Loneliness is not a disease, but it sure does feel like one. But assuming it was an ailment, the doctor’s diagnosis would be something like this:
- The person feels unacceptable and unloved to others.
- He/she feels like there is no one with whom to share their personal experiences or concerns
- The person finds it a strenuous activity making new friends
- The person finds it difficult relating to others on a level deeper than an acquaintance
And such like other symptoms.
When loneliness hits you, people will give you all kinds of advice. You probably are familiar, not to mention tired, of hearing such utterances as, “Join XYZ, there is all kind of cool peeps there.” or “Go to church, you still can be helped”; “become a volunteer” or the all time winner “Join a cooking class or a book club” or some other fancy sounding club. Well, people mean well, or at least the majority does, but what does all that advice do for you? Better still, what do you do with that advice? That said, let me have my say here; “just being” with people won’t address the root causes of loneliness.
Loneliness is more of a cognitive than a social issue
Yes, I know it sounds like quite the complicated thing, but let me explain. Loneliness has everything to do with the patterns of thought we use to understand ourselves as well as others, hence the cognitive bit. In fact, loneliness has so little to do with how the society treats us. Lonely people are more likely to couch how they think about themselves and others in a negative and threatening manner.
People who are lonely will expect and actually visualize others rejecting or judging them. They are so inclined to rejection they actually start believing it. This kind of behavior leads to feelings of anxiety, negativity and self protective behaviors around others. As a result a lonely person might experience difficulties connecting with others at all levels. They become incapable of subtle things like making eye contact, chatting with others across the fence, picking up the phone, keeping in touch, etc – generally the simple activities that allow people to connect. A lonely person will automatically construe as negative a hard to rate social interaction and then react negatively over the same.
We can conclude that loneliness is not necessarily a state of solitude or being alone, it is a state of mind – one that makes an individual feel lost, alone, empty and unwanted. Victims of loneliness actually crave human contact, but their limiting state of mind won’t let them have meaningful relations with others. At times, a lonely person may reach out, but only when they stand to benefit a great deal. When a person is lonely and selfish, they may have manipulative tendencies.
Sometimes by alone is a good thing
I must also add that being alone is not always a bad thing. Solitude is known to have been very beneficial to many renowned composers, philosophers and writers. While some of these creatives suffered actual loneliness, being alone by choice isn’t a bad thing.
Causes of loneliness
In most cases, loneliness is brought about by situational changes such as moving to a new neighbourhood, divorce or separation, or physical isolation. Loneliness may also be caused by the passing away of someone significant in our lives. In addition, loneliness is often a reflection of feelings of low self-esteem, where the victim might feel unworthy of the attention or regard given by other people. In the worst of cases, loneliness may be a tell tale sign of deeper psychological disorders such as depression.
Emotional trauma experienced especially at tender age can lead to feelings of loneliness. A person with a difficult childhood perhaps due to abuse by a parent or a relative may experience feelings of loneliness even as an adult. A bruised self esteem is quite difficult to fix, and such a person may spend years trying to fix a past that is, unfortunately, not up for fixing. They may grow up with feelings of unworthiness, insecurity and self hate.
How loneliness affects our health
Acknowledge your specific situation. It is important to understand that removal of social support, as with loneliness, is always detrimental to our mental and physical health.
Loneliness makes it harder for us to regulate our behaviors, usually leading us to unwanted habits such as drug abuse as an escape channel, unhealthy diet and eating patterns, or taking lesser exercise. Other than that, loneliness negatively affects the cardiovascular and immune systems.
Psychiatric research has shown that loneliness is closely linked to stress and depression. Furthermore, it decreases memory and learning ability, promotes antisocial behavior and poor decision making process. Ironically, the majority of people who seek help for over-bearing feelings of loneliness have stable relationships, active social lives, families and busy jobs – typically people who have little to themselves.
How psychotherapy can help us overcome loneliness
You can really overcome loneliness if you are determined. But first, you will need to learn how to enjoy your own company. At times, lonely people do not even enjoy being by themselves. They tend to be needy and often panic when left alone. You will need to understand who you really are; the things you love, your interests and talents. Talking to a psychotherapist or a psychotherapy counsellor allows one to safely understand and explore their problems, and to muster the strength and courage to face and change the things that defeat them. Learning to relate with your counsellor can help lonely people to acquire a sense of self-acceptance and improve interpersonal skills which in return victims of loneliness learn to connect and relate with other people outside the counselling room.
I am a therapist offering counselling in Waterloo SE1 and Counselling in Kennington SE11. All locations are within 5 minutes from Central London. Feel free to make an enquiry, I will always respond within 24 hours.