Therapist Column: Three Ways to Move From Isolation to Connection

As Nina Simone first sang it, “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good.  Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”  Why can it feel so difficult to convey who we authentically are to others?

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, more social or more solitary, you have a deep need to feel seen, heard and understood by others.  It is as fundamental a need as the thirst for water. So if this need is so central, it can be frustrating not to feel seen, heard and understood by those around you.  And when this need isn’t met, there are costs. Loneliness, isolation and sadness can get woven into your days.  Your identity can feel walled off from others, leading to depression, anxiety and feelings of failure.

Fortunately for all of us, there is a way to move beyond our isolation and get into a state of mind where we feel recognized for who we are.  Acceptance, belonging and intimacy are possible, and help to push past this loneliness and the other feelings that surround feeling misunderstood.

What can you do to bridge the gap?  

1. Clarify your thoughts and feelings through writing

If you have never kept a journal, consider allowing yourself this space and place to go.  When we write we clarify our thoughts and feelings.  Putting words down truly can help us come to terms with how we feel or what we want and need.

Writing connects the unconscious to the conscious mind and, through that connection, can integrate and articulate thoughts and feelings that may be otherwise hidden from view.  The power to reveal yourself in writing can feel somewhat magical and centering.  Once you write something down, reading what you have written can feel like receiving a letter from a long, lost friend.  You may come to recognize aspects of yourself that you value or needs that haven’t been adequately met.

Writing privately creates a safe space for you to express yourself without concern for others’ thoughts and opinions.  You can always choose to disclose what you write to someone, but not having to do so can give you permission to open up to yourself and “come to terms,” literally and figuratively, with what is on your mind.

2. Give your time and talent away to others who need you

Covid has been profoundly isolating.  So many people have unfulfilled needs, and there are plenty of problems, large and small, to which you may connect your talents meaningfully.  Do you code and care about social justice?  Volunteer your talents to a nonprofit doing important work.  Are you a writer and frustrated about climate change?  Explore ways to help locally, according to your time and inclination.  There is a problem out there for every talent.  You may find it meaningful to connect your passions and talents to the problems that need you.   Helping others according to your specific talents and interests will connect you to a community of like-minded people.  Those relationships can flow out of the center of your interest.

3. Use Assertive Communication to Convey Your Needs

Assertive Communication comes from a therapeutic approach called DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy).  When in conflict with someone, you can use Assertive Communication to express your needs and report from your emotions after you have taken the time to process them.  Here’s the framework:  “I felt _________ (identified emotion) when you _________ (said or did something).  It is a way to own your emotions and express them to someone else, in a respectful tone and manner.  This contrasts with aggressive or passive aggressive communication.  Either of these forms can escalate a conflict rather than presenting a safe way to explore emotions and relationship dynamics.  Assertive communication allows you and a friend to explore a conflict and learn from the pattern, ideally free from the shame, blame and judgment that fuels conflict.

Your therapist can help you clarify and deepen the insights you get from writing.  Your therapist can help you explore your talents and service ethic, including directions you might take.  Your therapist can help you understand the grounded nature of Assertive Communication and how it can help you feel heard, seen and understood in ways that matter.

If you don’t yet have a therapist, consider employing the experts at SF Stress & Anxiety Center.  Clear the fog.  Find and expand your center. Get the help that makes a concrete difference in your life and how you relate to yourself, others and the world.  Click here to schedule a time to speak to a Care-Coordinator.


By: Douglas Newton, LMFT

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