I just started college and I feel lonely. There are students from reputed schools in my college and I feel inferior and inadequate in class. I want to run away. If I am feeling this way now, how am I going to sustain the whole course up till graduation?
I am 15 years old and I hate my elder brother. He has always been the good boy. My parent's favourite child, he is a bully. He always teases me and makes fun of me. I feel humiliated in front of my relatives and friends. My parents always support him and I hate them for that. I feel nobody cares for me. I feel lonely and rejected.
My younger sister does not participate in any household activity. She was getting isolated, aloof and was keeping to herself. I then started giving her responsibilities and told her that if she wanted to be in the house she needed to take part actively. She is now angry at me and accuses me of making her feel that she is not a part of the family.
The festive season is almost on us.
Every day there are more people on the streets, busily shopping for their loved ones. There is a hint of celebration and joy in the air already. One of the important aspects of festivals is socialising, or connecting with fellow beings. It's a time to come together, to belong to and celebrate something greater than our individual self. But behind the celebrations, there are many faces struggling to suppress their tears, feeling lonely and miserable. And the stark difference between their inner worlds and the outer environment makes it even more difficult for them to step out and participate.
Recent research in psychology shows that one of the crucial elements for a person to feel happy is to feel connected, to feel that they " belong". If it is in our genetic and cultural make- up to reach out and be connected, then why do we so often struggle with loneliness and isolation? Let us try to understand this from the three letters we got.
Reader 1 is a new college student who feels " lonely" in his new environment.
Of course, there are many people around him but something stops him from connecting, making him feel isolated. And since he cannot fit in, he's unable to make any connections. He reveals that he feels inferior to the other students. Even if we assume that every student in his class is smarter than him, can that be a valid reason to not belong? It is possible that in his mind, Reader 1 has created a rule that goes " I can only connect if I am on a par with others", or it could be " If I am not on a par with others, they will mock me". This may be the self- imposed condition which is making him feel isolated and lonely.
In the case of Reader 2, it is not very difficult to understand that when siblings make fun of each other, it is unlikely that they are disconnected.
They are engaged but maybe not in a " positive" way. But Reader 2 does not perceive it as an effort to connect; on the contrary, he believes that by teasing and making fun of him, his elder brother is cornering him, leaving him feeling lonely.
Similarly, in the case of Reader 3, the elder sister may have perceived that the younger sister is isolating herself and to engage her and help her feel connected to the family, she put some rules in place. And this act has heightened the younger sister's disconnect from her.
As we see in above cases, one of the hurdles we need to overcome to connect to people are the conditions we put, such as " I need to be understood" or " I need to be like others". Along with this, we often unconsciously burden our connections ( relationships) to satiate our personal needs, like our need to feel loved, secure, powerful, respected or successful.
Our hidden agenda to connect becomes " so that I can feel loved" or " so that I earn awe and respect" or " so that I feel secure". These agendas can take away our freedom to explore and make new connections or celebrate and enjoy our old connections.
If we can try to discard our needs, go out and try to connect with genuineness and authenticity, not just to feel better or superior but just to connect, it may be very fulfilling. These connections can teach us openness and inclusiveness. As social beings, we are biologically wired to connect.
Maybe all we need to do is celebrate our differences. This festive season let us do that.
Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches
Share your problems with them at dr. sangbarta@ gmail. com