L.Oneness: that chronic throbbing pain that torments so many souls. Sure, there was a lot of talk about it during the pandemic, but loneliness was rife long before that. Let’s work together to understand and relieve the pain …
The man stood lonely
Barren and cold
Collar turned up
Hands in pockets
Chin to chest
Shuddering feelings when it should be warm
Cool memory of yesterday’s storm
Can barely see it
I painfully wonder what will be?
I wrote this “self-portrait” a few years ago. Perhaps our lonely friend from above can empathize.
Loneliness has reached epidemic proportions around the world, with an estimated incidence of 30%. In some cities and regions it should be up to 50%. And the numbers have increased.
That makes loneliness something we need to discuss here on inspire4u. We draw on two great sources of information: a great article on loneliness from Psychology Today and an article in The Atlantic by Olga Khazan. Ms. Khazan’s article contains an interview with the renowned loneliness researcher, the late Professor John Cacioppo. I will also contribute.
Which says we’re busy …
What is loneliness
Loneliness is a state of distress experienced when we perceive a gap between wanting to be socially connected and actually doing. Of course, we can feel lonely even when we’re in a relationship or in a room full of people.
In addition to emotional and psychological damage, loneliness poses a serious threat to our physical health. To name just a few problems associated with loneliness: heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, poor sleep, increased stress hormone production and a weakened immune system.
Yes, loneliness is painful in many ways.
Although many of us know from personal experience, let’s take a look at what loneliness looks like based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which asks individuals how often they …
- feel that they lack camaraderie
- feel excluded
- feel in tune with the people around them
- feel open-minded and friendly
- the feeling that there are people to turn to
That brings us straight to the reasons why we might feel lonely …
Why am i lonely
It would make sense that each of us could feel lonely if, for example, we live alone and have no social contacts. But in Ms. Khazan’s interview on The Atlantic, Professor Cacioppo claims that living alone and the size of your social network doesn’t have much to do with loneliness.
Cacioppo emphasizes the difference between being alone and being alone. For example, people in committed relationships tend to feel less lonely than those who are not. However, people in a committed relationship can feel terribly alone when they feel estranged from their partner. According to Cacioppo, it’s about objective isolation versus perceived isolation.
Cacioppo goes further on the Internet. Undoubtedly, it increases social connectivity. However, he points out that when we check our texts and emails at a family event, we may find that our digital connections don’t necessarily come with a greater sense of connectedness.
Cacioppo notes that digital connections, as stops on our social journey that teens love to do, can be associated with lower levels of loneliness. However, when used as the ultimate – ultimate – goal, which lonely people often do, persistent unfulfilling and social withdrawal are often the result. For some, it can even come to digitally interacting as an inauthentic person in order to feel more accepted. But that never works. And the fact is, if the only acceptance you can get is based on fake self-expression on the web – well, that won’t make anyone feel too good.
Okay, one more angle. There is evidence that lonely people have negative biases when it comes to evaluating social interactions. People prone to loneliness are often quicker than others to notice signs of potential rejection. But reading is often imprecise. The idea can be self-protection by justifying the avoidance of social encounters. Seems to have evolved from the days of our earliest ancestors. The thought is if I make the mistake of mistaking an enemy for a friend, it can cost me my life.
How to be less lonely
When it comes to feeling less lonely, Professor Cacioppo believes that forcing social interaction – social engagement – is not the right thing to do. This mindset suggests that loneliness can be cured by bringing people together. But as we know, being with others doesn’t mean we feel connected, just as being alone doesn’t mean we feel lonely.
Cacioppo comments on how to help people who think they are lonely but are careful about connecting with people. He recommends gaining insight into how we read the face, voice, and posture of others. And then it’s about how those readings can be wrong – and how we’ve learned to make such judgments.
When it comes to practical steps for people who feel lonely, Cacioppo points out that one of the biggest hurdles is not understanding loneliness. The lonely equate it with being alone, which leads to misguided attempts to solve the problem – which don’t solve it at all. And when they try often enough not to be alone (and fail), they begin to think that they can never resolve their loneliness. Ultimately, they believe they are worthless and fall down.
Cacioppo claims that the lonely need for E.A.S.E. their way back into social connections …
- E.Expand yourself: but do it safely, little by little.
- AAction Plan: Have one and realize the work is going to be difficult. Understand that most people don’t have to like you; However, ask others about themselves and get them to talk about their interests.
- S.eek collectives: People who like similar people – people with the same interests, preferred activities and values. Being with these people makes it easier to find synergies.
- E.Expect the best: It’s about countering hypervigilance to a social threat.
A few more tips when we finish this section …
I need to emphasize the importance of staying aware of and managing negative biases when evaluating social interactions. Misjudgments to avoid rejection can lead to unnecessary withdrawal.
After all, it is always important to make tolerable decisions and moves that build emotional strength and resilience when it comes to conquering loneliness.
Loneliness: that chronic throbbing pain that torments the soul. But there is a way out. And it comes through understanding what loneliness really is, through making indicated thought and feeling adjustments, and through considered action.
Always remember, loneliness doesn’t mean being alone – it means feeling alone. A matter of perception that can be changed.
Psychology Today’s loneliness article is well worth reading. So did the interview with Professor John Cacioppo in The Atlantic: “How Loneliness Begets Loneliness” by Olga Khazan.
And don’t turn your back on the hundreds of inspire4u titles on mood and anxiety disorders.