5 Ways to End Loneliness (According to Attachment Science)
Are you dreading another weekend without plans? Do you wonder why the eligible bachelors keep passing you by? Are you sick and tired of being lonely and just want to fill the hole in your heart with someone meaningful? I get that. Loneliness is real and painful!
I’ve been working with a young, successful businesswoman, helping her feel more confident when pitching her ideas at work. Our recent conversation about work took a surprising twist. She had just read our book, Emotional Connection, which awakened her awareness of how profoundly lonely she is.
What did her lack of confidence at work and her loneliness have in common? We began to explore. Here’s how we unpacked her story. Read on…perhaps it’s your story as well.
In reading our book my client discovered she has an insecure attachment style. Nothing uncommon there…somewhere around 50% of adults fall into the insecure attachment group. But what’s attachment got to do with loneliness and a dateless weekend?
Here are 5 ways to end loneliness according to attachment science:
1. Be clear on what’s primary.
We are wired for relationship. And I believe we’re wired for a primary attachment relationship in adulthood. Sure, we’ve got friends and family. But I’m talking about your one person. This one person would be your “primary”.
Your primary takes priority over everything and every one. That’s a pretty tough concept for many couples, right? I’ve talked with hundreds of people in relationship distress. This is one of the biggest missteps couples make. So often the lifetime vows have barely fallen off the tongue when our one-and-only, till death do us part, becomes a 2nd or 3rd priority. They take the back seat to career, hobbies, family or friends.
2. Identify your substitute attachments.
It didn’t take my client and I long to realize that she had been using work as her primary attachment relationship. She’d been looking for the kind of validation at work that could only be met in a secure love relationship. She thought working herself to the bone for recognition and acceptance would fill the hole in her heart.
She had a great ah-ha experience when she realized that no amount of success at work would fulfill her human need for love and acceptance. It just wasn’t a substitute for what she really needed and wanted. The cycle that she had been in was wearing her down. She had convinced herself that she had little time for personal relationships because she was always so busy with her job.
This kept her in a perpetual state of busyness and loneliness. She said that she felt like she was in a box, unable to be seen and heard. In her insecure state of being, she needed constant reassurance from her boss and co-workers.
3. Understand your attachment style and its impact on your relationships.
By identifying her attachment style, my client was able to understand why she pushed people away in her personal relationships. She began to see her pattern of being needy and insecure in her single life and aloof and distancing when people showed her attention.
We agreed that many young professionals seem to be cut from the same mold. So many of them brag about being over worked and having little time for relationships. And many of them also share a similar complaint about not being able to find a serious romantic relationship.
4. Change your attachment style from insecure to secure – that’s good news!
Simply knowing you have an insecure attachment style isn’t enough to help you become secure enough to give up your work addiction and to make time and space for a love relationship. Fixing the problem’s going to take more than just understanding it.
I tell my clients that it takes emotion to heal emotion. Okay, so what does that even mean? Emotional insecurity needs to be felt, expressed, and compassionately responded to in order to heal. We need time and connected relationships in order to let go of whatever our addictive behaviors are. That’s why the AA community has been an integral piece for the healing of millions of alcoholics.
For most people, learning to live a securely attached life is a major paradigm shift. It’s like taking the red pill in the movie The Matrix. Some would describe it as an alternate reality or becoming aware of the real world of human existence.
5. You are wired for relationship – understand it and apply it to your life.
Understanding attachment science and applying it to your own life can be a mind-blowing experience. It was for me when I discovered it after the failure of my 25-year marriage.
Contrary to popular Eastern concepts, we are wired for relationship and we will suffer deeply if we don’t form secure attachment. While meditation can help us regulate emotion, it is no substitute for connected loving validating relationship. While it may be possible to disconnect from our human attachment need, the need to form loving relationships is what makes us connectable human beings.
In the Christian community I see a similar kind of separation from the need for human attachment. Many believe that more of God is the fix for the hole in their heart. I believe we are wired for the experience of the love of God and of each other. We will feel alone and empty if we are missing either kind of love.
We are relational beings who deeply desire to be loved and known. There are no shortcuts or substitutes. Success is great. But no amount of money, achievement or fame will satisfy our need for human attachment.
So what are your next steps to end the loneliness?
It helps to understand the why before you decide what to do. The book Attached by Amir Levine and our book Emotional Connection can help you make sense of your drivenness and desire for deeper connection.
Most of us are surrounded by friends and even family who are as driven and performance-motivated as we are. So even if we become convinced that we need to learn how to attach, it can be tough when we feel alone in that pursuit.
Try this. Reach out to your close friends. Tell them what you’re feeling and learning about yourself. They may be interested in doing some inside-out learning with you. Our Emotional Connection online course is a great way to have group discussion about the story and science of attachment.
Some you may want to find a therapist who can help you dig deeper and heal old attachment injuries. Learning how to be with your emotions through meditation and prayer can be a good thing as long as you stay connected with your healthy human need to love and be loved.
Michael W. Regier, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor in Visalia and San Luis Obispo, California. He and his wife Paula are authors of the book Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love. They have developed an online learning course based on the science of attachment and healthy relationship.