Daniel can’t understand it. How can he be lonely when five other people share his home? Everyone’s tripping over each other all the time, yet Daniel feels he’s living all by himself. On the rare occasions when everyone’s at the dinner table, the room is so quiet. He and Lauren haven’t had a conversation deeper than whether the dog has been out for weeks. The kids disappear, and even when they’re home, they’re in their own worlds. He leans against the garage wall and wonders whether this is what families are supposed to be like.

The pandemic called attention to what some are calling an epidemic of loneliness. Even younger people, who appear to be the most well-connected group ever thanks to social media, report feeling lonely much of the time. It seems feeling lonely is less about the number of people who are around us and more about the depths of the relationships we have with each of them.

That’s why it can be particularly sad when family members feel alone, because over time those feelings can cause families to fracture. When connections with those around us aren’t nurtured, they lose their strength. Shared experiences become fewer, and resentments can replace happy memories.

How can someone feel lonely around family? There are many causes, but among the most common is a fear of making ourselves vulnerable. We have a sense of who we really are, but from an early age we learn to protect ourselves from being hurt by putting distance between us and those around us. After all, if we open up and share something difficult, others might hurt us or even just make fun of us. Often, we’re expected to play certain roles within our family, even when we don’t feel comfortable in those roles. When we try to be our authentic selves, we may run into resistance or anger from those around us, causing us to retreat even more.

Sometimes, our feelings of loneliness are rooted in past traumas. We may not remember the details of long-ago events, but our subconscious remembers how those events made us feel. When we’re put into another potentially stressful situation, that subconscious tries to protect us, but may leave us feeling anxious and depressed.

Feelings of loneliness may also stem from negative relationships within our families. If you’ve grown up with a parent who thought bullying kids was the most effective way to help them grow up, was always cold and distant when you needed warmth and connection, or who was struggling with mental health issues such as addiction, you may have not been able to form healthy attachments. And, if your parents were negative role models, some of their traits may seep into your relationships with your own kids. Daniel’s inability to connect with his own father impairs his ability to build those bridges with his children.

The good news is these feelings of loneliness don’t have to be inevitable. By becoming able to better understand yourself and what makes you feel like you do, you can begin to view your relationships with family members and others in a new light. A professional counselor can show you effective ways to reconnect with those around you and become better at handling difficult solutions. If you want to make those lonely feelings go away, start by setting a time to talk with us.

Seth Baker recognizes the importance of walking with young people as they navigate some of the most challenging and defining experiences of their lives.

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