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Relationships and why we need them (yes, even us introverts)

Dec 27, 2018 | course content

Last week, I watched my friend’s daughter while she attended the funeral of a dear friend.  She was only 51 and had fought off breast cancer long enough to see both of her children finish high school.  There were over 500 people in attendance at her funeral, a number I keep coming back to. Not because it’s a big number, like the amount of friends you have on Facebook , but because she had a PERSONAL connection to that many people.  

Today, we are socially isolated and lonely.  We’re busy. We live far away from our families.  We let labels like “introvert” get in the way. We use social media to lull us into a false comfort of superficial social interactions, but when it comes to needing a friend to check whether or not you left the stove on, to help you move, or to grieve at your funeral, we fall short.  

Because we’re hardwired to be part of a community and this simply isn’t happening for most of us, social Isolation and loneliness have become a public health problem.  It’s been associated with depression, Alzheimer’s, chronic disease and even decreased longevity.

“Having close relationships, in fact, increases your life span at a rate equal to that of quitting smoking.”¹

Socializing with friends is an important part of life in Blue Zones (areas of the world where people live longer than the average). In these Blue Zone hotspots, Okinawans have moais, groups of people who travel through life together.  Sardinians meet in the square after lunch to chat, play cards and socialize. Adventists do potuck. The great news for introverts is that you don’t have to be a social butterfly who is out 5 nights a week at book club, dancing with friends, or attending charity dinners to reap the rewards of social connections.  Having a few close friends who you can confide in, volunteering or helping others, and being part of a weekly group, that you love, will work just as well.

Despite what social media may have led us to believe, relationships are not a numbers game. It’s not about how many friends you have or how many nights you go out.  It’s about what you bring to the relationship. Are you conscientious, caring and unselfish with your relationships? And, finally, it’s important to note that loneliness and social isolation are not one and the same. One can be socially isolated but not lonely and one can be surrounded by people and very lonely. Social fulfillment is a subjective experience. According to this article in the NY Times it appears while social isolation shows a negative impact on health, the perceived lack of interaction impacts one’s mental health.  

My friend’s funeral made me really think about my life. There’s a part of me that is in awe at the sheer number of friends who came out to mourn. But there’s always been a part of me who clings to the “introvert” label, proclaiming “I don’t need anyone, I’m fine by myself”. But as I get older, the loneliness and isolation have started to seep in. It’s not the studies that tell me I need to go outside my comfort zone and create real, live, human relationships, it’s my soul that is yearning for quality relationships that will last a lifetime.

 

Julie Ralston

Primal. health Coach