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Roots of Chronic Loneliness Run Deep Into Past

November 28, 1987|From Times Wire Services

Chronic loneliness has very little to do with being alone and a great deal to do with feelings that go back to childhood and even to infancy.

People who cannot remember a time when they did not feel lonely probably came from a family whose members were unloving or unable to show love. Without nurturing, people tend to grow up with scant emotional resources.

Because they cannot nurture themselves, they look to other people to correct their feeling of emptiness. They cannot face that everyone comes into the world alone and, to some degree, exists in it alone.

Psychologist Maggie Scarf has noted that "the capacity to be oneself and to tolerate that aloneness well represents a human milestone, a developmental landmark."

After you reach the stage of tolerating aloneness, then it is important to take steps to bring others into your life.

Feelings of Worthlessness

Katrina Hoyt, a New York therapist, said many of the young women she sees needs help in breaking a cycle that began with loneliness, which led to feelings of worthlessness, which made them feel lonelier and more depressed.

"There's a tendency to let the problem go, just to drift and, when you do that, it can be hard to dig your way out," she said.

"It's better to say, 'I'm going to force myself to be with people, to make contact, to grab hold of this before I become too isolated.' "

Here are some steps you can take to break out of isolation:

Self-love begins at home, and yours should be a pleasant place for you and your friends. If it isn't, rethink and possibly redecorate.

Become a people scout. Take courses or join activities in which you have real interest--not just because a friend met someone there last winter. If you really care about what you are doing, friendships based on common interests will follow.

New adventures, new you. Try something that gives you a sense of delight or a slight case of butterflies--take scuba lessons, write a short story or learn to play the clarinet. If you love what you are doing, you'll want to share it and wind up socializing painlessly.

Shuck your shyness. Social skills are learned, preferably in childhood, but it's never too late. Make a written contract with yourself, perhaps starting out by contracting to talk to someone in your building. Reward yourself for doing it; punish yourself--maybe by cleaning out a closet--if you don't. Try to raise the emotional ante each week.

Turn holiday dread into triumph by planning a project, gathering people around you or joining a volunteer project--perhaps a community program for the needy.

Exercise caution. Learn to pinpoint your especially lonely times and the gaps in your social network. Plan ahead to fill them.

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