Wright Foundation | August 16, 2016

Feeling Alone and Isolated?
How to Stop Holding Back
& Really Connect

Do you ever feel like you just aren’t clicking with those around you? Maybe you’re even feeling alone and isolated when you’re with your spouse, your friends or your coworkers.

Perhaps you were once close, but you’ve started drifting apart. Or maybe the culture of these relationships seems as foreign to you as if you were a stranger in a strange land.

I was recently meeting with my client, Arri*. He described how he felt like he was always going through the motions, but never really connecting with anyone. This guy was the head of his department and a leader in his office. He was married for fifteen years, with two kids and a beautiful wife. He seemed to have a big social circle—and even if you met him on the street, you’d probably describe him as well liked, even popular.

Yet, he sat in my office and said, “I’m feeling alone and isolated. I feel like everyone’s having a party and I’m not invited. I just don’t feel like I click with anyone anymore.”

As we talked, he told me about how there were, in fact, several things bothering him in his relationships. His kids were teenagers (who are by nature sometimes difficult to “click” with). He no longer felt like they needed him and they just weren’t close anymore.

There were some things bothering him about his wife, too. He felt like she was often critical and distant. Not mean, necessarily, but he felt like she thought he was bothering her “all the time.” They weren’t as passionate as they once were. While he had always been a great provider for his family, his wife had recently changed her career and was now the program director of a foundation. She was making nearly as much as he was, and their relationship had shifted.

At work, he reported similar situations. He was doing well, but he didn’t really have anywhere to move up. He was feeling alone and isolated in his managerial role because he had to keep a healthy distance between himself and those under his supervision. Yet he didn’t feel like he was in the inner-circle with the CEO and CFO of his company.

He felt he just wasn’t connecting with anyone anymore. So, I asked him if he’d brought any of this up with his family or his coworkers. Had he tried not holding back and getting his feelings out in the open?

Arri’s response? “No, of course not. It’s just me. It’s all in my head. I don’t really like confrontation and I feel like it would make things worse.”

So instead he suffered in silence.

Feeling Alone and Isolated Due to Bottled Up Emotions

Don’t all of us feel this way at some point? Things bother us and get under our skin, but we don’t want to rock the boat or seem like the squeaky wheel, so we just swallow it. We avoid conflict at work and at home. Our significant other makes a comment that rubs us the wrong way, and instead of saying something, it’s just easier to try to let it go. A coworker brushes us off or takes credit for our idea, and instead of advocating for ourselves, we feel like it will just make things worse.

but do we really let it go?

Silently, we feel like we’re imploding inside. It often starts with the little things. We don’t get invited to lunch with a group of coworkers or our spouse makes a hurtful comment off-hand. We seethe about it and get quiet. Someone asks what’s bothering us and we say, “Nothing. I’m fine.” But really, we’re becoming more frustrated. We’re feeling alone and isolated, and like more and more of an outsider. We think by saying nothing we’re taking the upper hand, but really we’re just holding it in.

In my experience, clients often find they’re giving their spouse what I call the “silent middle finger” without even realizing it. They’re ignoring them or acting cold. Rather than addressing problems and embracing conflict, it becomes a standoff. Both parties pretend like nothing’s bothering them, as they toss little insults and cutting remarks toward each other and bottle up their emotions.

Engaging in Conflict & Speaking Up

It’s time to end the standoff!

Instead of holding those emotions and feelings inside, adding to the feeling of distance, it’s time to recognize that we need to engage! We need to embrace conflict and speak up if something’s bothering us!

When you’ve suffered in silence for a while, it’s no easy task. But chances are, if you think you’re hiding your frustrations from the world, you’re really putting up a wall between you and those around you—not just to keep your emotions in, but to keep other people out.

Part of working on your social and emotional intelligence is learning how to embrace conflict and use it as a tool to move yourself forward, not simply toward resolution, but toward evolution. There are rules of engagement, as we discuss in our book, The Heart of the Fight. These rules help couples fight fairly and constructively. They can be applied to relationships across the board—from home to work, from your spouse to your children.

When you’ve been holding in your frustrations for a long time, it can be hard to express your emotions. It can even be scary. You might have a belief that no one will listen to you or people will think you’re a jerk. In reality, when you’re being open and honest, even in confrontation and conflict, those around you will also rise to the occasion. If you’re fighting FOR the relationship rather than against it and expressing your feelings while taking responsibility for them, you can actually use conflict to strengthen and reinforce your relationships and connections.

In Arri’s case, he started to find his voice. He learned to say, “You know what? This bothers me.” Once he started speaking up, he found he was feeling more alive, more engaged and more visible. He reported he started to feel like he mattered to others, and that his feelings and opinions mattered because he mattered to himself.

As he began to reengage, he noticed he became MORE connected and closer to those around him—his wife, his coworkers and even his teenagers. Rather than living life from the passenger seat, he took the wheel and saw good results. He was amazed to find out no one thought he was a “jerk” when he spoke up. Instead, they worked to acknowledge his feelings and find resolution. His relationships were strengthened.

If you’re feeling alone and isolated in your relationships, or if you feel like things are bothering you and you’re not speaking up, it’s time to embrace the conflict and get back in the game!

*names have been changed.

Join us for our upcoming More Life Training where we’ll examine ways to clear the air, strengthen our relationships, and keep living life to the fullest.

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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.