Hello, friends! In this episode, I take two important questions from listeners of the podcast and offer my advice for combatting loneliness, especially during the pandemic, and dealing with personal insecurities and negative self-beliefs within your relationship.
Hi Duff, I’m a 32-y-o female with diagnoses of all the mental health things (anxiety/OCD/depression/binge eating/insomnia). I used to be a binge/purger (my purge was extremely limiting calories, weighing/measuring obsessively, & sweating it out at the gym….not throwing up). Now I binge more than ever on a daily basis since the f**king pandemic became a thing back in March. My weight, self-esteem, body image, and other mental health symptoms have increased significantly because of this. In addition, I’m divorced (asshole had an affair) and am likely to lose my job bc of the f**ing pandemic. Through weekly counseling, I’ve discovered that my why, what I’m coping for, is loneliness. It’s impossible to date now, and I live alone. My question is, how am I supposed to solve the core problem (the loneliness) and then the related symptoms in the world as it is right now?? I’ve tried therapy, psychiatrist/medications, CBT, getting a dog, finding at-home hobbies, reading self-help books, etc. But I’m typical a very social person and thrive on being with people. I’m losing it….help! Thanks, you’re awesome.
Thank you for writing this and for the vulnerability. I wanted to take this question to highlight the fact that you can be doing everything “right” and still be suffering. The situation that we’ve been in f**king sucks. It sucks for many people, but if you are struggling with mental health issues and difficulties in your life like job and relationship difficulties, it is even more of an uphill battle. There’s this common saying that it is difficult to heal in the environment that’s hurting you, but in this case you don’t really have the same options to get out of the environment because that environment is basically the world. So I hear you. I know it sucks and I know it’s easy to get helpless. I want to maybe suggest a few things that you may have not tried yet and give you permission to keep holding on.
I hate to say “lower your standards” but one thing that might need to happen here is to adjust the frame and expectations. Someone in your situation that is struggling with serious mental health issues and has at least three major life areas that are breaking bad would not be expected to be doing awesome. If you are getting down on yourself for feeling like you are not functioning the way that you should or are frustrated that you are not happy right now… you shouldn’t be! That doesn’t mean that you can’t have areas in your life where you are thriving or you can’t have awesome moments of happiness, but for you it is expected that you’d be struggling right now. So it’s totally okay if you aren’t feeling 10/10 awesome. It’s okay if you’re just getting by with the bare minimum in certain areas of your life and not putting in the full effort and care that you might otherwise. You are allowed to be human.
I know that this pandemic has lasted way longer than some of us expected, but this version of it will not last forever. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but there is serious progress happening. This isn’t going to be your life forever. This isn’t what you wanted, but you are not doomed to this for eternity. You also have to recognize that you are strong as hell. You have so many things that you are working against and you have been hurt while you are hurting. But you’re here. You’re alive and you are still trying to find ways to get through it all. That’s amazing. And even though you are not feeling great right now, all of your efforts through psychology, psychiatry, hobbies, self-help etc. are not useless. You are in a better spot than you would be if you didn’t do all of those things, so keep trying.
A couple things came to mind that I did not hear in things you have tried. One activity that can sometimes be really really beneficial when you are focusing so directly on your own issues is to actually shift the focus on to other people. By this I mean trying to help others. Not just in the “put others before yourself” and be a good friend or family member type way. I mean things like volunteering. Is there anything that you might be able to do right now to make an immediate and active difference in someone else’s life? This will obviously depend on your comfort level, but there are a lot of different potential options. You could volunteer at a testing or vaccine site and actively have a hand in getting this pandemic out of here, you could volunteer at an animal shelter or other essential business that runs on volunteers, you could even take everything that you’ve learned through your own therapy and self-help and volunteer as a peer listener on a platform such as 7cups. You can just go to their website and click the volunteer as a listener button. Honestly, even though your situation feels like it hasn’t been improving, you probably have so much to offer other people given everything you’ve learned along the way. It can feel really good to help other people and it is a gratifying thing to do that doesn’t require you to feel great about yourself because it isn’t about you.
I appreciate the insight about your loneliness. I’m not sure what you’ve done to find connection, but I’d ask for you to challenge yourself on this. I am finding that a lot of us are falling into all-or-nothing territory when it comes to socializing and interpersonal interaction. We feel like well we just don’t see people anymore. That’s not a thing. While it’s true that things are different, there are a lot of different degrees of interaction that might be possible. Obviously, a lot of us have been on Zoom a ton during this period of time, but have you had any Zoom game nights? What about online gaming? If you’ve never delved into it maybe a good way to get some interaction with others and occupy your mind would be to try out some gaming.
For most areas, there are also local Facebook groups. Maybe you could post on there and see if there is anyone who would be interested in socially distanced meet-ups, walks, happy hours that sort of thing. There are also support groups. I mentioned this on the podcast recently, but a simple google search will show you that there are so many different support groups out there that are often free and peer-led that could help you connect with other people over topics that are mental health-specific or even things like common interests or hobbies.
That last thing that I will say is that we all need to be careful about judging ourselves for a dimension that is not relevant. This is an insight that came up in therapy recently. But if you are judging yourself for being unable to find success in dating and making conclusions about yourself based on things like you are unwanted, unattractive, or not interesting… that doesn’t make a lot of sense. How can you judge progress on something that is essentially a fixed value? If dating isn’t really happening, how are you going to get more down on yourself for not making more progress in that dimension? I hope that makes sense.
I’m basically just trying to say – go easy on yourself. All of this is supposed to be hard. You’re doing a really good job. I know you don’t feel well and I’m sorry that all of this is happening to you. It will not last forever. There are a few small things that you might for now. Keep holding on and doing the best that you can.
I’ll try to make this short and simple. I’ve been listening for a day and I’m on episode 13. One of the questions is about sexual addiction and it “triggered” me.I’m 22 and female. I’m struggling pretty heavily with comparing myself to other females on social media. I’ve been feeling very out of place and lost and even like I’m behind due to social media constantly evolving and expanding. With the rising popularity in only fans and tik tok, I have been having a really hard time with struggling with my worth and feeling sexy, desirable and valuable to my boyfriend.I found only fans in my boyfriends search history and freaked out. A few days later I talked to him about boundaries and what I feel like cheating is and what he feels like cheating is. That helped a ton and we don’t have any problems with that. I am having problems with telling myself over and over that he’s on social media looking at other (hotter) females. I know it’s not true and I know I can trust him. But I struggle everyday even if it doesn’t have to do with him. I have a lot more that contributes but this is the meat of what bothers me most. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
First off: damn! 13 episodes in one day? That’s too much hahaha. The podcast is good but not THAT good. This is an interesting question with some different things to unpack.
First off, I want to give you props for bringing it up and talking with your boyfriend about this. SO many people don’t have conversations about boundaries in their relationship. Instead of being open and clear about what actions are and are not okay within the bounds of the relationship, they make assumptions. That’s dangerous because you guys can be making different assumptions and then get mad at one another for not acting in accordance with the assumptions that YOU had. There is very little that is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be discussed in a relationship. Even non-monogamy is becoming more openly discussed, so simply agreeing to “go out” with someone should probably be accompanied by discussions of whether at the moment things would be considered exclusive, monogamous etc.
Talking specifically about boundaries allows you to have a guidebook for your behavior and to know whether your concerns or feelings about your partner’s behavior are justified. If you are upset and it’s because they did something that goes against the boundaries you had talked about, you have every reason to be upset about that. If you’re finding that you are emotionally upset about something that falls within those boundaries, that means it’s time to continue to the conversation and maybe even re-negotiate.
I am not a woman or femme person, so I can’t speak to the experience of being feminine on social media. But I do know that social comparison can be hard. Especially if you are already feeling insecure. We all have these core internal assumptions about ourselves. Often these are negative. Things like I’m ugly, I’m lazy, I don’t deserve anything, I am a burden etc. This plays into a thinking trap called mental filtering. We are very apt to find evidence that supports the way we already feel about ourselves. It’s a type of confirmation bias. So if you are going on social media and you are assuming that you aren’t as hot as everyone else, then you see a TikTok dance video, you aren’t going to be like, “Wow. That is a fun dance. I should try that. I bet they practiced it a lot to make it look so effortless.” You’re more likely to go, “Ugh. My butt is never going to look like that. Must be nice to have all the expensive clothes and makeup you want. This is what people want to see not some ugly troll like me.”
See what I’m saying? It could really be anything that you encounter. Your brain is likely to cherry-pick out the evidence that supports the way you already feel. Then you’re going to ignore the stuff that doesn’t support your assumptions or even the stuff that is totally irrelevant to your assumptions. Someone else looking a way that you think looks good truly has nothing to do with you. They are just another independent person out there floating around in the world. I know it’s not as simple as turning it off, but recognizing this tendency can be helpful in catching yourself when it happens. You also may want to evaluate whether you are in a good place to even be on these social media platforms.
You mentioned that you are struggling with your worth and feeling sexy. Answer this question in your head honestly for me. What do you think would happen if you spent even half the time that you are spending on social media doing something to directly work against those feelings. Taking an online dance class, learning a language or instrument, earning some extra money to buy some nice clothes or accessories, etc. Everyone has different things that make them feel confident and sexy, but being on social media (unless you’re posting and getting attention) is pretty universally not one of them. So reducing that time on social media will reduce some of the mental filtering that makes you feel as bad and then actively doing something to make you feel a little bit better in these dimensions would at least give you a better chance at feeling somewhat better and that’s well in your grasp. These don’t have to be big changes.
This is getting into perhaps a bit of moral territory, but I’d also ask for you to challenge your assumptions about your boyfriend’s behavior and what it means. An ABC thought log could be very good here – best way for me to lead you through that is by joining my email list or checking out my online course. But it sounds like your assumption is that if he is consuming porn, engaging with people’s onlyfans, or frequenting social media profiles of attractive people that he will be less interested in you. We can’t read his mind, so we can’t say for sure that that’s absolutely not the case. But it’s also not fair to assume that it is. I wonder if you turned the tables how you would feel about it. If you go and look at a hot guy’s Instagram, read a sexy scene in a novel about some unrealistically alpha dude, or even watch porn… does that diminish your feelings for your boyfriend at all? You are ALLOWED to have an objection to these things. We are all allowed to have our own sense of what is right and wrong. So if you’ve made it clear that you aren’t cool with these things and you don’t want it as part of your relationship and he agrees, then you are totally within your rights to be upset if it occurs. I just want you to challenge the assumptions about what it means about you.
There is a common pattern that happens in relationships where you are so worried about something bad happening that the relationship suffers and it actually leads to bad things happening. Kind of like when you ask someone what’s wrong so many times that they get pissed off and you’re like “See! I told you something was wrong”.
Rather than checking and checking to make sure your fears are not true, maybe you should consider another way of feeling secure in the relationship, which is to build security and closeness. Make a point to do things together that make you feel loved, supported, and cared for. Do things that allow you to have fun together and be adventurous. Try some new things that might make you feel sexy or confident. Pour the energy into improving the relationship rather than into making sure that the relationship isn’t getting worse.
And of course, you probably saw this coming, but… therapy. It sounds like this issue with your boyfriend has been a prompt for you to recognize some underlying difficulties and insecurities. Those are things that are absolutely worthy of talking through with a therapist. Aside from being able to talk about what is bothering you and have someone non-judgmental and empathetic, it can also be helpful to find a therapist that can gently challenge you on things or let you know when it seems like you are totally on base and you should be considered about something.
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