- Being accepted even though we make mistakes. We all make mistakes at some point. How people we care about react to these mistakes either helps us learn to accept who we are or learn to hate who we are. When Elsa made a mistake and hit Anna with her frozen "ray", her parents reacted by trying to make her deny part of who she was. You often see in lonely folks the belief that they feel not lovable or worthy. Who could ever love someone so damaged and broken, who has made so many mistakes in the past? Learn to love ourselves and others despite our faults is a step out of loneliness.
- Overcoming childhood abuse. Usually there is a story of abuse with individuals who feel chronically lonely. Taking Elsa and locking her up for a significant portion of her childhood, I would consider child abuse. It reminds me of the old days when families would lock up their children who had mental disabilities in the attic or basement. That's not how you treat children who are different. Being isolated all those years, being told to suppress who you are, having you live in fear, eventually that takes a toll on your psyche and you are taught not to trust anyone, because the ones you love hurt you and you hurt the ones you love.
- Discovering our inner, magical power. There is a magical power in all of us. Deep inside all of us is a magical power that is ours and ours alone. It is an inherent part of who we are, and to deny it, is to deny our very existence. Despite Elsa's attempts to suppress her magical powers, it came out anyways. If you try to fight it, it comes out in ways that are often dangerous to others. But if you embrace it, you can make things that are truly beautiful. Lonely individuals are often taught self-loathing and try to suppress the powerfully, magical, creative sides of themselves, instead of letting it come to the surface for everyone to see.
- Finding our inner child. There remains in all of us, our inner child. Everybody loves Olaf, maybe perhaps because of his childhood innocence and his caring. There is a little Olaf in all of us that likes warm hugs. When we are lonely, there is a little Olaf in us begging to get warm hugs and not getting any. When we can't satisfy our Olaf, we may often try to bury Olaf and forget about him, but he's always there, looking for a way to make things right.
- Controlling our Marshmallows. Similarly all of us have a Marshmallow. Marshmallow comes out when there are those around us who are hurting us and we want them to go away. We become mean, monstrous, and wild. And we don't stop until the threat is completely removed, even if it sometimes means we can potentially hurt the people we love. In chronically lonely individuals, there is usually a Marshmallow guarding our fortress, and whoever comes to visit has to get past a Marshmallow first. More times than not, people just give up and go away instead.
- Giving love instead of taking it. Often we think that to help thaw our cold heart, we need the love of someone else. When Anna's heart got frozen, the immediate assumption was that she needed to receive the love (aka a kiss) from the person she loved. Lonely people often think similarly that the way out of loneliness is to receive the love of another. But the real secret to breaking the curse, to melting a frozen heart, is to give love, selfless acts of love.
- Someone does care about you. There is at least one person who is one your side and trying to help you. Lonely people often think that there is no one that cares for them or loves them. Like Elsa, the goal is to isolate themselves from everyone else. And like Elsa, she fails to realize that some of the same people you push away is the people that can help you, really help you overcome your feelings of loneliness. But it means letting your guard down means opening the possibility of being hurt or hurting others. You have to take the risk in order to gain the reward.
- You cannot run away from your problems. Sometimes lonely people think that if I isolate myself, if I surround myself with an ice fortress, then no one will be able to harm me, the problems I created outside my ice fortress will not affect me any longer. But you cannot run away from your problems, if you do not stand up and deal with them, they will come looking for you. You cannot run away from loneliness, it will come looking for you wherever you are.
- Just cause they like you, doesn't mean it is a good idea. When you have been isolated for a long time, any prospect of a romantic relationship looks really good. Anna wanted to marry the first guy that showed any interest in her. She was desperate to love and to be loved and she opened herself up to be taken advantaged of. She ignored any tell-tale signs that the person she was interested in was dangerous and not good for her. Very often when we fall in love, we often ignore the signs that that person may not be right, we pin all of our hopes and dreams on this one person. Famous loneliness researcher Robert Weiss called romantic relationships the "anti-loneliness pill" because at even the mere prospect of getting involved in a romantic relationship seemed to make loneliness magically disappear.
- Animals are great company and can help us feel less lonely. (See here for example). In that spirit, Kristoff had wonderful companionship in the form of Sven. Even though he talked for Sven sometimes, it seemed like his animal companion kept him company on a many lonely night.
If you have not already had enough of Frozen here is a list of ways the movie, Frozen is the story of loneliness:
One of the interesting characteristics of some members on the Web of Loneliness (WOL) online support group is the fact that they are online gamers. I've often mused over the question about whether online gaming helps alleviate loneliness or increases it. To me, it seems like if you are in an online game where you need to connect and collaborate with others, it would naturally lend itself to creating relationships and reducing loneliness. In fact, the online world could become so powerful that people neglect their lives in the real world. For example, there have been multiple stories of parents neglecting their children to play online games (see examples here, here, and here). That leads to the question, if online gaming is so immersive and capable of connecting people together, why were there members popping up in the support group who were lonely.
A study recently published by Visser, Antheunis, and Schouten sort to look at how playing the online game, The World of Warcraft (WoW) affected players social competence and loneliness. Some of the major findings included that there were no direct effects between playing the game and a person's level of social competence or loneliness. That means that just because you play the online game, WoW, it doesn't automatically mean you tend to be more lonely or less socially competent (or vice-versa). The study also showed that the amount of time a person spends playing the game is also not related to loneliness or social competence. What they did find however, is that if you had a variety of communication partners in the game, a person is less likely to be lonely. In addition, if you tended to experiment with your identity more, you tended to be lonelier as well. The question becomes, why do less lonely players having more communication partners and experiment with their online identity less.
Some insight into this question comes from one of the members on the WOL support group. He thought that online games in which you get to shape your environment, so-called sandbox games, had a better chance of reducing loneliness than your basic run-of-the-mill action packed, violent games, such as WoW.
To me, there seems to be two distinct threads running through the findings of the study and the comments by the WOL member. One thread is the idea of authenticity. Online games give you the opportunity to pretend to be someone else, someone who is not you, to wear a mask, and hide your true self. Very much in real life, we do wear masks and hide our true selves from others for a variety of different reasons. One of the biggest ones is probably because we are afraid we will be rejected if we show our true selves to others. The problem with mask-wearing is that you can never truly connect with others, whether it be face-to-face, or online. You cannot share the deeper, more intimate aspects of your life with others and without that connection, the relationship will remain shallow and meaningless. This thread of authenticity is connected to the finding of identity experimentation, where the real self may be hidden behind a variety of experimental identities. Similarly sandbox games allows for a much more complex, rich, and revealing manifestation of one's self. It allows a person to really express who they are in a variety of ways beyond just the typical avatar in online gaming. Imagine creating a world that is a reflection of you and then having others interact with it. That is certainly a powerful tool of communication.
The second thread is the idea that online gaming does not magically make things different. If a person is lonely offline, when he/she goes online, the difficulty of connecting with others still remains. It's no surprise that less lonely folks have an easier time having a wider variety of communication partners online, because they already have the skill set to do so. They already know how to initiate conversations, how to build collaborations, how to resolve conflict, how to ask probing questions, etc. But for lonely folk lacking that skill set, getting immersed in an online world won't make a difference. I think this fact is reflective in other areas online as well. I've heard many lonely folk say that online dating sites simply do not work. Perhaps that is true, but if you had difficulty dating offline, you are going to have difficulty dating online as well. Nothing changes except the means of communication. If you are, for example, a jealous person, it will become manifest in either medium.
Online gaming can certainly be a powerful tool for helping people connect with one another. However, if you are a lonely person, being able to use that tool to connect with others may still prove to be difficult.
If you have taken The Lonely Quiz, there is one question on there that asks if having a romantic partner is one of the most effective ways of permanently curing loneliness. Not surprisingly, 67% of those answering said that it is true, a romantic partner is an effective way of permanently curing loneliness. And, as you will see after you have answered the question, I said that it is not, in fact, true.
As a teenager I have been guilty of constructing in my mind, the image of the perfect woman. I am sure I am not the only person who is guilty of doing this. I would venture to say, most of us have some kind of list of what we think a potential partner should have. For some of us, our expectations are realistic, have a decent income, perhaps a non-smoker, etc. For some of us though, our expectations are a bit too detailed. In our minds we construct a caricature of a real person, like a Barbie doll, something that could never exist in real life but in fantasy is appealing.
If you ask the average lonely person, what do you need to cure your loneliness, most would agree with the 67% of respondents and say, having a romantic partner. The thought is, if I just had that one special person in my life, someone who would understand and love me, then my loneliness would disappear into thin air. In fact, back in 1976, when one of the founding loneliness researchers, Robert Weiss started his work, he found a similar phenomenon in a single parents group he was working in. He said that having that romantic attachment almost seemed like an "anti-loneliness" pill. By magic, falling in love made loneliness vaporize into thin air. The problem with falling in love though is that it doesn't last. In fact the brain is playing lots of tricks on you for you to fall in love. One of those tricks is that you tend to ignore all of the bad/incompatible traits in your partner when you are in that "cloud 9" stage. Once things cool down, you begin to notice all of those traits you had previously ignored. Another trick is that what appears to be love at the beginning of a relationship is in fact something else entirely. If you think about people in abusive relationships who grow up in a household with abusive relationships, you sometimes wonder, why is it, someone would choose to date/marry someone as abusive as their parent was. The reason is that familiarity is often mistaken for love.
I think when 67% or more of you say, a romantic relationship would cure your loneliness, you're not talking about a romantic relationship with someone with lots of emotional baggage or who needs things you are unwilling to provide. When you imagine a romantic relationship, you are imagining the Cinderella fantasy, a Prince Charming (or Princess Beauty) coming to rescue you from the abyss of loneliness you currently reside in. The trouble is the expectations can be unrealistic, people are going to fail you, and you will not have all of your needs met. In fact, even if you did get someone to "rescue" you, you're still not going to be happy. The illusion of perfection only exists in your head. Try putting those expectations on someone and watch that relationship crumble.
So, if you're lucky enough to find a partner, as my blog title asks, now what? Yes, your loneliness is going to disappear probably for three months, maybe longer. And then it's going to come back. If you had trust issues before, you're still going to have trust issues in your relationship. If you had communication issues before, it isn't going to magically disappear. If you really want to get rid of your loneliness permanently, you have to work on your own issues without expecting your romantic partner to do it for you. Romantic partners are exactly that, partners, they aren't your therapist or your parent that never loved you and quite frankly they can never be. You need to love yourself, to be content in your own skin, to be brave enough to be vulnerable before you can partner up with anyone. Otherwise, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment.
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