Loneliness: Taking Care to Stay Connected
By J. Walter Freiberg | Dec.06.16
Mountain climbers are fastidious about the lines they trust their lives to, and scuba divers are constantly checking the tanks and regulators on which they depend. In the hectic world of practicing law — when one interruption is so often itself interrupted by yet another call — are you taking the time to take care of your connections to others?
Have you recently spoken with your bridesmaid or best man? How about those cousins you played with when you were little? Any calls to them recently? Your law school roommate or moot court partner?
When friendships wither away with the passage of time, when links to others you once cared so greatly for are broken by distance, when relationships fray as lives change, when networks of friends break and dispel, when contacts with former colleagues become past history, when bonds with family become attenuated with an older generation’s passing — what do you do about it?
This natural and inevitable lessening and loss of connections that life brings our way presents a challenge to each of us as we move through the seasons of our lives.
You’re Smart: Apply Some Sense to Maintaining Your Connections
By definition, all attorneys are well educated. And all accomplished people in our era know perfectly well the importance for the body of healthy eating and regular exercise, and for the mind of new experiences and spheres of learning. But how many of us think about the importance for our emotional well-being of policing our connections to others? The metaphor of the mountain climber is perfectly apt: We each need to check over our emotional “lines” as climbers do their ropes, and then take action to revive the links that remain, and replace those that do not.
I practiced for 30 years at the intersection of law and psychiatry, and I saw 100 times what happens when disconnected, lonely persons find crises — or when trauma finds them. I imagine the frayed rope of a mountaineer finally breaks at just the wrong moment, and I can assure you that a victim’s emotional survival of crisis or trauma is directly proportional to the health of their connections with family, friends and colleagues.
More than a few of the people I saw drown in a sea of chronic loneliness were attorneys — brilliant, hardworking, well-meaning lawyers who put in far too many hours for the firm, and far too few for themselves.
- And then the wife left: the wife in whom they had never taken note of discontent.
- Or the child was arrested: the child whom they had never noticed slipping away.
- Or the friends stopped calling: the friends whom they had never noticed were disappointed because activities that once had bound you together were now replaced by an occasional email or tweet.
Many public and private health issues seem intractable, and monumentally difficult to resolve. (Ending childhood obesity is a great goal, but think of the forces working against such an effort.) But if you take a moment alone in the dark to honestly assess how your connections are doing — your links to your family, friends and colleagues — you can find the relationships that need strengthening, and those that require replacement.
You can call. And you can make plans together. And you can arrange to meet, to drive over, to fly out, to join, to plan that trip together — whatever it takes.
Honestly assess your connections to others. Work to strengthen those that persist and replace those that time has washed away.
Prepare these emotional safety lines — there will almost certainly be times on the mountain when you will need to rely on them.
J.W. Freiberg, social psychologist-turned-lawyer, is the author of the new book “Four Seasons of Loneliness: A Lawyer’s Case Stories.” He holds a Ph.D. from UCLA and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is the author of two well-received earlier books, “Critical Sociology: European Perspectives” and “The French Press: Class, State and Ideology,” as well as articles and other works on social psychology and legal issues. He is an active member of the Massachusetts state bar and the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, and serves as a justice of the peace in Massachusetts.
Originally published at www.attorneyatwork.com on December 6, 2016.