The news these days includes more and more information on the negative effects of isolation. A few days ago I received an email from my health insurance company with five (5) links to articles and organizations I can connect with. Their message focused on the importance of connection. Educators and parents, as well as child psychologists, point to the isolation of children from their school friends and activities during the global pandemic as having a detrimental effect on learning and social skills. Loneliness and its related conditions, isolation and disconnection, are considered to be a major contributor to the increase in violence including hate crimes in the United States. It may have been identified as a root cause in other countries. I’ve not verified that.
When family and neighbors are interviewed after a mass shooting or the identity of a serial killer, a common descriptor is loner. And for the record, loner is not the same as introvert.
How could knowing the concepts of Choice Theory and the practices of Reality Therapy and Lead Management help with this challenge?
My bio’s heading is “From Nursery to Nursing Home” and that does sum up the age span I’ve worked with in 50+ years in social services. I’ve worked in a variety of settings including child welfare, domestic and international adoption as well as youth aging out of foster care, veterans with post traumatic brain syndrome to name a few.
The people who were most isolated had the most issues. My first goal was to attain and maintain a positive connection with them. My second goal was to assist them in reconnecting with estranged family and or make new friends. Another goal was to help them define what it was they wanted in these relationships, what behaviors they would see in the other person/people that would show them it was safe to be involved with them.
What if we could ensure everyone was connected to at least one caring, supportive person?
I’ve heard interviews with successful people who overcame what seemed to be impossible barriers. In virtually all of them, they talk about a parent or teacher or coach or someone in their life who believed in them when their belief in themselves faltered.
I became more successful in my endeavors in the late 1970’s when I began my formal training in Dr. William Glasser’s concepts. At that point in time the focus was on Reality Therapy™. During the 1980’s Dr. Glasser created Choice Theory™ an explanation of how and why we behave. In other words why we choose to do whatever it is we’re doing.
There was an original blue chart with the Steps, a guide to the process of counseling/problem solving Dr. Glasser called Reality Therapy. Key steps for me were
#1 – Make Friends
#2 – Find out what that person wants and
#8 – Don’t Accept Excuses
#9 – Never Give Up
Why do I include #8? Because in Dr. Glasser’s definition of “Don’t accept excuses” he also said “Don’t interfere with natural consequences”. And over the years I found #8 a toehold in teaching self-evaluation and personal responsibility as well as creativity.
My plan didn’t work? Instead of offering excuses, assess what happened. Where was the weak link? What needs to change so the revised plan will work? And in some cases, the plan needs to be dropped and a new one brought forth because sometimes what we want comes to us in a form or way we didn’t initially think about.
You can learn more about these concepts by taking classes offered through GIFCT-US, reading books by Dr. Glasser and William Glasser International faculty and reading this post for a basic primer. I also have a handout on Plan Making available for download on my website
What can you do?
Notice that the question is a positive one. What can you do? Not what can you stop doing.
First: assess your relationships with family, friends, colleagues, co-workers and as important, yourself. You may find making a grid or list with their names on the left of a page and the traits you want in the people you want to be closer to across the top of the page. I suggest you use either a 1 – 5 or a 1 – 10 scale.
Second: As you look at the names on the left side of the page, scan across noting on the same line that person’s name is on, what number you’d assign to that trait. An example:
Loyal Trustworthy Fun to be With
Julie Ann 9+ 10 7
You can see here that I see Julie as more loyal and trustworthy than fun to be with.
Third: Pick a name of someone on your list whose relationship you’d like to improve.
Four: Assess your interactions using this scale
How often do I
Reward to Control
It’s important to know where you are at present when you make a plan to do things differently.
Five: Keeping that same person in mind consider creating a plan where you will increase the following interactions with this person
Listening to understand
Negotiating differences (this can be as simple as agreeing to disagree or it may become a compromise).
Six: Make a plan. Deliberately look for ways to engage your person with the above seven actions.
On my list is my ex-neighbor. She moved across town so instead of seeing her almost every day, I see her once a month or so. I know she is going through a rough patch. Not that my relationship with her had those green choices but I’m not always engaging with her with the blue choices. So my plan could be to
+ Purposefully schedule time to call her once a week or so and texting her every 2 – 3 days.
+ Listen to her talk about her challenges, not to “fix it” for her, more to understand why this event is a challenge to her.
+ Accept that it is troubling to her even if I don’t think it would be a problem for me.
+ Encourage her to take care of herself during this stressful time.
If I have the answer, why would I not solve her problem?
Because it is your answer to the problem, not her answer. Of course we know our answer is the right one and perhaps it is. However, it is important for each of us to come to that decision on our own.
It may seem counter-intuitive to Not solve the problem. After all we’d be showing support. However, if she does not contribute and own the plan, she will not own its success.
When we use the above process and support her in finding and claiming her solution, she not only has a connection with us but also a stronger connection within herself.
But what if she asks me “What would you do?”
What we teach in our workshops and trainings is to share, preferably, three options.
+ I’ve heard that doing exercise when upset helps
+ I’ve also heard that doing something fun to take your mind off your problem can help
+ Other people who’ve had a similar issue have sought counseling
What’s important is that we give the person, if possible, three options and then ask which one seems to be the best fit for them.
Our friend isn’t alone when we engaged them in problem solving. Neither is our friend alone when we support them in finding their solution. And sometimes it is enough for our friend to know there are other people in the world struggling with the same issues they are. Perhaps there is no face-to-face contact and yet knowing others are dealing with the same challenges is enough.
One last thought.
I know I’m not alone when I share with you that we can be in a group of people and still feel alone. Being with people is not the same as being connected to them. What makes the connection? For me it is a shared view. It may be something as simple as we all love ice cream. Perhaps it’s a shared spiritual practice or belief. I can report that it isn’t always “blood relatives”. I’ve close friendships with some relatives but not all. I do have friends with whom I’m closer than anyone else.
And although I said One last thought, here’s one more. Not everyone is the same. Some people thrived during the global pandemic. Working from home was awesome. Children before, during and since have attended virtual/online classes with no trauma.
Why is that? The answer to that question lies within each of us. You may find being involved with the Glasser Institute for Choice Theory will aid you in finding your answer.
*Harry Nilsson wrote the lyrics and Three Dog Night recorded One Is The Loneliest Number in 1969. It reached the Billboard chart in the United States at #5 and made it to #4 in Canada.
Judith attended her first Basic Training in August 1978. She was certified in Reality Therapy in August 1979 and became an Intensive Week Trainer and Practicum Supervisor in 1981. In 1991, Judith was approved as Senior Faculty by Dr. William Glasser. She has taught all phases of the Certification Program and presented workshops at Conferences in the United States and Internationally. Currently Judith is the Northwest Region’s representative on the GIFCT Board as well as president of the NW Region.