So, if you recognize my name/character, you probably know I pretty much only ever write RP stuff about my lala. I however thought I'd chime in about a specific subject that I've seen come up a lot on here recently: loneliness, and how it's hard to make friends on FFXIV (and in general). I have no doubt that it's coming up more these days because the pandemic is kind of exacerbating the feelings of isolation people might have already been struggling with.
As someone who has suffered from loneliness and isolation a great deal in their life but is doing a lot better now (thanks therapy!) I thought I'd talk a bit about the stuff I learned over the years.
Naturally, it turned into a long rambly thing. I ended up splitting it in 5 points to make my train of thought easier to follow.1. Loneliness is a feeling
There's a mountain where I live with really gorgeous woods. I like to go there with a thermos of tea to take in the sights and birdwatch. I always go alone. Most of the time, I leave with a smile on my face and tons of pictures of plants I want to identify.
That's a shining example of something we all instinctively know but sometimes need to see spelled out - there's a difference between being alone and being lonely. You can be alone and be content; many people are. You can be with people but feel lonely.
That's because the opposite of loneliness isn't togetherness, it's connexion
. People need to feel connected to others. The feeling of loneliness exists to tell you your need for connexion, however great or small, isn't being met.
The first step to feeling less lonely is to not feel bad about having that need. It's normal. It doesn't make you bad, pathetic, broken or a loser.
It's normal. You're normal.2. This is your brain on loneliness
Isolation messes with you. Maybe you've heard of parakeets who pluck out their feathers when neglected - humans sort of have something like that. There's some research
confirming that prolonged feelings of loneliness eventually affect your brain.
Indeed, people who suffer from loneliness have been shown to spend more time embroiled in negative self-talk ("I'm worthless", "I don't deserve happiness", "I'm unlovable", etc). They're also quicker to interpret the actions of others as rejection, because they're unconsciously looking for confirmation of the negative things they believe about themselves. In a classic example of vicious cycle, this leads to more isolation.
So making friends is already hard, and on top of that your brain conspires to make it harder? Boi
. Good news is, you can actually counteract lonely brain syndrome by retraining your way of thinking.
Start by giving others the benefit of the doubt. Your guildmate didn't say hi when you logged in? Instead of immediately thinking "of course, how could I ever think they liked me, I am a FOOL and I should go jump in a GEYSER", correct yourself to something like "they're probably busy crafting".
You won't believe it at first, but eventually you'll start seeing evidence of it being true. Because most of the time, it is.3. Your heart is a leaky bucket
Giving others the benefit of the doubt addresses only half the problem of lonely brain though.
Imagine a bucket. The bucket is your heart. There is water inside of the bucket. The water is happiness. Whenever a person comes by and shows that they love and appreciate you, they pour water in the bucket.
Now imagine there's a bunch of holes in the bucket. No matter how much water is poured in, it'll end up empty again eventually. I didn't come up with this analogy, but I find it perfect.
The holes in the bucket are your negative self-beliefs. When you tell yourself "I suck and I'll always be alone and I should go jump in a GEYSER", you're poking a hole (or three) in the bucket.
You've probably heard the saying "You need to love yourself before you can love others", and I find it's not quite right - it would be more accurate to say that you need to love yourself before you can allow yourself to feel loved
. When you love yourself, you patch your bucket holes and become able to hold on to the things people give you.
To start doing that, you also have to retrain your brain. Picture a sad lonely kid. Would you tell them that they're a worthless flaming pile of garbage? That they're less important than a more popular kid? I hope not, damn.
Try to do the same with yourself. Interrupt your negative self-talk and try to replace it with affirmations that are positive or at least neutral: "I'm worthy of love", "I always do my best", or at the very least "I'm aight".
I gotta say though - if, like I do, you have deeply entrenched negative self-beliefs based in trauma and childhood experiences, doing this will help, but not fix everything. Consider therapy? Tbh everyone who can afford it should imo4. The after-school specials had a point
A side-effect of learning to love yourself is confidence
. When you believe that you're a good person worthy of good things, you carry that truth out in the world where people can see it.
Loving yourself means accepting who you really are though, which can be hard, especially if you've experienced rejection or discrimination based on your identity. A side-effect of my self-loathing, for instance, is that I spent a good chunk of my adult life hiding everything I thought was objectionable about me in an attempt to bamboozle people into liking me.
Nerdy hobbies? Too uncool, I'll just get interested in whatever others like. Diplomas? Too intimidating, I'll downplay those with self-deprecating jokes about social sciences being useless. Sexual identity? Lol, I'll dress like a goddamn slice of white bread and try to pass as straight.
Now I realize those things make me who I am. Sanding off what I thought were my rough edges actually prevented me from genuinely connecting with people and made me miserable.
So yeah. It's cliche, but be yourself. Owning who you are lets you shine your unique light outside of yourself. And humans? We're a lot like moths. We go towards the light.5. Time is a kind of magic
Learning to love yourself can be one hell of a project - and you're never really done. So, while I find it's quite essential to one's happiness, it's definitely not a prerequisite to human connexion. So, how do you actually make friends?
There's another piece of research I find interesting which tells us that on average, you need to spend 200 hours
with someone to become their best friend. This study teaches us something fundamental about human connexion: building genuine relationships takes time
This is hard, because if you suffer from loneliness a lot, you probably don't feel like being patient. You're lugging around the empty bucket of your heart and you just want someone to put water in already, goddammit.
But it really can't be rushed. Bonds take time to establish. I'm personally highly suspicious of any relationship that seems to become intimate real fast. Abusers do that to reel victims in
Emotionally healthy people, on the other hand, realize that the metaphorical water they pour into others comes out of their own energy and time, so they'll reserve most of it for the people they've come to trust and care about. Many will choose not to engage with a person who seems to ask for a lot of emotional labor right out the gate.
Having to be patient can feel unfair, especially when you're hurting. And yet, the one thing that makes healthy relationships possible at all is that people are free to engage in them or not. Of course, you can be angry or sad if someone leaves you or rejects you! But they still have the right to choose, always. And so do you.
So then, that leaves us with two things to work on: self-love, and meeting new people. It's hard and you may not be in a position to do it right now, but if you can, that's where it all starts. Find an interest you have that can put you in relation with other people - in-game or IRL (for me, it's DnD). Try to spend time with the folks you like. Focus on enjoying yourself, respecting everyone's boundaries (including your own) and be patient.
You'll get there.
Till then, know that I'm over here patching my own bucket, and rooting for you.