What labels are you letting define you?
Hello! Very few gay men seek out and then read articles about loneliness unless they’ve come to the realisation that they’re lonely. The stigma is real, and it takes a lot to engage with the subject.
I’m proud of you for opening this article. I recognise and admire your courage. Now that you’re here, let’s start getting you connected to yourself, those most important to you and to your community.
I'm really excited for you to read this article from Nathan Todd, the Loneliness Coach. Talking and interacting with Nathan is a sheer delight. He’s smart, wise and knows a thing or two about loneliness and how we can hold ourselves back from the connection we need.
Read on, and let’s consider how we the labels we use to define ourselves can prevent the type of authentic connection we need.
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Imagine this being the first thing your mom wrote about your life, “He was in critical condition! Nathan was on a respirator and had a 50/50 chance. He looked so pitiful, so tiny, and frail. He had tubes, wires, monitors, and foreign things hooked up to him. I was scared & cried.”
I was born eight weeks premature and four pounds and 10 ounces. At the age of two I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. When you get a label like that it often comes with all of other people’s limitations and not their possibilities. My mom and dad had to make many choices that impacted many aspects of my life and they would often reflect on those early times like this, “I can’t tell you how many times I have watched you struggle to figure something out wearing a smile on my face and giving you words of encouragement while my heart is aching and full of tears. We want you to learn things on your own and for your friends to treat you like everyone else. I don’t want to pamper and spoil you so when you grow up and get to the real world you can cope.”
One of the first labels I was ever given was the label of being a person with a disability. When you look up the definition in the dictionary you see: a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person's ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions.
What society taught me was that it meant to be broken and to be a burden.
In 2008, I graduated from college and had moved on to the next linear stage in life. I had done everything I was supposed to so I could move to the next level of life. That year taught me that even though my parents had empowered me to live life and chase my dreams, society had other ideas. I was faced with the harsh reality that being disabled looked like sitting on a couch becoming invisible to the world.
Now let me ask you a question: Have you ever felt trapped by the expectations of others, and stuck by their label of who you are supposed to be?
I have found it to be a very human condition. Your “supposed to” is different than mine, but I bet it leaves you feeling disconnected and lonely? Like you’re playing life by someone else’s rules?
When we are wearing someone else’s labels, those labels often show up as: not being enough; too (insert word here), and all these other identities, but often they are ones we have accepted from others.
Life and my work with loneliness have taught me that we must have a couple of things to peel back the labels of others and start to truly connect with yourself.
Finding connection with yourself requires some things. It requires courage, it requires compassion, and it requires reflection. Let’s look at how to implement each concept in your life.
Often in times of loneliness connection seems so unattainable and it is what we want more than anything. We get caught in the loneliness loop and it leads us to say, no one wants to hear my problems, or you feel like a burden. We also receive the message, call me if you need me. Connection requires courage because to get what you want you must take the first step and reach out to others. One of the most courageous things you can do is create a connection contract. Here’s what I want you to do. Answer the following.
1) I know I am isolating if someone hasn’t heard from me in X number of days.
2) In the past when I have felt lonely this person made me feel safe when talking to them?
3) One courageous action I can take to connect with this person is…
Now you have a tool that can say if you haven’t heard from me in 10 days call me, come visit me, do whatever you have to so you can connect with me. You each come to an agreement of what to do in case you notice each other are beginning to isolate. This contract is one courageous step you can take toward connection.
Compassion is required to peel back the label of loneliness because too often we label loneliness as bad, and can lead to the conversation of you identifying as ‘bad’. Loneliness is a human survival signal, it is like hunger and thirst. It is actually telling you that you are in need of connection right now. How can you start to show yourself compassion in this time of loneliness? Ask yourself, how is my experience right now keeping me safe? You can also ask yourself, what is something I can do to create a sense of safety for myself right now? Remember you are human and all humans experience loneliness.
In order to find connection you must reflect. I want you to reflect on those labels that create that sense of loneliness within you. Ask yourself, ‘Is this label true, or is it someone else’s limitation that I turned into my potential?’ Also, if you were walking into a party where no one knew you, what would you write on your label? It is in the moments of reflection and seeking what is true for you that you start to uncover meaningful connection for yourself.
The thing that stands between loneliness and connection is the label you choose to wear. The thing to remember is underneath it all is your humanity, and you have everything within to create the meaningful connection you deserve.
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Nathan, thank you for sharing your wisdom with the world through your site and through this site. I'm always learning something about myself and loneliness and connection through your work and insight. Thank you for being you in the world.
Now to you, dear reader.
As a gay man, are the labels you wear those which you’ve attached to yourself or others have attached to you? Do they serve you or do they prevent the world seeing the real you Indeed, do the labels you wear protect you from the world?
How do those labels affect your ability to authentically connect? Listen to the conversation I recorded with Nathan for Ep. 23 of my podcast for gay men ‘Connection over Coffee with The Loneliness Guy’. Join us from Thursday 25 February 2021.
And you can find Nathan here:
Facebook: The Loneliness Coach
Thank you for reading this post. I hope that you’ve found it helpful.
I’m now asking for YOUR help.
Sharing my work really helps it reach more gay men and helps us all to de-stigmatise loneliness and promote authentic connection for gay men globally.
You may not feel lonely and have just the right amount of authentic connection in your life, but sharing this article could really help a friend or relative who may be quietly struggling with the thoughts and feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
Please share this post by email, a message in a chat app or by sharing my post on social media (hit a social media icon below to share).
~ Thank you ~
Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.