Every Valentine’s Day, we’re flooded with images of seemingly happy couples. For those of you who are single, or just don’t have a satisfying relationship of any kind, - a relationship with a friend, lover, family member, colleague, or even a pet - this is probably one of the several days out of the year where loneliness creeps up on you. When a sense of isolation sets in, one of your fundamental needs is left unsatisfied - a need for belonging. Humans are intrinsically social beings who need connection with others to maximize their quality of life. Research shows time and time again that being socially connected is correlated to having lower levels of anxiety and depression.
It may be easy to look back at past unsuccessful friendships, intimate relationships, or familial relationships and recall what went wrong. The typical belief of most people is that these relationships were unsuccessful because of what the other person did or failed to do. Usually, these people leave relationships feeling mistreated, unappreciated, manipulated, used, criticized, etc., ultimately resulting in them feeling anxious about the future, depressed or angry about the past, or a combination of the aforementioned. What if there had been an alternative, and more empowering way to navigate these relationships? What if you had more control than you realized?
According to William Glasser’s Choice Theory, almost all of our behavior is made in order to satisfy five basic needs: survival, belonging, power, freedom, and fun. The importance of each need varies for each person. However, the most crucial need is for belonging, since our relationship with people is needed in order to satisfy the other four needs. A central focus of the theory is that we can only control our own behaviors, not the behaviors of others. Therefore, it is in our power to choose to behave in a way that gets us closer to satisfying our needs. For example, you can’t make your partner speak to you, but you can speak to your partner. Thus, the theory emphasizes the power of doing what is in your control to do.
In his book, Counseling with Choice Theory, Glasser states “We are all looking for people who love us and listen to us, people who soon become a part of our quality worlds.” Our quality world consists of all of the specific people, activities, values, and ideas that increase our quality of life by fulfilling our basic needs. He goes on to state “When we fail in the effort to connect with other people, we suffer because the need to do so is as much built into our genes as the need to survive.” Social connection is pivotal in living a satisfying life. We, however, need to make the choice to act in ways that will help us to achieve this connection.
If you’re feeling lonely, think about the behaviors you are choosing or have recently chosen that result in your isolation. Are you reaching out to friends? Are you coming straight home after work or school and binge-watching on Netflix? Are you turning to drugs or alcohol to alleviate your emotional pain? Take inventory of your actions and recognize that you might be choosing to behave in ways that hinder your ability to meet your needs. Maybe, for example, you are blaming others for their actions; Perhaps, your friends are not reaching out to you and you want to get together with them. Instead of thinking to yourself, “If they really cared, they’d reach out first!”, consider that you have chosen waiting until your friends have initiated contact - a behavior that they may or may not have also chosen - over choosing to initiate an interaction with them. You have the power to choose behaviors that would get you closer to what you want. No one but you can make the choice for yourself to be proactive about getting your needs met.
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