Last Saturday afternoon Ripon celebrated St Wilfrid’s Parade. The market square was positively buzzing with the people of Ripon who had all come to clap, cheer, dance and sing along as the City Band, Morris Dancers and floats which made their way through the city.
Living in a place with such a strong sense of community spirit makes me feel as though I belong. I get the warm and fuzzy feeling of being accepted and being a part of something greater than myself. It made me think however about those people who don’t have these feelings. Of people who feel disconnected, isolated and lonely.
In July 2019, “Campaign for Loneliness” published a paper showing how loneliness can impact a person. The below list is by no means exhaustive and it’s clear just how detrimental loneliness and a lack of social networks can be.
- Increases the likelihood of mortality by 26% (Holy-Lunstad, 2015)
- Has a similar impact on mortality as smoking cigarettes (Holy-Lunstad, 2015)
- Increases the risk of high blood pressure, strokes and coronary heart disease (Valtora et al, 2016) (Hawkley et al, 2010)
- Places people at increased risk of cognitive decline (James et al, 2010)
- Increases the likelihood of depression (Cacoppo et al, 2006) (Green at al, 1992)
- A contributing factor to suicide
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a useful framework when trying to understand why loneliness could have such a massive impact. Arising from the motivation theory of behaviour, it states that as human beings we strive to achieve happiness by ensuring our physical, psychological and growth needs are met. Maslow’s model from 1943 shows a sequential movement through the layers although some critics suggest that once our basic physiological needs are met, people may not always follow the same pattern. However, I believe it can be a useful framework to help people understand why they are feeling stuck, unfulfilled and/or generally unhappy.
Our physiological needs are the fundamental things we all need to survive and are pretty self explanatory.
Safety and security
Once our physiological needs are met, we then look to fulfil out safety and security needs. We all want to feel in control of our lives and as such, strive to ensure we are safe from harm, have good physical and mental health, have a stable job, live in a safe community and achieve financial security.
Love and Belonging
After our physiological and psychological needs are met, we move into our social needs which include love, acceptance and feeling like we belong. These needs motivate our behaviour and we seek out relationships (platonic and romantic), contact with our family, being a part of groups and being active in our local community.
The next level of needs relates to self esteem and more specifically, appreciation and respect. It is our own sense of achievement and as well as the recognition and respect we gain from others. Underpinning our self esteem and sense of self worth is our need to be involved in opportunities where we feel we have contributed and have been valued by others by doing so. Achieving things in our academic, professional and social lives is so vitally important at this level.
At the top of the pyramid is the need for self actualisation. This is the desire we all have to become everything we are capable of becoming; to realise our full potential, capacities, and talents. This need can be addressed only when the previous levels have been satisﬁed. Self actualisation is more an aspiration then a destination, where people will attempt to strip back the layers imposed upon them in order to discover who they really are.
Coming back to the start of this blog where I was talking about the detrimental impact loneliness has on a person; it makes sense when you consider it within the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Feeling you are not getting your love and belonging needs met means you could be feeling anxious, depressed, hopeless, have a low sense of self worth, feel rejected and unlovable. Since Maslow believed you had to fulfil one level of needs before progressing to the next, these feelings may then be added to by the self esteem not having been met too. So on top of feeling unloved and disconnected from others, a person might also feel they have no sense of worth, lost their sense of identity, feel little respect for themselves and believe they have nothing to contribute to society. What a sad, sad situation to find yourself in.
Life happens and unfortunately we may find ourselves in a situation which seeks to threaten our sense of love and belonging. Maybe you have experienced bereavement, ended a relationship or moved to a new area where you are struggling to find friends and links into your community. Maybe you have recently become a Mum and have lost your sense of identity, completely disconnected from the life you once had. Maybe your partner is away, you have lost your job, or ill health is preventing you from doing the things you used to enjoy.
It is easy to feel you don’t have control over your life anymore but there are things you can do. Firstly, do not ignore your physiological needs and look after yourself. Ensure you are:
- Eating a good diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Drinking enough water
- Keeping alcohol and caffeine to a minimum
- Getting out and exercising
Secondly make an action plan to address how you can work to ensure your love and belonging needs are met:
- Call a good friend for a chat
- Arrange to go and visit your family or friends
- Join a club/group
- Join a community group on facebook It will help you keep up to date on where and when local events are taking place
- Sign up for a course
- Help someone out. It is not only a helpful thing to do but it makes you feel good as well.
If you can identify with any of the themes I have touched upon and would like some support, please do not hesitate to contact me via my website www.gemmaantcliffe-counselling.co.uk, email email@example.com or call on 07432 835468.