Human beings are very much social beings. In many ways our lives are defined by our roles and relationships with others and what we share toward one another. Relationships that are healthy help exercise our hearts and our minds and help our energy flow. When we lack connection with others then that energy flow becomes stagnant and the flow of life force in the related areas of the body diminishes. Consequently, there are empirically documented correlations between loneliness and health challenges such as heart disease and dementia. Being lonely is just as much a risk for declining health and early death as factors like smoking and poor diet. Loneliness is strongly associated with depression and substance abuse. In the field of addiction recovery it has been discussed how meaning and connection in our lives are the antidote for addiction. When people lack connection with other human beings or with something that brings a sense of meaning to their lives (caring for animals or nature can provide a form of meaningful connection) then it is common for people to form unhealthy connections with addictive substances or habits.
As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Jed Shlackman, M.S. Ed., LMHC. Jed is an acclaimed counselor, hypnotherapist, author, and spiritual energy healer with over two decades of experience guiding clients on their journeys of personal healing and transformation. Jed, a South Florida native and graduate of the University of Miami, is a Reiki Master and sound healing teacher whose workshops and healing sessions help participants enhance their self-love and self-confidence and inspire a deeper connection with their soul’s vision. Jed brings together timeless wisdom and intuitive inspiration to foster healing and transformation.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
In essence, my life as a whole led me toward my career path. As a child growing up I was multi-talented and intellectually gifted, while I also encountered a significant health challenge and disharmony in my family’s dynamics. I had a desire to understand human psychology and consciousness as well as a growing inclination to do something that would make the world better in some way. In college I ended up choosing psychology as an undergraduate major, as I found developmental psychology to pique my interest. I felt compelled at that point to pursue a career in psychology as a clinician to help children. As I completed graduate school I went through a process of personal growth and interactions with peers that led me to start exploring the spiritual realm of our existence, something that I had not faced directly as a child coming from a family that was non-religious and not engaged in any spiritual tradition or practices. As I explored this realm and the healing resources that relate to spiritual dimensions I discovered that I was a naturally gifted spiritual energy healer and that I also have a calming presence that helps with guiding people in hypnosis and meditation processes. I found these types of holistic modalities to be very helpful for myself as well as many people I worked with. I also recognized that I would have to step forward and pursue a less conventional and less “safe” path in my career since the healing approaches I was integrating into my life and healing philosophy were not well accepted or embraced in job environments I had been working in early in my career.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There are many interesting stories that have arisen in my career, it is hard to compare them to one another and I consider every person’s life to be unique and of interest. One story that readers might find intriguing is a case I had where a mother brought her child to me to seek confirmation and validation and perhaps some resolution into his past life memories and past life identity. At the time I encountered this family the child was about 5 years old and had for a couple of years displayed vivid, detailed memories of being a famous entertainer whose life and death were marked by much controversy. The celebrity’s death had occurred about a year before this child was born. I guided the mother in a past-life regression that brought some insight into the past life connection and the issues exhibited by the child. Just a couple years after I met this child the child had already begun a career in the entertainment industry, with an acting role that had a synchronistic connection with the past life personality.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
It’s hard to say objectively whether a mistake is humorous, though I think it is helpful to be able to laugh about our past misjudgments and regrettable actions. One experience that comes to mind is when I was doing in-home therapy for children. I was providing therapy at the home of one particular child who lived with his mother in a trailer park and the mother was a chain smoker. Initially she had been receptive to me coming for sessions to provide therapy for her son. I am sensitive to cigarette smoke and mentioned something about this at a certain point to the mother in a way that I thought was benign. Subsequently, I came to the home for a scheduled session and apparently no one was home and no one answered, while the mother later falsely told staff at the referring school that I had failed to show for an appointment. The staff informed me that there had been a history of the mother sabotaging efforts at therapy. I learned from this that some people have severe issues that make it hard for them to work with people or accept or trust help, and one can inadvertently trigger those reactions and upset the tenuous connection that has been formed. Also, different people respond to things in different ways, and we may have limited knowledge of the other person and how they may perceive or respond to something. It’s really impossible to be “perfect” in human social interactions and we always have limited awareness of ourselves and others. I have also learned to shift my perspective over time about the concept of a “mistake.” Whatever occurs is the experience we were ready to co-create at that time based upon our state of awareness or consciousness at that time. Thus, in that context it is a learning experience, not a mistake.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am currently working on a book about sound healing and sound vibration as a therapeutic tool for mental and physical health. I believe that sound is a very practical and powerful healing resource and that we have only begun to tap into its potential. I am certain that many people will benefit from access to sound healing as part of their healing journey.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
As a counselor and healer I have worked with a wide variety of people, many of whom are sharing their deepest concerns and fears, opening up about core issues and challenges in their lives. Loneliness and a lack of feeling connected are very common themes. Hearing each person’s story and personal journey I see how complex this issue is and how there are both individual and collective social factors that fuel the experience of loneliness. In my healing work I help people release barriers to connection, whether it is in their relationships with oneself, with others, with their spiritual source (“soul”) or with nature and the cosmos.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
Certainly. Human beings are very much social beings. In many ways our lives are defined by our roles and relationships with others and what we share toward one another. Relationships that are healthy help exercise our hearts and our minds and help our energy flow. When we lack connection with others then that energy flow becomes stagnant and the flow of life force in the related areas of the body diminishes. Consequently, there are empirically documented correlations between loneliness and health challenges such as heart disease and dementia. Being lonely is just as much a risk for declining health and early death as factors like smoking and poor diet. Loneliness is strongly associated with depression and substance abuse. In the field of addiction recovery it has been discussed how meaning and connection in our lives are the antidote for addiction. When people lack connection with other human beings or with something that brings a sense of meaning to their lives (caring for animals or nature can provide a form of meaningful connection) then it is common for people to form unhealthy connections with addictive substances or habits.
Another risk that comes with loneliness and isolation is that when we are starting to exhibit significant signs of impairment in our mental or physical health there may not be anyone around to help bring awareness of what is occurring or to provide support and resources to help someone recover. It’s not too unusual to hear stories of a person who lives alone and passes away without anyone discovering the person’s death for days, weeks, or even months.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
Loneliness can be seen as a reflection of disharmony, disaffection, and dysfunction in society. If a person feels isolated and disconnected they are less likely to contribute to society in a healthy and productive way and more likely to be a burden or disruption to society. When we hear stories of individuals who act out violently toward society a common theme is that the person has been socially isolated or feels in some way rejected or disconnected from the society. Certainly the health implications of loneliness suggest that people experiencing loneliness will be more likely to suffer from and need treatment for physical and mental illnesses. This also means that these individuals may not be able to share their positive potentials and talents with society. People may have great things to contribute to the world, whether it is through one’s intellect, creativity, compassion, or innovation, but those possibilities are stunted or inhibited by those individuals being disconnected from opportunities to express their potential.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
One reason is an apparent increase in the rate of change and decrease in stability in society. Building connections doesn’t usually occur instantly. Stable families, stable jobs, and stable communities help allow for strong connections to flourish. I have often encountered people who immigrated to America from another country and left behind family and/or friends in their homeland. Feeling lonely in the new country is common. Once people are separated from whatever brought them a feeling of connection and belonging they may need time and support to help build new social bonds.
The nuclear family model and extended families of many cultures help support a sense of connection and belonging. Currently marriages and long term commitment are not as prominent as they once were in American society, and with other social and economic stresses also present family circumstances are often in flux. Technology has also fueled great change in the job market and employment. People often have to change careers or move to another city and companies and employees may lack strong bonds and loyalty.
Another factor is the decline of the role of traditional religion in our society. Social connections are often built in the groups we belong to, so if people are exploring their spirituality more independently, beyond the confines of a religious organization or spiritual community, then they may not be finding human connection in that vital aspect of life. While there is the possibility to form many online connections those are often not as intimate or reliable as the connections people have with in-person social interaction. I have encountered a number of people who have either felt disconnected from humanity throughout their lives or who begin to feel that way after a major spiritual shift or awakening in their lives. They may feel like they are on a different wavelength and don’t relate well to what they perceive as materialistic preoccupations or superficial concerns and gossiping that they perceive in their community. Even people who appear to have plenty of social connections often report experiencing a loneliness or feeling of disconnection that is present on an emotional or spiritual level. In that context, one reason people may feel lonely is that they haven’t found a way to relate adequately to people whose consciousness or view of life is a lot different than their own or they may be failing to find the deeper connections they desire. If more people are having expressions or experiences of human potential that exist beyond the norms of their culture or community then a sense of isolation can occur in their lives.
Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.
One thing we can do is be more present, open, and flexible as we interact with a variety of people in our community. We are often in such a rush we don’t see and acknowledge other people and their value. Something as simple as saying something kind and friendly to people we may meet or pass by as we go through our daily routine can make a difference in helping people feel more valued and connected. As a counselor I have had some clients tell me years later how a single thing I said was something they carried with them and led to a meaningful shift in their life.
We can create social institutions that encourage more connection and constructive communication. If you don’t see your “tribe” out in the community you could choose to start a gathering yourself to help form the tribe — you may find that there are other isolated people just like you who are also seeking a meaningful connection or social support system. We have the challenge of recreating the sense of community in our modern age since most of us aren’t living in very small towns or isolated tribes where everyone knows each other and everyone is expected to value one another as vital members of the community. Community was once based more on physical or geographical location, while it has shifted more now toward online groups and meetings of people with like minds or shared spiritual values and interests. I myself and peers of mine have used online resources such as Meetup.com to help organize gatherings and connection for people with shared interests in spirituality and the holistic healing arts.
We can consider our own prejudices and limiting beliefs that have fueled disconnection.
The outer world is a reflection of the inner world, so healing society begins with healing our self. We each tend to have aspects of our own psyche that are isolated from and not integrated with one another. Healing our own subconscious wounds and insecurities will have a ripple effect in how we interact with other people and contribute to the society around us. Various mind-body and spiritual healing practices can help with this process of inner transformation and integration.
We can seek to have a better understanding of other people and their perspectives, of what they find as sources of meaning and connection in their lives. People won’t all have their feeling of loneliness addressed in the same way, so we can be flexible in finding solutions to help people feel connected. One person may find connection through a job, another through being a parent, mentor, or foster parent, another via a community organization or club, another will find connection through sharing artistic content, and another will find connection with animals or plants.
We can also find global solutions for decreasing discord and fostering more stability in society. Corruption and conflict in the world have generated much personal and collective trauma and left many people over-protective and unnecessarily divided. Embracing common values while accepting differences can help people live together more cooperatively and compassionately. We can join together with groups or organizations that promote greater inclusion and human connection and public policies that would foster those ideals. Our social systems and public institutions can be reformed to address the full range of human needs rather than too often serving unhealthy power imbalances and greed. Since most of us play some role within those systems we can each be more conscious of our part and voice our input on how things can be transformed to help promote societal health and wholeness. It can start with something as simple as speaking up in your own workplace about creating a more cooperative and less conflictual atmosphere among the staff.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe a movement to promote the concept of spiritual interconnectedness would make a great difference in society. It’s not really a new idea, although it seems that past movements with that original idea have been distorted or diverted. If we could see ourselves as spiritual beings that are all different expressions of the same spiritual essence and that we are all interconnected to each other and all sparks of the same Infinite Being then we might just have more compassion for one another and for ourselves.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
This is maybe the most difficult question for me to answer of all the ones that have been asked so far! There are many people who are prominent in the media and entertainment sphere or influential in the business world who I might have interesting conversations with, though I can only select names that draw my interest based upon the existing public profile or bio of those individuals. Perhaps since one of my passions is music I might wish to have a private sit down with a popular musical performer, someone like Bono or Sting, Jewel or Madonna, as these musicians have crafted songs that have brought inspiration to numerous fans while they have also exhibited interest in spirituality and social concerns.
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Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!