A hundred years ago, people raised their children in the communities where they were born. The friends they made in grammar school supported them through the trials of adulthood. Often, multiple generations resided under one roof. Today, traveling for educational and professional opportunities is the norm. People are expected to leave their hometown. Yes, there is FaceTime and Facebook. There is Google Chat and Snapchat. Even though grandchildren in Oregon can video conference their grandpa in Florida with the push of a button, people are experiencing epidemic levels of isolation and loneliness. In fact, much research suggests that the social media seems like community may actually be a contributor to people’s sense of isolation.
The reality is that being with people (either electronically or physically) is very different than connecting with people. People say it all the time, “I was surrounded by people but still felt lonely.” The same can be true of being online. People can update their status with a picture of their gourmet meal, but are they updating their loved ones on their doubts and their dreams? Shared lives and vulnerable connections are the corner stones of community, and often, they are missing when people feel isolated.
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness,
and the feeling of being unloved.” —Mother Teresa
When people do not have shared lives, they often feel lonely and unloved, and these feelings are a big social challenge. Despite the difficulties of modern society, many people are fighting to build community and connection. They are taking risks, putting down their phones, and having face-to-face conversations. Many are also working with a mental health professional to learn the social skills they were never taught. In the process, they are experiencing more community and less loneliness. The counselors, therapists, and coaches at Thriveworks Boston see it all the time—people who are lonely, but learning to form meaningful connections with their friends and family.
A Few Tips for Building a Community and Connecting
In many ways, building community is much like building muscle. Some people have more social skills than others, just like some people are more naturally athletic than others. However, everyone can improve. It does not matter whether people see themselves as skilled at making connections or terrible at it. Social skills are just that—skills, and any skill can be improved. Here are a few tips for building a better community:
1. Cut back on use of electronics ( and instead, live your life).
What are a few of the best TV shows of all time? Grey’s Anatomy, Parks and Rec, Lost, ER, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Frasier, Modern Family, Seinfeld, Friends, Scrubs, Cheers, Gilmore Girls, The Big Bang Theory, Sex and the City…to name a few. There is a common theme in these shows despite their diverse characters, settings, and plots, and that is community. These shows depict families who care about each other, and friends who are committed to each other through thick and thin. They depict the community so many people desire for their own lives.
Unfortunately, many people do not experience that level of community. But people have another option: instead of watching a TV show about friends who meet up at the bar, go meet a friend at a bar. Instead of watching a show about friends who support each other through relational struggles, start opening up to your friends about your relational struggles. In all fairness, community is easier scripted than lived, and that is another disadvantage of watching TV. These shows set an unrealistic expectation for connection. Instead, live in the real world with your real friends and real family. Most people never regret turning the TV off and calling a loved one instead.
2. Redefine Community (in any way you want).
Communities do not look like they used to look a century ago, and there are disadvantages and opportunities within that cultural shift. People can still find ways to connect. They may have to put more effort toward building their community, but modern communities can be anything and anywhere people want them to be.
What is your ideal community? How do you feel connected and known? For some, that may be through joining a book club or playing on a soccer team. For others, it might mean foregoing opportunities to travel in favor of living in the same town where they were raised. When you imagine your ideal community, pursue it. Make choices that align with that ideal. People can define their community to be anything, but they can also find their community anywhere. Small towns with unique rituals and rhythms can provide community. Cities that never sleep can provide community. Even online communities are beneficial when used well. Know yourself and let yourself be know wherever you may be.
Coaching at Thriveworks Boston—Overcoming Loneliness
Are you struggling to connect with friends and family? Building community can feel like an impossible task in this fragmented, modern society, but many people have found a way. Many people are also reaching out for help and guidance along the way, working with counselors and coaches.
If you are ready to experience more connection and work with a mental health professional to learn how, know that Thriveworks Boston has appointments available for overcoming loneliness. When you contact our office, a real person will answer—not a voicemail or an automated response. Our scheduling specialists will help you find a convenient appointment—often within 24 hours of your call and possibly in the evening or on a weekend (if that’s what’s convenient for you). We also accept most insurance plans.
Let’s get started. Contact Thriveworks Boston today.