Psychologists say that to be happy, one must be emotionally independent. But tell that to a lonely man or woman on Valentine’s Day. Why is it that when you’re lonely during the month of February, everywhere you turn you see hearts and romance? And why should it clutch at your heart the way it does? How do you maintain your emotional independence when all you want is someone to love? Love at all? Doesn’t love mean depending on another human being for getting what you need?
According to psychiatrist, William Glasser, author of Choice Theory and Reality Therapy, love is a genetic need built into the human genome, like blue eyes or blond hair. You are born with a set point of how much love you need. This is a controversial idea. Is it possible that some people are born with the need for more love than others?
Ask any parents of two children and they will tell you, empathetically, that they have two opposite children, both raised the same way. Perhaps one is an independent, “do-selfy,” Columbus of suburbia. The other is a stay-at-home nester, content to be with mom. Obviously this is a simplification, but in one form or another, children and adults have set personality types.
How does that redound to the issue of love? Well, let’s say you’re madly in love with a guy who has a low need for being emotionally connected to you. Dr. Glasser would ask where his need for love lies on the continuum from 1-5. Perhaps he is a 2. How would you rank your need? Perhaps a 4 or 5? If the point difference is greater than 2, then you’re inevitably going to have a conflict. Couples can and do resolve these differences by agreeing to meet the others’ need somewhere in the middle.
But it really does change your perspective if you think that your spouse or partner is simply programmed to have a set level of need. Rather than being deliberately withdrawn or clingy, they are simply experiencing their genetic needs or as the famous saying goes, “biology is destiny.” This idea takes the blame out of the relationship and helps you focus on what you both can do to get your own needs met.
Loneliness is a perspective on life. Why is it that some people who live alone don’t seem to be focused on their loneliness, while others do? Maybe the answer lies somewhere between personality type and the sum total of life experiences.
To illustrate: two researchers, recently published the book How We Choose To Be Happy. They spent several years interviewing happy people. They discovered that even severely abused children can grow up to be happy, resilient people who do not dwell on their traumatic past. As children, they concluded that they were going to live a better life. They took action, even the tiniest act of independence, to further that end.
What you conclude about life as a child influences your attitude as an adult. “The child is father of the man”. The good news coming from the new science of Positive Psychology is that you can change your attitudes and your level of happiness, even if you cannot change your underlying temperament. Maybe a diehard pessimist will never turn into a Pollyanna or Pangloss (hopefully not) but through the use of cognitive strategies, people are changing how they think and therefore feel about life.
One of the things I do with clients is work on their thinking. We tear apart their pessimistic ideas and challenge them like lawyers in a courtroom fighting for a passionate cause. It always amazes me how negativity can overshadow self-confidence and happiness. In therapy or coaching, we attack that kind of negativity not just with “positive thinking” but by challenging the root cause of it.Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism developed an exercise called the “Rational Disputation”. It is a powerful tool that can be done in mere seconds once you learn how. Seligman himself, a confessed pessimist, uses this exercise to defeat his own pessimistic thoughts, quickly defending against negativity and depression.
What does all this mean for the lonely heart on Valentine’s Day? It means that even if you are alone you don’t have to suffer and be “lonely”. You can change the thoughts that underlie your loneliness, most likely something like, “I’m never going to find someone to love”. You can attack this premise and create alternative ways to look at your life. Once you do that, you can generate a plan of action different from the one you might be thinking of taking, which will lead to sadness and suffering.
If you find that you are having this kind of trouble and can’t find your way out of it alone, call me for a complimentary consultation (when you mention this newsletter). Loneliness need not be your destiny. But you must take action to change and be happier.
And I would be most happy to accompany you on that journey!