In a world bursting at its seams because of overpopulation, it is ironic that so many people suffer from loneliness. Relationships matter. A lot. We thrive on our connectedness with family, friends, and community. Life is to be lived with others. Man is a social animal, and to remain healthy, we need the acceptance, love, and support of others.
Loneliness is a subjective experience. It has no boundaries. Whether young or old, rich or poor, single or married, educated or uneducated, anyone can suffer from loneliness. There is a lack of community and therefore a feeling of isolation even when surrounded by a crowd. It is being trapped inside walls that separate and alienate a person from those around them.
Jeffrey Young described three types of loneliness.
Everyone experiences brief periods of loneliness or lonesomeness. Something so incredible and exciting has happened that the need to savour that moment alone becomes important. Or in a fit of rage, one needs to cool off and regain one’s self-control.
Situations like bereavement, the loss of a job, a quarrel with spouse or friends, or travel which brings separation from the family, may cause periods of loneliness. This, however, is temporary.
Chronic loneliness is a sign of depression. A person withdraws into himself and becomes morose and uncommunicative. He feels that he is not wanted or needed by anyone, and life is not worth living. Warren Wiersbe calls it the “malnutrition of the soul.”
Solitude vs. Loneliness
Solitude must be distinguished from loneliness. It is simply physical isolation for a purpose. Creative people seek solitude so that they can concentrate on their work without being disturbed. Writers like J.D. Salinger and poets like Emily Dickenson preferred to be reclusive.
Solitude is also sought by many for prayer and meditation.
Causes of Loneliness
- This occurs when there is no time for meaningful relationships. Frequent job transfers make it impossible to put down roots. Some people take a long time to make friends, and by the time they do so, they are ready to move.
- Competitiveness. One becomes focused on one’s self and is too busy succeeding in life.
- Fame and prestigious positions can isolate. Someone said, “Success can be as cold and lonely as the North Pole.”
- Fear of physical contact with strangers: People living alone (especially older people or women living in areas where there are no immediate neighbours).
- Impersonal and unfriendly societies usually seen in large cities.
- The disappearance of extended families can cause loneliness. Wives are deprived of security and fellowship.
- Emotional isolation of spouses who feel trapped in marriages that are lonely and isolating.
- Empty Nest Syndrome. Women feel they have lost their important role of motherhood.
- Lack of communication skills.
- Physical disabilities or the feelings of being too fat, too thin, or too ugly.
- Financial limitations.
- Illness and fear of impending death.
- Lack of friends during childhood and adolescence may be a predisposing factor to loneliness.
- Rejection or hurt in childhood. They feel unloved, and because of these damaging experiences, they are afraid of being hurt again.
- Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. They are unable to love themselves and are full of self-pity.
- The burden of guilt. Isolation keeps them from repeating mistakes.
- Psychological problems like depression, mental illness, or a phobia of physical contact.
- Some socially disruptive event in life like a broken marriage can cause loneliness. Life after break-ups can feel like death. “To fall in love is awfully simple but to fall out of love is simply awful,” says Bess Myerson.
- The loss of a spouse or child might result in chronic grief and withdrawal from family and friends.
- Inability to love God or love one’s self or one’s neighbour.
- Anger can make a person a loner and a stranger to one’s self. “Bitterness is a poison pill we swallow so that the other person will die.”
Effects of Loneliness
- Various medical studies have shown a 3-fold increase of heart disease in those who isolate themselves. American Framingham Heart Study (2005) has shown that lonely men have raised levels of Interleukin 6 (IL 6) a chemical linked with heart disease. Other studies show a fall in HDL (good cholesterol) and a rise in bad cholesterol, LDH, and a rise in blood pressure and blood sugar. Loneliness depresses the immune system. Infections become severe. Viral infections like Herpes (genital and oral) are difficult to cure. Extremities become cold because of the narrowing of peripheral blood vessels (vasoconstriction). Can one die of loneliness? Studies say that it might lead to premature death. Lonely people are said to live shorter lives.
- The tendency to become addicted to drugs, alcohol, tobacco or other substances is high.
- Loners can be angry, cynical or hostile. So people keep them at arm’s length.
- Loners hurt themselves not just physically but emotionally and spiritually, too.
How to Cure Loneliness
- Analyze the reasons for your loneliness. Is it possible to eliminate or overcome them? Do you need help to change?
- Work on making friends. Human beings are social animals. We depend on each other for mental stability. No man is an island. “What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” says George Eliot. Dr. William Glasser believed that “At all times in our lives, we must have at least one person who cares about us and whom we can care for ourselves. If we do not have this essential person, we will not be able to care for our basic needs.”
- Develop self-love and retrieve your self-worth.
- Enlarge your social circle. It is important to have a network of friends with whom you can talk, laugh, discuss issues and learn how they tackle problems.
If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone.” Samuel Johnson.
- Cultivate group activities. Go to movies, watch a play or attend a cricket match.
- Use your personal skills to interact and communicate with others.
- Outdoor exercises like walking, jogging, running, cycling, and swimming will dissipate loneliness.
- Get yourself a pet. Animal-assisted therapy has been successful in many cases. Studies show that this keeps blood pressure from rising and lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Cultivate interesting hobbies that take your mind off yourself. Music, painting, writing, or gardening are good hobbies.
- Short-term therapy under a professional counselor may be required to reverse negative feelings, develop a positive attitude to life, improve communication skills, and form friendships. It might take two or three months.
- Involve yourself in social activities. Reach out to someone else who is lonely.
Try to care about something in this vast world besides gratification of small selfish desires. Look on other lives beside your own. See what their troubles are and how they are borne.” George Eliot.
- Spend time with family members.
- Religion: Get close to God. He can bring about inner healing.
- Old Age Home relationships have proven to be beneficial to lonely, older people.
Loneliness is debilitating but curable. Blessed are those who have the gift of making friends.
One must learn to say with Robert Burns,
I want someone to laugh with me, someone to grieve with me, someone to please me and help my discrimination with his or her own remark and at times no doubt, to admire my acuteness.