Our society is very individualistic in nature, we don’t live in communities anymore. Our communities have been reduced to nuclear families, roommates, close friends (like 3), and romantic partners. It is ingrained into us from a young age that we need to grow to be self-sufficient and not depend on others. What attachment theory teaches us is that we do better when we depend on one another. Depending on others fosters a sense of safety that makes me more likely to exit my comfort zone and take risks. Deep down I know that if I fail, I have someone to help me get back on my feet. If I do well, I have someone rooting for me. Relationships require interdependence. I recognize our strengths and weaknesses, and we support each other accordingly. For example, Lisa and Amy are college roommates and are both majoring in Psychology. Amy has an innate ability for math, she just loves numbers. Lisa is great at writing and her papers just naturally flow. They can both help each other thrive. Lisa can proofread Amy’s papers and Amy can help Lisa study for statistics. Lisa is not writing the papers for Amy and Amy is not helping Lisa cheat, that’s not healthy. What they are doing is using each other’s individual strengths to strengthen the other person.
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 interviewGenesis Games, Licensed Mental Health Counselor.
Genesis is a bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the state of Florida and provides therapy at South Miami Psychology Group. Genesis is passionate about helping people create and sustain healthy relationships. She believes that we thrive when we are in healthy and fulfilling relationships. Genesis works with college students and young adults to help them improve their relationships with themselves, friends, family members, and significant others through individual, couples, and family sessions. She also strives to be an influencer with the purpose of breaking down the stigma associated with therapy and spreading the science behind healthy relationships. Genesis can be found on Instagram as @themiamitherapist where she focuses on providing information and initiating discussions about breakups, dating, long-term relationships, addictions, and mental health. She has also written articles for Medium and had been featured in PsychCentral. Genesis has been a guest speaker for several podcasts including The Beyond Resilience Life, The Barbershop Group, and Latinx Therapy discussing relationships and addictions.
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?
Therapy transformed my life, as a child, I had a terrible phobia of dogs. It didn’t matter the size or breed, if I saw a dog I ran as fast as my long skinny legs would allow me towards the opposite direction. I wouldn’t take walks around the neighborhood or visit friends that owned dogs. It was embarrassing and limiting. I knew my fear was irrational, yet when I heard the dog bark, all the logic when out the window. The summer before 10th grade, I asked my mom to take me to see a therapist because this was something I need to overcome and I couldn’t do it alone. That therapist changed my life! She was patient and compassionate. She helped me do the unimaginable and overcome my fear of dogs. This was more than just being able to walk around my neighborhood and pet my friend’s dogs. It was a huge boost of self-confidence and empowerment and it also sparked an interest in psychology.
Fast forward a few years, I was at the University of Central Florida beginning my Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling and I landed a position at the Marriage and Family Research Institute. At the moment they had a federal grant to research the impact of relationship education on low-income couples, this is when I fell in love with couples work and relationships in general. I was able to run relationship education workshops and retreats, it was just a unique experience as I was still a student. With the goal of specializing in relationships, I completed a graduate certificate in couples, marriage, and family therapy and completed all three levels of the Gottman Method through the Gottman Institute.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Earlier in my career, I worked for Drug Court, I saw clients individually and ran about 5 groups a week. Most of my clients were male and had been charged with possession or intent to sell. The majority had been life long drug users, members of gangs, and drug dealers. They had a tough and intimidating exterior.
I am a big proponent of mindfulness and of the healing benefits of going back to simple things. One day, I walked into the group with mandalas in one hand and color pencils in the other. The look on their faces was priceless. I told them they would color for 45 min. without any talking or disruptions. They obliged and it was magical to see how they went from being upset and annoyed to looking more serene and focused. Some even asked me for additional blank copies to take home.
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?
Thinking that I could treat couples the same way I treat individuals. I quickly learned that I needed additional sets of skills and a completely different approach. I needed to be much more direct and hands-on to ensure that they didn’t hurt each other more during sessions.
Couples therapy is a whole other animal and so is family therapy, but both are crucial and so needed. We need more clinicians with the desire and training to work from a systemic and attachment perspective. I truly believe that we are only as healthy as our relationships.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on launching an online course in 2020 that will teach the science behind love and relationships. I think that this a great way to target people who are interested in improving the quality of their relationships, but might not have access to therapy or might not want to pursue therapy currently. The material from the course will be there’s to keep and review as they wish. I’m excited to be able to reach a larger more diverse population!
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
I live to help others have thriving relationships, which is the opposite of loneliness. Each day in my office, I work with people to help them connect better with themselves and others so that they don’t continue to fall victim to the Loneliness Epidemic.
Loneliness isolates us (emotionally and/or physically) from those we love the most, it tears down relationships, breaks down our self-love, and keeps us from having the life we desire. I help my clients recognize this and overcome it.
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?
- People who are lonely exhibit poor health behaviors like excessive drinking, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and poor sleeping habits. These poor health behaviors are associated with physical illness according to Hawkey and Cacioppo (2003).
- Lonely individuals experience more stressful events and are more likely to perceive events as stressful than their counterparts, therefore; having more physiological stress responses. For example: If Ana feels lonely, she is more likely to have added stress in her life because she has little to no social support from others. She cannot rely on others to help her with tasks or provide her with guidance. She is also more likely to perceive non-stressful situations as such. Maybe running out of milk seems trivial, but for her, this is something else she needs to add to her to-do list, yet another inconvenience she has to confront alone. Ana then lives in an almost constant state of stress, which means her body is being overworked.
- People who identify as lonely have comprised recuperative processes like sleep disturbances, interpersonal problems, poor communication skills, and lack of healthy outlets for their emotions. For example, Joshua has social support and has a healthy social network. When Joshua has a particularly stressful week he is able to decompress by sleeping in on a Saturday, meeting friends for brunch (who he can vent to and obtain advice from), he can go for a run, and meet his partner for a date night. All these things allow Joshua to recuperate after a period of stress and helps his body regulate.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
Peplau, Russell, & Heim (1979) define loneliness as “a discrepancy between desired and achieved level of social contact. In other words, if you are not getting what you expect from your social relationships, you are likely to feel lonely. Segirn and Passalacqua (2010) suggest that loneliness has more to do with “connectedness” than with the amount of social interactions. The idea that quality is more important than quantity. It is not about the number of relationships or how often I interact with them, but the sense of connectedness and emotional bonding. Do I feel seen and accepted by the people in my social network? Can I be my authentic self with them without fear of rejection and criticism?
To prevent loneliness our social network needs to provide us social support, not just activities to keep us busy. Social support sends the message that I see you are struggling and I am here to help you. It communicates value and guanine concern. The support can come in many ways: it can be sound advice, practical solutions, or validation of experiences. For example, if your friend just became a first-time mom you can provide social support by doing their laundry (practical solution). If your friend is going through a breakup, you can listen and validate what they are feeling and experiencing at the moment (validation of experiences). If your friend is considering switching jobs, you can provide them with advice based on your own experience with job hunting (sound advice).
The issue that our community and society are facing is that most of us are socially engaged but lack social support. We keep busy to keep our Instagram feed updated, but we are not building emotional connections with others. We have not learned or, in some cases, have forgotten how to really communicate with others about our deepest wishes, fears, and dreams. We only show others what’s going great in our lives and hide the other stuff. We are wired for connection because we are social beings. Loving relationships help us grow as individuals and self-actualization. The more connectedness we have with those around us the less likely we are to experience physical and mental illness. If we do face these, we are more likely to have a positive prognosis.
Nevertheless, our society moves more and more towards isolation by keeping us busy and not equipping us to establish real emotional bonds with those around us.
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.
- Quantity vs quality: with our smartphones and social media we have access to thousands of people around the world every second. Yet, these are not profound and meaningful connections. Posting a selfie of myself on my way to work and getting some comments is not comparable to meeting a friend for coffee and catching up on our lives. We have become so focused on having a picture-perfect life we have forgotten how to connect with people in real life. It feels awkward to grab the phone and call someone, let alone have a conversation about hopes, dreams, and fears. A lot of people may know of us, but not many know us or are connected to us. We are social beings and are wired for connection. Babies don’t thrive when they lack physical touch even if they are being fed and other physical needs are being met.
- Our society is very individualistic in nature, we don’t live in communities anymore. Our communities have been reduced to nuclear families, roommates, close friends (like 3), and romantic partners. It is ingrained into us from a young age that we need to grow to be self-sufficient and not depend on others. What attachment theory teaches us is that we do better when we depend on one another. Depending on others fosters a sense of safety that makes me more likely to exit my comfort zone and take risks. Deep down I know that if I fail, I have someone to help me get back on my feet. If I do well, I have someone rooting for me. Relationships require interdependence. I recognize our strengths and weaknesses, and we support each other accordingly. For example, Lisa and Amy are college roommates and are both majoring in Psychology. Amy has an innate ability for math, she just loves numbers. Lisa is great at writing and her papers just naturally flow. They can both help each other thrive. Lisa can proofread Amy’s papers and Amy can help Lisa study for statistics. Lisa is not writing the papers for Amy and Amy is not helping Lisa cheat, that’s not healthy. What they are doing is using each other’s individual strengths to strengthen the other person.
- Again, because our society is very individualistic most of us don’t live in communities. Our communities, per se, have been significantly reduced to a very small number of people. So we have higher expectations for those with whom we do have connectedness. We expect our child to not only be our child but also our confidante. We expect our partner to also be our best friend. We expect our best friend to have all the same interests that we have. We become upset with others cannot meet our every need and become disillusioned with close relationships. Our guard goes up and we don’t allow others to come in, creating a sense of loneliness. We have to have realistic expectations about those who we are in relationships with. Not one person, can meet all of our needs and play all the roles we wish for them to play. This is why we need to create our own communities or social networks. Multiple people can meet our needs but not one or two.
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.
- Ask yourself: Am I emotionally and/or physically isolating myself from others? If so, why? What is my fear of letting others connect with me at a deeper level? Do I fear rejection, abandonment, becoming suffocated, letting go of my self-sufficiency? How is my type of isolation working for me? Am I content with life as is?
- Evaluate the expectations you bring into relationships with others and this applies to all the important relationships in your life, not just romantic ones. Are these expectations realistic? Then communicate your expectations to the individuals. Be direct about your needs and wants. Don’t assume that they will just know because they aren’t mind readers.
- Think of the steps you can take to take 2–3 of your current relationships to the next level. Do you need to spend more quality time with these people? Do you have to change your boundaries with them? Maybe our current boundaries are too rigid or too porous. Maybe we need to voice past hurts or we need to repair past damage we’ve caused.
- Notice what is happening within you as you try to engage more profoundly with people in your life. Are you feeling anxious, scared, awkward, inadequate, or undeserving? Are you feeling more secure, confident, and fulfilled? How are these interactions impacting your perception of yourself and others?
- Be patient and consistent with the process, while knowing that relationships change over time. We don’t develop emotional bonds with people over time. Once we develop these emotional bonds, they take maintenance. As we move through different stages in life and others do too, our relationships change and morph. Some people will not be in our lives forever, others will come and go, others will stay but in a different capacity. It’s not necessarily about something we did wrong or an issue in their part, oftentimes is just the ever-changing seasons in life.
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’d love to see relationship therapy (couples and family therapy) and education (workshops and courses ) be more acceptable and accessible to people. Insurance companies often don’t reimburse for these and there’s still so much stigma surrounding therapy. Our template for relationships comes from our family of origin and then translates to our romantic partners and closest friends. If we want a society that is less lonely, we need to address it from the cradle.
I’d love to create an online program that gives users lifetime access to various courses. The videos and materials would be created by licensed professionals and updated regularly. The online program would be reasonably priced and free for low-income individuals/ schools. I’d love for high schoolers to take a Relationship 101 course, parents to be to have access to a class on Attachment Styles, young adults to have a workshop where they can learn how to navigate the dating world and make adult friendships, and long-term couples can learn to manage the challenges of parenting, physical illness, aging, and infidelity. I believe that typically when we know better, we are more likely to do better. Although this is not a substitute for therapy, it can provide valuable information, debunk stigma around therapy and mental health, and encourage others to seek appropriate services.
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 🙂
I’d would be honored to have a private breakfast or lunch with the former First Lady Michelle Obama. She broke the highest glass ceiling for women of color and did so with humility and grace. I was impressed when she opened up about seeking couples therapy.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I have an IG account @themiamitherapist where I post about relationships and mental wellness.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!