Loneliness and RO DBT – One Friend Matters!


RO DBT was developed to address excessive self-control (known as “over control”). You may be wondering, ‘What’s wrong with having self-control?’. Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with having some self-control. It is definitely necessary to have self-control in certain situations! It only becomes a problem when it is ‘too much’, especially when it contributes to causing loneliness. 

Meet Sam, who is 28 years old. He’s always been very hard working, setting very high standards in everything he does. He studied so hard when he was younger that his report cards were filled with A+’s and High Distinctions. He graduated from one of the top high schools in the state and obtained the university degree he wanted. He finally got a job that both he and his parents were super proud of and he has been working at this job for a few years now. He has been working extremely hard to prove his worth in his new position – he strives for perfection by checking and rechecking his work; he takes on more work than he could possibly complete (but of course, he always completes it); he tries to perform better than his colleagues; he stays up late reflecting on his day and preparing for the next one. He had no time to relax and had fun. He’s constantly stressed and exhausted, but he follows his motto, ‘‘when there is doubt, work even harder’. He started to notice that he was not performing as productively as before, feeling depressed and anxious. He was on the way to burn-out. Then, the pandemic happened and for the first time in his life, his everyday routine stopped, giving him an opportunity to reflect on his life. He realised that he did not even like his job. A more painful realisation was that he had no one to call or talk to about his struggles. He felt lonely. He looked at social media, realising all the people he knew through school and university were having fun with their romantic partners and friends while he was working hard to achieve his goals. He knew them, but he didn’t feel close enough to reach out to them. He felt really lonely. No Zoom party invites. There was not one friend he felt he could connect with. Now, the lockdown is over and life is almost back to normal. However, Sam feels lost on how to make friends, let alone finding a romantic partner. Even when he is with his colleagues at work functions, he feels emotionally disconnected and isolated. His loneliness continues. (The details are modified to protect the identity of the client.)

Does this story sound similar to yours? Do you think some elements of this story are relatable? If so, you might have an “over-controlling” (OC) coping style. In psychological sessions, I have heard many people tell me about the lockdown as a trigger for various problems. To them, the lockdown functioned as an alarm bell, helping bring their problems to the surface. It made them consciously aware of these issues or they just became unmanageable. Loneliness is one of the most common issues clients talk about, with some research suggesting that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of mental health problems. 

Research also suggests that rigid or OC coping can lead to poor interpersonal relationships; general difficulties adapting to changing environmental circumstances; emotional loneliness; depression, and other related problems (1). 

Individuals characterised as OC tend to be too serious about life, set high personal standards, work hard, willingly sacrifice personal needs in order to achieve their goals or help others. They may be polite and pleasant in social situations but inwardly, they often feel ‘clueless’ about how to join in with others. Establishing intimate bonds can be a big challenge for them. 

Over the 30 weeks of RO DBT Classes, you can learn the many aspects of OC problems and the skills to deal with these problems. In Lesson 20, for example, the theme is “Enhance Social Connectedness Part 1”. The main points from this lesson are:

  1. We like people who like us, but to be liked we must take the risk of being disliked.
  2. People vary in how much intimacy they desire, and that is okay.
  3. We are all dependent on each other, whether we like it or not.
  4. Being close to others requires practice. Intimacy requires vulnerability.
  5. Old wounds can always be repaired by signalling that we are willing to re engage.

We might all have different ideas of how to define friendships and the different levels of desired closeness. Some of you might want or need to have a lot of friends around to feel secure, and others are content with a very small number of close friends. Research suggests that having close relationships is important for psychological health. The good news is that you need only one friend whom you can depend on. How can you establish a relationship with that one person? If you are interested in finding out, please consider joining the class and individual sessions. If you want to know more about RO DBT, you can find out here

One response to “Loneliness and RO DBT – One Friend Matters!

  1. Dear Shannon
    “Sam” is my 47 yo daughter. She has struggled since high school with bulimia, self medicated with alcohol and has increasing anxiety, depression and loneliness. Her jobs and relationships have all suffered. We had the added stress of nursing the 2 main men in our lives at home with terminal cancer.It breaks my heart to see her and it breaks her heart to see all her friends with their own children.
    Help in the past has shown no understanding so now she resists. How do I get her to you.? She is currently hiding in the country where no one knows her history.

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