I’ve often been a cynical person who also deals with depression. For a large part of my life I’ve also had issues with low self-esteem and being critical of myself. This is a harsh dynamic to handle if one also wants to break free of loneliness. And these issues—cynicism, low self-esteem, and self-judgment—have all too often kept me from making connections.
I have a history of volunteering or joining organizations and then I have not made an effort to get to know others. I would hang out by myself or not start any sort of conversation beyond the minimum required to do whatever task I had to do. I wanted to get in, do the thing I was there to do, and then expected that somehow I would magically have friends. I made that first step in the EASE method, extending myself. Perhaps I had even sought out others, but then didn’t expect that anything good would happen.
Looking back, much of my problem was my depression. After experiencing it for years, it had beat down my sense of self-esteem. On too many occasions I believed that I wasn’t good enough for others and that no one liked me. These thoughts weren’t true, but I had been telling myself these things on an almost daily basis for over twenty years. It was a hard habit to break.
What can one do (and what did I fail to do) to expect the best? First, acknowledge that there may not be success all the time in attempting to make connections with others. It’s possible that not every opportunity will be fruitful. But, we won’t know unless we try. So even if we expect the best, meeting our best friend forever may not happen with the first person with whom we speak. But it also could happen. The lesson is to try.
Second, keeping an open mind when going into situations where we put ourselves in new surroundings to meet people is essential. One friend I made from my experiences is not someone with whom I may have expected to be friends. But I found I clicked with her spirit of adventure and sense of humor. We bonded over shared academic interests. But this all occurred working at a non-profit store that sold art from artists in developing nations. I wouldn’t have expected to meet someone who became a good friend in that environment. Yet I was quite surprised because I did keep an open mind at that time.
All too often I have gone in to volunteer settings thinking that I won’t find people with whom I will want to connect. This is often because of the type of activity I am going to do. While I hope I could’ve been more open minded, that’s also a sign that I should have created an action plan more in line with what I enjoy. Once I found activities that matched what I wanted to do and that would put me in a position of meeting others, I now know it’s key to make sure positive expectations are there. In my struggles with loneliness, this has been the most difficult part for me, and something I know I will need to address should my loneliness hit again.
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