own house to those pictures. And when I visit my friends, their homes are perfect in a way that mine never is. So, yeah, I feel shame about my house. And so I don’t like inviting people over. I carry around this constant weight and it’s a worry that they’re going to see my house and judge me and not want to be friends anymore. It’s awful. It’s an awful feeling.

And it makes me so sad and it definitely has led to me being much lonelier and more isolated than I need to be for as long as I can remember. I also want to tell you that this is something that I’m working on with my coach and in my daily life every day. So I’m not willing to be stuck in this place, but I’m not out of it yet.

So this leads me to what I’ve seen is I think a hidden reason why loneliness and isolation are so dangerous and I’ve seen this in my own life, as you can already tell, but also I see it in my practice as a life coach. Here’s the thing. Most of us have stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and about our lives and these are thoughts and beliefs that we’ve picked up just across our lifetime.

 And I’m talking about really, really difficult stuff, like feelings of worthlessness and shame and guilt, and you know what? Those really suck. And they suck everything out of us. And these are things that we tell ourselves over and over and over again, and they keep us stuck in our old ways. We repeat these hard stories and we repeat them on a loop and that loop keeps going in our heads unless we can find a way to interrupt it.

So unless we can find ourselves some people who can help us see the lies we’re stuck in, we stay there. We will keep struggling with the pain of loneliness and isolation because we don’t have anybody to help us interrupt those stories to break that cycle and to see another way or another possibility.

So what is it anyway that’s keeping us here, stuck in this place, so lonely and isolated. I’ve got a list here of the categories of the things that we tell ourselves. And they’re all lies. They’re stories, but they’re alive.

But before I get to that, I actually want to start with two things that are keeping us lonely and isolated, and these are not lies. Okay. These are true. And if you are dealing with these, please get help just as soon as you can from someone with a lot of training, like a therapist or a support organization.

And the first one of these is mental health, and this could be a diagnosis like depression or anxiety, but, you know, there’s a huge list of what this could be for you. I’m going to tell you I was diagnosed with depression many years ago, and there are a lot of times when it has made loneliness and isolation much worse for me.

The second thing here then is abuse. If you are in a situation now that is abusive, physically or emotionally, get help right away. Because abuse and abusers thrive when you are lonely and isolated. Please hear me when I say that we all deserve to be in loving and supportive relationships and situations. And if someone in your life or work or community is telling you that you don’t deserve to be loved, or that you are worthless, that’s abuse. Get help now.

Okay. So here’s now the rest of my list of the categories. And these are things that we all tend to believe, but they are lies. I’ve got four categories here. How do I know all of this? Because I know that some of you, when you hear this, it’s going to sound like I’m reading your mind. And of course it’s because I struggle with it too. So buckle up for this.

I want you to know, I am not judging you. I’m in this with you, but this list, it is not an easy one to go through.

The first category of what keeps us stuck in loneliness and isolation is fear. And here are just some of the things we’re afraid of.

We’re afraid of what people will think of us if we let them into our lives, we’re afraid of being judged. And this is like me the way I don’t like letting people come over to my house because I think they’re going to judge me about my house. We’re afraid of getting hurt again. We’re afraid of secrets getting out. We’re afraid of being disappointed again. We’re afraid of looking weak if we asked for help. And we’re also afraid of being awkward and not knowing what to do or not fitting in with other people.

The second category of what’s keeping us stuck is human giver syndrome. Now I’ve talked a lot about this in a bunch of other episodes of the podcast. So go look for those episodes if you want to learn more. And it’s a really big set of beliefs that’s been around for thousands of years. So this is nothing new, but here are some of the specific pieces of this that keep us lonely and isolated.

We think we are supposed to sacrifice our own needs for the sake of others. We don’t even remember anymore what we want or need. And even if we did, it would be shameful to admit that we have personal needs too. We don’t want to inconvenience people with our so-called problems. We don’t want to be a burden to them. We shouldn’t ask for help. And FYI, I want you to know that I did a podcast episode on asking for help. It’s number 32, and it’s actually called “why it’s so hard to let people help.”

The third category I’ve got for you then is things we think we don’t have and can’t possibly have.

And these are things like we don’t have the skill to make a new friend because it’s been so long since we tried. And we think it’s too late to build that skill again. We think it’s going to take time or money or energy to have friends and be in a community. And we don’t have those things. And we think we can’t get those things. And then we think we don’t have the will or the energy to trust somebody again. And we think we can’t get that either.

And the fourth category I’ve got for you here, and this is the last one is personal circumstances or situations that we think mean we can’t have friends or community.

So if you’re overwhelmed or burned out, you think that means you can’t have community. If you’ve done something you think means you don’t deserve to have friends or that you can’t have friends, something that you think is unforgivable or that people would not like you for and again, in this category is also thinking that you don’t have time or money or energy. That’s just a circumstance that you think is keeping you from having friends and having community. And also, maybe you think you live too far away from people to be part of a community or to reach out and get some help and not be so lonely.

So now that I’ve given you my four categories that we tell ourselves about lies and isolation, what do you do now? How do you break the cycle of loneliness and isolation?

I am not going to tell you to just go out and start meeting people because chances are, if you felt like you could do that right now, you already would have done that instead. I’m going to recommend that you use the same three steps that I always use in my own life and and with all of my clients.

You can start to do step one right now on your own, because step one is just noticing and observing you and what your thoughts are, and then you try to do it without judging yourself. And yes, I do know that’s a big ask. I know how hard it is to try not to judge yourself, but it’s a good goal to have. And I also think it helps for someone to say that you are allowed to observe yourself without judging. I never knew that and I’m not sure I would have ever figured it out or thought that it was possible or a thing that people do unless somebody had first told me.

So in this step, you just notice that you’re, you are feeling whatever it is you’re feeling. And in this case, we’re talking about lonely. And you notice what’s going on in your head. I’ve given you a big headstart on this step related to loneliness and isolation, because I already gave you a list of categories, of things you could be telling yourself in your head. And remember, I know these so well because I’m right there with you.

The method that I use to look into my head and capture those thought is known as a “thought download.” And if you’d like a short guide on how to do that, you can get my “thought download cheat sheet,” it’s free. And it is over in my boundaries community. You guessed it, that’s where you find it.

Step two then of this three-step process is to just sit with, or actually process what it is that you observed about yourself and your thoughts.

And then step three is to decide what you actually want. And then you can start taking action. So you do that after you observed, which is step one and then had a chance to really sit with it and spend some time processing it in that step two.

I will tell you that most of us do a lot better with steps two and three if we get some help and if we don’t try to do them alone, and yes, I really mean that. And I’m not just saying it because this is an episode about breaking the cycle of loneliness.

Now you can get help from a therapist or a life coach, that’s what I do, I’m a life coach, or you can get support from a healthy support group.

Now I realize I have mentioned emotional safety a couple of times today. If you don’t know what emotional safety is, or maybe you aren’t sure why it’s important, I did a podcast episode about that also, and it’s number 38.

As hard as it has been for me to do this episode and talk about all of this today, because it’s so personal to me, I’m really glad I took this risk. Please know that you don’t have to stay stuck in loneliness and isolation. You can take a risk too. You can take a chance and get the help you need to find some friends or to get into a healthy community.

And really, please go join my free community to talk about boundaries right now, so that you can experience what it’s like to be in an emotionally safe and supportive community. I cannot wait to meet you there so that we can break the patterns and break the cycle of loneliness and isolation, and we can do it together.

Thank you so much for listening today. You can learn more about me and about all of this work at facilitator on fire dot net (Facilitator On Fire.net). And yes, I said, facilitator on fire.net. There’s a lot of really good stuff over there. I mean, I know I’m biased, but I think there’s great stuff. And it includes links to my book and there’s that link to my online community to talk about boundaries and there’s links to learn more about human giver syndrome.

If you want almost daily doses of healthy support messages for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers who want to dare to live their own lives, please follow me on Instagram. And yeah, I left a link for that in the show notes, too.

If you liked this episode, please leave a review and think about two people you could tell about it. If they’re new to podcasts, show them how to subscribe. Word of mouth is the very best way to help podcast grow, which will help more caregivers find their way here.

I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, life coach and CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is on a mission to help caregivers learn about personal boundaries. In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about Human Giver Syndrome, is the host of the weekly "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind." She is well known for coaching family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers who want to be in the workforce on their own terms.

When Kay works with businesses, she helps teams understand how to work with people of different ages through her decision-making workshops and "Building Trust Across Generations" seminar. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.