Loneliness is a more complex thing than we think. It is not about being alone because one could have people around him or her throughout the day or even be in a lifelong relationship like marriage and still be lonely or suffer the pain of loneliness.
Loneliness is a response to a situation. It is described as a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connection or communication with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental, emotional or even physical factors.
Research has shown that loneliness is widely prevalent throughout society among people in marriages, relationships, families, veterans and successful careers.
Loneliness can be by choice or forced. Writers decide to be alone for many hours to write, but that is not loneliness. However, in the popular example of Pastor E.A. Adeboye, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, “There are some people who are even married but are lonely. That is the worst kind of loneliness because at least, if you are single and you get home and there is nobody there, you will understand why you are lonely and say ‘Well, Jesus, you are my partner.’
But when you are married and both of you live like total strangers, it is a very bad feeling. Whenever there’s a guest, both of you come out smiling, making everyone believe all is well, but the moment the visitor leaves, the cold war continues.”
A new study
Loneliness makes the areas of the brain that are vigilant for threat more active, a new study finds. This can make people who are socially isolated more abrasive and defensive — it’s a form of self-preservation.
This may be why lonely people can get marginalised.
Professor John Cacioppo, an expert on loneliness, speaking about an earlier study on the marginalisation of the lonely, said: “We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely.
On the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them to losing the few ties they have left.
These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted sweater.”
The new research, conducted by Professor Cacioppo and colleagues, compared the brains of lonely and non-lonely people.
Both were hooked up to an EEG machine to measure the electrical activity around the brain.
They were shown a series of words, varying in how social and positive they were. The brains of lonely people were quicker to spot words related to social threat — such as ‘hostile’ — than non-lonely people.
In fact, lonely people were more on the look-out for words with negative connotations in general.
This could be an ancient defence mechanism to help us survive, the authors argue: “Fish on the edge of the group are more likely to be attacked by predators, not because they are the slowest or weakest, but because of the ease of isolating and preying upon those on the social perimeter.
As a result, fish have evolved to swim to the middle of the group when a predator attacks.”
Psychalive has identified some more negative effects of loneliness:
Makes Us Vulnerable to Our Inner Critics
Being alone with our thoughts isn’t always a good thing. Isolation can be the perfect breeding ground for negative, self-critical thoughts. We all have an inner critic, a nasty coach that lives inside our heads and seeks any opportunity to criticize us. These “critical inner voices” tend to multiply when we are left alone with our thoughts. The “critical inner voices” tend to be at their worst when we are not only alone, but are also feeling lonely. At these times, the inner critic tells us that something is wrong with us and we don’t belong around other people. In this sense, we are our own worst enemy.
Lead to Painful Loneliness
Feeling lonely can trigger feelings of being unloved or unlikeable, which can lead us to turn on ourselves. Feeling lonely is actually painful on a physical level, as well as emotional level.
Can Lead to Depression
Time spent alone and feeling lonely can lead to depression. In fact, studies now show that a lonely brain is structurally and biochemically different. When someone is lonely, their neural responses to positive images and events get suppressed, so the world is perceived through a negative filter. We are more likely to believe that things are hopeless when we are lonely. This makes it more difficult to summon up the energy and bravery to find happiness and change.
Can Be Bad for Our Health
Too much time alone is bad for our physical health. Studies have found that social isolation and loneliness can increase the likelihood of mortality by up to 30 per cent. Researchers say, “Being socially connected is not only influential for psychological and emotional well-being but it also has a significant and positive influence on physical well-being and overall longevity.” It is important to maintain strong social connections, even if you prefer to spend a majority of your time alone.
In conclusion, Psychalive advises that while human beings need time alone to allow their brains to rest and rejuvenate, too much time alone or a lack of social connections can be harmful to our mental and physical health. It is important to distinguish between healthy time alone, where we are being productive, creative and introspective, versus negative time alone, where we are being self-critical or feeling lonely.
If you find yourself constantly around others and feeling depleted, make sure to schedule some healthy alone time. If you find yourself predominantly alone or are feeling lonely, make sure to invest more time seeking meaningful social connections. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it is important to find the right balance for you.