Loneliness and isolation are miserable places to live. For too many adolescents, this is their reality. Being alone and feeling lonely can become all-consuming, turning into a self-centric worldview of pity and sorrow. Helping teens flip the social switch in their lives from this dark place to a place where they have real-life friends can be a very difficult task, but well worth the work.
Flipping the Switch From Isolation to Interaction
Teens can experience loneliness even when surrounded by friends, peers, and family. When they feel lonely, they are more likely to want to isolate or be alone. Ultimately, they will often act out or create isolation if they have feelings of unworthiness, shame, fear, loneliness, or other reasons to want to be alone. On the other hand, some teens simply lack the social skills to build friendships or other relationships.
Flipping that switch, helping them to understand that they are worthy of interaction with other human beings, can require the skills of a really good therapist. Adolescents are excellent at being self-centric, and in a world of isolation and loneliness, they can convince themselves that this reality is the only reality they deserve. Your job is to convince them otherwise.
Creating an External Awareness From a Lonely Perspective
Part of flipping the switch involves creating an external awareness. Teens need to realize that there are other people in the world and see how their lives affect other people around them, even if unintentionally. Demonstrating the cause and effect that their words and actions have on others can help them see the similarities in themselves and others and, ideally, not be lonely anymore.
Along with an external awareness of others, developing an improved self-awareness and fostering a renewed sense of self-esteem will help to be able to flip the switch. Belief in self allows for increased awareness of and acceptance of others. As this awareness grows, self-pity decreases.
Fostering a Sense of Empathy in Teens With Addiction
Perhaps the most difficult part of flipping the switch is fostering a sense of empathy in adolescents with addiction. Substance abuse is linked with a deficit in empathy. Most teens do not understand their own emotions and feelings, much less what others are feeling. Pulling them outside of themselves to acknowledge others is difficult enough, but creating a sense of empathy can seem nearly impossible.
Ironically, being in treatment for addiction and mental health disorders can be helpful, as group therapy can cause teens to become aware of the feelings and perspectives of other people besides themselves. As they are exposed more to group situations where they feel safe and accepted, they can slowly develop a realization that they are not alone in their loneliness and suffering and that others may have different experiences and perspectives than them. These are key to learning empathy for others.
Teaching Social Skills to Teens in Recovery
Once they are out of their downward spiral of self-pity and are learning to develop some empathy, teaching them some basic social skills will help them be prepared to find and keep lasting friendships with others. This process can be fairly quick once self-esteem is rebuilt, or it can take some time, depending on the unique individual.
Modeling good social skills and even role-playing in therapy can help them to practice their new skills. They can also practice their social skills in group therapy as available. You might even consider giving them specific assignments according to their unique situations. Assignments could involve practicing social situations with family members or making it a point to say hello to one new person each day. With practice, their confidence will grow, and finding friends will be a natural consequence of that confidence.
Helping Teens Find and Develop Friends in Real Life
Finding friends is not always difficult, but finding good friends can be more difficult. For someone who has been isolated or feels lacking in social skills, this can make finding good friends even more challenging. However, with the support of a therapist and continued hard work, adolescents can find others who share common interests and perhaps even pastimes.
Having an open mind and being willing to put themselves out there, risking rejection, teens can find success with real-life friends. It may take patience and hard work, but when their heart is truly ready for a good friend, the only thing stopping them from becoming friends is your client themself. Everyone deserves to have a friend to confide in and provide mutual support for one another.
Flipping the social switch from isolation and loneliness to real-life friends can be particularly challenging for teens recovering from addiction or mental health disorders. Helping them to become more aware and empathetic of others while learning social skills can change their lives from darkness to light, and they will be able to find and keep friends. At Sustain Recovery in Irvine, California, our extended residential treatment program for adolescents with substance use and mental health disorders strives to bring teens out of isolation and loneliness and into recovery. We understand that addiction is usually the manifestation of their problems, not the problem itself, and we work with teens to find the root cause of their addiction. Our program offers the structure they need along with the compassion they deserve. Contact Sustain today at (949) 407-9052 to find out if our program is right for your client.