What Are the Stages of Grief?

The “Stages of Grief” that people refer to often are:

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

These stages, however, were never meant to describe the process of grief after a death. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the psychiatrist who proposed those stages in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying” was studying the processes of terminally ill patients facing their own mortality. These stages described how patients coped with illness and impending death after receiving a terminal diagnosis. Kubler-Ross also clarified that the “stages” were not linear or progressive in any way, but that patients would generally experience all of them at some point, and often repeatedly throughout their dying days.

In other words, the concept of these stages of grief are useless to grieving people.

Clients come to me often wanting to know more about these stages, hoping they can anticipate what will be next in their grief process. “Oh, I think I’m in Bargaining, I better brace myself for Depression.” Unfortunately, grief doesn’t work that way.

After someone dies, you may experience all of the above, or none of the above. They may or may not occur, and they certainly won’t be in any predictable order. Grief co-exists with myriad emotions including regret, relief, joy, sorrow, amusement, confusion, nearly any emotion you can conceive of. All is fair in love and grief. You may spend the month after your mother’s death feeling at peace with her passing and grateful that she is no longer suffering. And in an instant, you could end up sobbing and screaming, railing against the injustice of her untimely death. Anything goes.

In my years as a grief counselor, the closest thing to “stages” I’ve observed would be the phases I describe as:

Acute Grief and

Integrated Grief

Let me define these concepts.

Acute Grief is when the loss is prominent and commands most of your attention, emotions are intense, and day-to-day activities are impacted by your grief.

Integrated Grief is when the loss is part of your reality but not currently a focus, emotions are fairly stable, and your daily activities continue normally without being significantly impacted by your grief.

Very often people experience Acute Grief shortly after a loss, and over time come to live with Integrated Grief. Time is part of the transition between phases, but it is not as simple as saying that Acute Grief is the immediate experience and Integrated Grief is the experience after a year or more. Sometimes the experience varies day to day, even many years after a loss. In general most people spend more time in Acute Grief shortly after a loss and more time in Integrated Grief once some time has passed by. But both can occur at any time after a loss, and may last a few hours or a few months. You may find you spend less time in Acute Grief as time goes by, but that doesn’t mean it is behind you for good.

While unpredictable and nonlinear, understanding a bit about the two phases can help you adjust your routines and expectations to honor where you are at that moment. If you are living in Integrated Grief and have plans to go out Saturday night, but something stirs up your emotions and now you are experiencing Acute Grief, you might adjust your plans accordingly. You may choose to make things easier for yourself and demand less of yourself while experiencing Acute Grief. Conversely, if you feel calm and stable in Integrated Grief, you might be ready to push yourself into a project that you now have the attention and energy to focus on.

In many ways, I really wish the original “Stages of Grief” were an accurate road map for life after loss. Wouldn’t it be so nice to have some idea what you might experience and when? It seems like we could cope more easily if we weren’t constantly caught off guard by our grieving process. I can’t provide any such roadmap for you, but as a therapist I can be a helpful copilot. Whatever your current experience, take good care of yourself and get support where you can. You don’t have to do this alone.

Grieving What Never Was

Sometimes the intense grief we experience when someone dies is expected. You can’t imagine living without your devoted mother or your beloved son. Their presence in your life was enriching and comforting and special, so to lose that is obviously painful.

But what happens when we lose someone with whom we had a bad relationship?

                When intense grief follows the death of an abusive estranged spouse, a mentally ill sibling or an absent parent, we are usually caught off guard.

                “I wasn’t even that close with them!” I hear.

                “They tormented me for years so why am I so sad?” is another common response.

                Very often when the person who died fell far short of our hopes for their role in our life, we get hit by grief like a Mack truck. We have lived perhaps for decades with their shortcomings and even at times learned to accept that they are not the loving mom, the protective father, or the loyal sibling we always wanted. Yet when they die, we are wracked with the pain of losing what never was… and now can never be.

                In my experience, as long as someone is alive, no matter how dysfunctional they are or how toxic they are in your life, there is always the tiniest hope or wish that they could “come around.” It seems like there is a chance, no matter how infinitesimal, of redemption and a new experience with them “one day.” When they die, that one day can never come. It is a certain and final fact.

                This grief experience is often not recognized as such by other people. They are shocked to find out you are sad over the death of your absent parent. They can’t believe you happily divorced someone ten years ago, and now cry daily after their death. Very likely, they don’t even know you are grieving because they assume that this death was not particularly meaningful or hurtful to you. Since you may have spent years complaining about this person or intentionally distancing yourself from them, you may not even feel able to share your grief with others. It feels… odd. To say the least.

                I want to assure you, as a therapist and grief counselor who has worked with dozens of clients experiencing this sort of surprising grief, you are not alone. You are not odd. You are having a very natural reaction to the finality of a loss that you have endured perhaps for your entire lifetime. Talk to friends who can understand. Go to therapy or counseling to process some of this complex reaction. Journal about it daily.  

Now is the time to grieve what never was. This loss is just as valid.  

Grieving Someone in Active Addiction

“She’s still alive. I mean thank God for that. But I still feel like I’ve lost her, and no one understands my grief.” Several years ago, a therapy client came to me with this about her adult daughter.

                If you have ever had a friend or loved one in the throes of addiction, the above quote probably resonates with you. You feel bereft and sad, missing the person you once knew and fearful they may never return. Make no mistake about it; you are grieving.

                Addiction takes our loved ones from us.

                The grief of addiction is a complicated one. When a loved one is lost in addiction, we grieve, while simultaneously hoping they will recover, come back to us, return to their sober state. We also simultaneously fear that they will be gone forever; one overdose, one accident, irreversible bodily damage. This is not a “clean” grief. Our loved one still exists, and the experience of grieving for a living person can feel confusing and alienating.

                We don’t wish them to be dead, but when someone dies, it’s final. There is an end point, and grieving commences based on that finality.

                When a loved one is gone in addiction, your every day is a mix of grief, hope and fear. For some, this complex state of emotions continues for years.

                Grief is never linear, but this sort of grief is particularly convoluted.

                No one is showing up with casseroles or sending flowers to acknowledge your pain.

                I wish I had a solution or some steps you could take to ease the pain of this particular grief. I don’t. But I think that recognizing your loved one’s “disappearance” to addiction as something to be grieved can help. For the same reasons, this is a really good time to talk with a grief counselor or therapist or join a support group like Nar-Anon or Al-Anon.

                If you feel the need to be better understood by people close to you, share this post with them so they can get a glimpse of what you are experiencing. Sometimes having someone who “gets it” is the best comfort there is.

My Alphabet Soup

In addition to the ample letters in my name- Angela Dora Dobrzynski, nee Marchesani- I have acquired quite a collection of letters after my name.


For many people, these letters read like meaningless alphabet soup, but in reality, they denote the credentials I have earned in my career as a therapist. If you are a client or considering becoming a client, you should know what qualifies me to support and guide you in our work together. Allow me to explain how these credentials were attained.

LPC- Licensed Professional Counselor (in Pennsylvania; each state has its own licensing board for psychotherapists)

The LPC credential is earned through graduate coursework (a Master’s Degree in Counseling, plus practicum and internship within the graduate program), passing of the National Counselor Examination ( 200-item exam covering counseling theory, strategies and ethics, along with human development, cognition, behavior modification, psychopharmacology and all other topics covered in the required graduate coursework), and 3,000 post-graduate supervised work hours (requiring a 1-hour meeting with a licensed supervisor per every 20 hours worked during that 3,000 hour work experience. In this case, “supervision” means case consultation and structured feedback, teaching and correction from a licensed clinician. You don’t know humility until you get that sort of feedback). In my case, I completed 72 credits in my Master of Arts in Counseling program at Rosemont College in 2007, including a 100-hour practicum at Women’s Resource Center, a 300-hour internship at Haverford High School and a 600-hour internship at Women’s Resource Center. I obtained certification as a Secondary School Counselor at this time, after taking both Praxis 1 and Praxis 2 exams at the conclusion of my school-based internship. I didn’t go on to work as a school counselor, though, and therefore that certification has lapsed. For six years I worked at a residential eating disorder hospital, and then later back to Women’s Resource Center. Once I earned my full LPC credential, I worked for three years as a bereavement counselor for a hospice and began my private practice. To maintain my license, I must complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years, up to 20 of which can be virtual trainings and at least 10 of which must be in-person trainings.

CGCS- Certified Grief Counseling Specialist

This certification is granted after a 6-hour virtual training and assessment. This training covers the dual-process model of coping, grief and attachment, companioning as an intervention, assessment of grief and other topics related to loss and grief. I learned more from the hundreds of grieving clients I’ve worked with, but this is a nice refresher course to stay current in the field.

CHHC- Certified Holistic Health Coach

Granted by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners in 2007, this certification is nationally recognized, which means I can provide coaching to clients in any state. This certificate was earned after completion of a year-long program at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in Manhattan. Courses were in person at IIN’s Lincoln Center location for two weekend days each month, with coursework and online processes between sessions. This program taught us how to work with clients using the integration of mind-body-soul through nutritional theory, natural health interventions, personal development and a holistic view of the self. Our guest teachers included Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, Debbie Ford and Mark Hyman.


Wait! That one is not there yet!

This summer I will begin training to become a certified provider of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR is a research-supported and highly respected technique that reduces the emotional distress resulting from traumatic events and other acute stressors. The in-person training takes place over two three-day weekends a month apart (48 total training hours), and the certification is granted after months of clinical application and formalized supervision are successful. Stay tuned for these new letters!


Professional developmental is non-negotiable for me. I am constantly learning in order to better serve my clients and bring new strategies, techniques and insights into our work. In December I completed a trauma treatment training presented by renowned doctor and trauma-specialist Bessel Van Der Kolk. In March I completed a training hosted by CORE, Gift of Life and the State of Pennsylvania to provide grief counseling to the families of organ donors. I read articles and books regularly, in order to hone my skills as a therapist and to provide relevant resources to clients (Atomic Habits by James Clear and Mindset by Carol Dweck in the past couple of months).

I hope this provides a clearer picture of what all the letters are for; my alphabet soup is for you!

It’s Not Your Fault (but now it’s your responsibility)

So many clients come to counseling to get help from a therapist for reactions that they no longer want to perpetuate. As adults, trying to navigate the world and especially relationships with others, they begin to see patterns and responses in ourselves that are at times unsavory. Perhaps they yell at their children, get insecure with a partner, or use passive aggression to hurt the people close to them. For most of these behaviors, as we work together, we can see a direct link to events or dynamics that occurred in their formative years or beyond.

We are invariably shaped by our experiences, relationships and influences. The cause-and-effect is not formulaic, but generally we can identify the root of challenging behaviors as a result of prior exposure.

People tend to:

Repeat behaviors they were exposed to

Avoid certain behaviors entirely and do the opposite, or

Respond to others in a way that assumes a behavior that they were habituated to expect in another context.

If your mom yelled at you fiercely as a child, it is not surprising that you yell at your kids (despite most likely having sworn that you would never do the same thing). Conversely, if your mom yelled at you fiercely as a child, it is also not surprising if you avoid correcting or disciplining your own children entirely.

If your first boyfriend devolved into a controlling, critical and jealous monster, you may quite intentionally (or unconsciously) avoid men. Conversely, if your first boyfriend was a controlling, critical and jealous monster, it is also possible that you accept reprehensible or alarming behavior from men because it is not “as bad” as what you grew accustomed to.

If your adolescence was fraught with teasing, exclusion and bullying, you may scramble socially to maintain “Queen bee” status as an adult, regardless of whether or not you like the people whose acceptance you are vying for. Conversely, you may use relational aggression and subtle manipulation to make those around you feel small, thereby securing your social power. And of course another possibility is that you include everyone in the fold of your social life, actively seeking out those rejected or marginalized.

If your dad left when you were ten, you may see rejection and abandonment where it doesn’t exist. Your partner is late again; you are certain the relationship is over. Conversely, you may build a persona that is “fiercely independent,” so that no one can ever abandon you again After all, how can you be abandoned if you didn’t need them in the first place?

Sometimes these reactive responses are adaptive and healthy; we see what happened to us and we consciously build a different experience.

Sometimes, though, these responses render us disabled. We want to connect with others, we want authentic relationships, we want to be free from the kneejerk reactions we’ve developed over a lifetime… but we feel enslaved to them.

As a therapist, I have seen some variation of the following exchange in hundreds of counseling sessions:

“I do (certain behavior) and my (spouse, children, boss, future partner, etc) doesn’t like it, but I do it because (of someone else’s behavior from years prior).”


“I’m aware that (this behavior) might limit me in certain ways (including developing intimacy, fulfilling a life dream, experiencing peace, etc), but I do it because (of someone else’s behavior from years prior).”

Identifying the source of dysfunctional behavior is an essential step in therapy and can be validating to people who finally connect the dots of their kneejerk reactions. We can see how adaptive some of these things were in previous experiences or recognize that we came by it naturally. To see the root of our reactions and understand them better can reassure us that whatever it is, it’s not our fault.

But, friends, it can not end there.

Identifying the source of dysfunctional behavior is merely the first step. Once you understand how your inner world works, it is up to you to begin to change these responses and create a different possibility for yourself.

Whatever happened to you, it is not your fault. But it is now your responsibility.

After a name-calling, low-blowing argument with your spouse, it is not acceptable to say, “I get that way because my father was that way,” and call it a day. An explanation is not an excuse. After the same argument, you may start by recognizing where that kneejerk response comes from, but if you have any desire at all to have a healthy relationship with your spouse and begin to heal some of the damage of your own father’s rage, it is your responsibility to take steps to stop that pattern.

It is not easy.

For most of us, it means years of practice, self-awareness, counseling, prayer, humility and even more practice. We may never get it fully “right.” But we can’t throw up our hands and say, “I am like this because of what happened to me,” as if the story ends there. That is not sufficient, and it is not fair to yourself. You are not a helpless victim. You may have been victimized at one point, but accepting the response to that as your life-long limitation merely perpetuates the pain inflicted on you years ago.

Don’t let your previous circumstances dictate your entire future.

It wasn’t your fault; but it’s now your responsibility.

Therapy for People Who Don’t Want Therapy

Your loved ones are concerned about you. They think you need to talk to a counselor. Counseling has helped them, and they want you to get the same benefit.

Only… You don’t want to talk. You have no experience with therapy or counseling, or you had a counselor once who missed the mark, made you feel bad, or just wasted your time.

The idea of sitting with someone to talk about your “feelings” seems daunting or just stupid.

I get it.

Here’s the thing: Counseling is not for everyone. While we all need support and resources during hard times, therapy doesn’t always fit the bill. You need something that helps you, but that something can come in many other forms. “Talking about it” is not always the answer.

Figuring out what you need is not always easy, though. You may consider a few sessions with a counselor just to identify some non-therapy options for you, but if you have an absolute aversion to even brief therapy or counselors in general, here are a few ways you can get “therapy” without going to therapy:

  • Flow
  • Sweat
  • Create
  • Write
  • Your Tribe
  • Nature

Flow. Entering a state of flow is an inherently therapeutic practice, akin to meditation but without the “mind clearing” mandate. Flow is the state of total focus and absorption in an activity, to the point where nothing else seems to exist and you lose time without realizing it. To enter a state of flow, you need to identify an activity that holds your interest and is just a tad more difficult than your usual activities. This activity can’t be something you can do automatically, but must require some focus and sustained attention. Clearly this is different for everyone but some examples are: Completing a puzzle, Doing academic research, Fixing something, Practicing a precise art, or mastering a physical feat (such as a headstand for you aspiring yogis).

Sweat. The benefits of sweat can not be overstated. Our emotions and reactions are not just in our minds; they are in our bodies, too. Without saying a word about what you’re going through, a good sweat can provide a sense of calm and clarity. There is a reason that sweat lodges have been part of spiritual ceremonies for hundreds (or thousands!) of years. You might break a sweat by exercise or by sauna. You absolutely must consult with your doctor about the proper amount of sweating that is safe for you, given your medical history. People with low blood pressure and other health issues may have to skip this option.

Create. Making something has multiple therapeutic benefits. First, when you create, you are very likely to enter the flow state mentioned above. But also, creating provides a gratifying sense of control that can help improve your confidence and remind you of your strength. The creation may be art, but it could also be cooking, developing a new program, or building something. You don’t have to be “creative” to reap the benefits of creating.

Write. There are so many ways that writing can help you if you don’t want to “talk.” Writing is a private way to express your reactions and process your experiences. Writing can also be shredded or deleted if you don’t want any evidence of your mental purge. There are many ways to write for therapeutic purposes, but here are some examples I’ve shared before. Therapeutic Writing – Angela Dora Dobrzynski, LPC

Your Tribe. Without saying a word to them, being in the presence of people who get you and accept you is therapeutic. To exist without explanation and to just be with people can be a healing gift.  If you have people like this in your life, spend more time with them. You don’t have to talk about feelings, but when in the presence of your tribe, you undergo some healing by nature of the fact that you are a part of something.

Nature. Exposure to nature decreases mental distress and anxiety, while improving many physical functions such as heart health and blood pressure. Additionally, the cognitive benefits of clarity and increased ability to focus can prime you for “flow state activities” or writing activities discussed above. You don’t have to do much to reap therapeutic benefits of nature. Sitting amongst trees, walking on grass, or lying under a night sky all help.

Clearly as a therapist I know there is value in counseling, but I also know that you may never feel comfortable with it. The interventions above are a good start for some self-healing and may be just what the doctor ordered. I would love to hear what works for you!

The Space Between

When one thing has ended but the next thing has not begun. When you don’t know what’s next. When your life feels like it’s in a holding pattern. When you feel unmoored. When you’ve released one vine as you swing through the jungle, but now you’re hurtling through mid-air, flailing and grasping for the next vine which has yet to appear.

                This is the space between “what was” and “what will be.”

                This is liminal space.

                It’s scary when you’re hurtling. This is often when people reach out for therapy. People tell me they could maybe deal with it if at least they could see the vine ahead. “I know I can’t grab it right now, but if I knew when I would be able to, it would be so much easier to deal with all this hurtling!” Rarely do we get such clarity about our next step. This space between is an inherently stressful part of all life transitions, but throughout many phases and different contexts of life, we find ourselves there in that space. It is unavoidable (though some people certainly spend more time there than others).  That’s uncomfortable, but I believe that the dreaded “space between” is actually a golden opportunity. There are some real benefits to this liminal space. Once “what will be” is clear, all other options cease to exist. There is your vine. That one. You will grab it at a precise time and that will be your new “what is.”

To the exclusion of all other possibilities.

                While we hurtle through the air, grasping and flailing, as uncomfortable as it may be, can we consider this space between to be an opportunity for nearly endless possibilities? Can we just entertain that thought for a bit, savoring the freedom of this moment? Allowing “what might be”?

As a professional counselor, I know that relaxing into this space is no small feat. The anxiety of the unknown plagues us, and things feel much easier in life when we know what to expect. Except, we never really know what to expect. Nothing is certain. Once we settle the next step we are no longer open to other outcomes, and that carefully-planned next step may never materialize after all.

                I am not proposing that we just throw our hands up and passively take what life throws at us. We have some agency, for sure. But while we are hurtling through this space, instead of insisting on grabbing the next available vine to bolster your sense of security, we can consider the other options. Perhaps there are two perfect vines, one just comes along a little later than the other. Perhaps you decide to skip the vine when you notice the tempting trampoline below. Or maybe you hurtle through the air and find yourself swooped up by a mythical phoenix, which could never have happened if you were so determined to grab that first vine. (I’ve taken the metaphors too far, I know)

                Instead of agonizing over “What will happen next,” consider asking yourself “What could happen next? Where might I land if I keep flying?”

The space between affords the possibility of possibilities. And it could be better than you could ever imagine.

“If there’s anything you need”/ How to Help a Hurting Person

Last week’s blog was on the common experience of not wanting to be too “needy.” This fear often keeps people from seeking or accepting support in their time of need.

When working with people who have lost a loved one- or even people who are just going through a rough patch in life- I hear their nearly desperate need for support, paired with their sense of hopelessness around actually getting that support.

They share that even if people reach out, their offers are typically something like, “If there’s anything you need, just let me know.” But this person doesn’t know how to ask for what they need, or, they don’t even know what they need. They are overwhelmed, exhausted and drowning.

We can improve this in two ways:

  1. Hurting people can ask more specifically for what they need. If you are hurting and need some help getting help, consider adapting some of the following requests to share when people extend a general offer of support:

“I could really use some company if you have any time to spare.”

“Can you call me once a day so I can hear someone’s voice?”

“I can’t face this appointment alone. Would you come as a support person?”

“I am overwhelmed by this task. Could you keep me company while I tackle it?”

“I could use a real meal.”

“I need groceries but it is so hard to get to the store. Can you deliver some items?”

“No one wants to talk about him with me. Can we just talk about him, even if I cry?”

“Would you drive me to this place I need to go to? I feel too distraught to drive.”

“Everything feels overwhelming and I don’t know where to start. Could you help me make a plan?”

Please do not say, “Oh you don’t have to do that.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” as a response to an offer of help will make the helper unsure whether you want to accept this offer. Even if you feel a bit uncomfortable, you can say something like, “I don’t want to imposition you, but since you’re offering that would be perfect. I appreciate it.”

  • Helpers can extend offers that are sensitive and specific enough to be useful. If you know someone who is hurting and want to support them, considering presenting your offers specifically. “If there’s anything I can do” rings hollow and insincere, even from the most well-meaning person. Examples of some helpful offers:

“Could I stop over one day this weekend and spend a little time with you? I could come Saturday evening or any time Sunday.”

“I want to call you regularly to check in, but if you are not up for talking, let it go to voicemail.”

“Would you like some company at the Oncologist’s Thursday? I’m free and could take you.”

“Oh, I hate when a task gets so overwhelming. What if I came over for an hour and helped you sort through it? I’ll bring coffee.”

“I made you a lasagna. Should I drop it on your porch or are you up for a visitor?”

“I am running to the grocery store tomorrow morning. Send me your list and I will deliver.”

“I love to hear your memories of him and if you cry when we talk, at least I will be there with you.”

“I am happy to drive you to your meeting. I know the traffic gets overwhelming and this way we can chat on the ride.”

“There is so much paperwork to do. Of course it is overwhelming. Could I go through it with you and help you make a plan for what should be done first and all the steps?”

If we are going to connect authentically as humans, we have to give and accept authentically too. Sometimes this can be uncomfortably direct or make us feel more vulnerable, but these are the opportunities to be with others in this life.

I think that’s worth a bit of discomfort.

I Don’t Want to Be “Needy”


The word triggers cringes and wrinkled noses when used in the context of one’s intense desire to connect with others. This is often a topic in the world of dating, but also with friendships, relationships of parents with their adult children and other types of relationships.

In some cases, the word “needy” is used in place of the word “demanding.” This is a bit of a misnomer, as it mistakenly labels as “needy” someone who is pushy, entitled, or disrespectful of others’ cues and boundaries. That sort of behavior indicates more anti-social tendencies than true emotional “need.” When applicable, let’s be sure to make that distinction and call that “demanding” instead.

But that is rarely what people mean when they tell me they fear being needy.  

In the past few months, I have worked with many individuals who were middle aged (35-55-ish) and single. As they navigated the emotional landmine that is “dating,” several expressed concerns of being perceived as needy and concerns of actually being needy.

Each of these individuals were employed, living independently, financially independent, engaged in personal interests and activities, and connected with a basic social network. 

Short of disavowing their roles and relationships to expect another to meet their every need, how could they possibly be considered “needy”?

I considered this often, both in general terms and as it pertains to each client, because there is something that doesn’t sit well with me about the negative connotation of “needy.”

We are inherently needy, if “needy” means needing authentic intimate relationships with others. Human beings are wired for social connection, and not just the superficial “small talk” kind. We need to feel known and we need at least one relationship with a depth of connection that makes us feel connected and valued.

We don’t need vast “friends” through social media or networking connections. For some, those broader connections enhance their lives, and for others the idea of those sort of connections is completely unsavory.

But we all absolutely need true connectedness in our lives.

So why are we so afraid to be “needy”? And why is “needy” considered the black mark of social faux pas? Are we perceived as “needy” merely because we are attempting to deepen a relationship with someone? And if we are needy, does that mean that our unmet need is authentic connection? In which case needy also means “lonely”?

“Lonely” is the next most feared adjective. No one really wants to be lonely; but even worse in our culture is admitting one is lonely. Being “lonely” is equated with being weak in our hyper-individualistic Western culture. “Lonely” is said with trepidation and shame, because we believe we should be “okay” by ourselves.

We are not.

We are not okay by ourselves- even those of us (yours truly) who are introverted and love solitude and are capable of managing tasks solo. We may not need constant companionship or conversation, but we absolutely need to know we belong, are loved, and can trust someone with our hearts.

For very social and extroverted people who hate solitude but love gatherings and small talk and frequent interactions with others, the breadth of those connections fuels them. But even those social butterflies can feel lonely if they don’t have at least one meaningful and deep connection. These folks may be more apt to expand their social network even more when feeling the unease of loneliness, but in fact a deepening of one or two relationships would bring more connection and satisfaction.

Single adults often feel like they don’t have their “person.” There is no one to ask them how their doctor appointment went and no one to know that they were deeply depressed and curled up in bed for two full days. No one considers them first in their plans and no one yields to their needs. We know there are coupled people who also feel this way; they are in a relationship but not in a secure and authentic way. In that respect, some of the loneliest people we know are those in an unsatisfying relationship.

When clients express their reluctance to appear “needy,” we first examine whether their behaviors are in fact “demanding” in the way I reviewed above. Maintaining unreasonable expectations of others is one way of being “demanding.” We consider whether the client has a sense of self-worth and inherent dignity, or whether that sense is contingent on others’ acceptance of them. If, for instance, rejection throws them into a tailspin of self-loathing, we work on improving their understanding of their own value. But I don’t say, “You shouldn’t want to be in a relationship.” Because in my opinion, a secure and authentic relationship- whether it be romantic, platonic or familial- is really the only thing worth wanting.

With this sort of relationship, everything else in life feels manageable, hopeful and a little more clear. Without that sort of relationship, everything can feel precarious.

I don’t think that means we are “needy.” Or at least not in the negative way we often use that word. I don’t think “needing” others is a bad thing at all. In fact, I think it is an innate part of our humanity.

The converse of this, of course, is giving.

Are we really there for our friends and loved ones?

Can we tolerate their pain and allow them to bring it to us when they have that need?

Do we provide emotional support?

Do we provide practical help?

Are we able to connect with them in a raw way that can expose our own vulnerabilities?

And can we do all of the above without labeling them “needy”?

The “Loneliness Epidemic” is an alarming reality. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, loneliness and social isolation are as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! For those who are not isolated, 40% of Americans say their existing social connections are not meaningful.

This is a big systemic problem, not a character flaw in any one person.

What is the remedy?

There are some ways that individuals can mitigate their own loneliness and enhance authentic connections while simultaneously allowing others to do the same and taking the taboo out of loneliness.

  1. In general, communicate more through discussions (phone, video or in person) and less through text messages, emails, and social media comments.
  2. Consider someone in your life who could use a closer friend. Call them, make plans with them, check in more frequently and allow them to feel more connected to you by sharing your own experiences in a way that invites them to do the same.
  3. Take a break from social media. See who is left in your world. Spend your time and energy on them.
  4. Practice telling someone when you are feeling lonely. A therapist is an approachable starting point or tell a trusted person in your life. We can’t de-stigmatize loneliness if we don’t talk about loneliness.
  5. Get support in recognizing and appreciating your inherent worth. Loneliness is not a reflection of you, it is a symptom of a sadly disconnected culture that does not meet the needs of the human race.

The treatment of this Loneliness Pandemic goes far beyond the scope of my humble little blog, but it is important to me that people understand that needing people is not a weakness and that loneliness is an experience shared with thousands of others. Let’s start connecting more authentically to begin to remedy this public health crisis.