Leaving Loneliness Behind
by Barbara Williams Cosentino, RN, CSW
Loneliness is a universal experience known to every human being on earth. Everyone is potentially susceptible to loneliness, including the rich and famous. Judy Garland once said, "If I'm such a legend, then why am I so lonely? Let me tell you, being a legend is all very well if you've got somebody around who loves you."
Many of us are probably lonely but are reluctant to admit it. We may feel ashamed and stigmatized by our loneliness and see it as a sign that we are unlovable or defective instead of recognizing it as an essential part of the human condition.
James Park, an existential philosopher, asks, "Is there a person who has never known the eerie distance of isolation and separation, who has never suffered the pain of rejection or the loss of love?" Park eloquently goes on to say, "Loneliness is an aching void in the center of our being, a deep longing to love and to be loved, to be fully known and accepted by at least one other person."
The Faces of Loneliness
Experts say there are several different kinds of loneliness.
Although getting a divorce, moving to a new state, or having a child leave home can cause feelings of loneliness and loss, feelings of loneliness are often based on an internal sentiment rather than an external reality. Even a socially active, "popular" person can feel emotionally isolated when surrounded by a roomful of superficial acquaintances with whom she lacks a true emotional connection. Even those in a satisfying intimate relationship can feel lonely if they do not have a network of friends to turn to for support when their partner is physically or emotionally unavailable.
Loneliness vs. Solitude
Because aloneness is different than loneliness, we need to tune in to the unique pleasures of solitude. We need the freedom to devote hours to our passions, the opportunity for self-reflection and introspection, and space to engage in activities in which creativity gushes forth so that we are oblivious to the passage of time.
People who suffer frequently from loneliness find that it is often accompanied by a host of other negative emotions, including sadness, boredom, anxiety, restlessness, self-pity, and a lowered sense of self-esteem. One lonely woman says, "I feel like my stomach is a big cheese with a little rat gnawing away at it—never making any progress."
Loneliness and Your Health
In his book The Broken Heart, Dr. James Lynch at the University of Maryland Hospital makes a powerful connection between social isolation and heart disease, pointing out that "reflected in our hearts there is a biological basis for our need to form loving human relationships."
Along the same lines, researchers found that older adults who reported being lonely were more likely to have difficulties doing their daily tasks and were even at an increased risk of death. These are good reasons to combat loneliness!
Tips for Combating Loneliness
To feel complete, we need to nurture a strong connection with our inner selves as well as all kinds of social connections—spouses, lovers, best friends, or mentors with whom we can share our most private thoughts and feelings. We also need casual buddies to "hang out with" (shopping pals and "let's see a movie" friends), and work or church acquaintances who share common day-to-day interests and values.
If you are lonely, here are some things to avoid:
Here are some positive ways to deal with loneliness:
American Psychological Association
Mental Health America
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Epstein M. Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: a Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness. New York, NY: Broadway Books; 1998.
Lynch J. The Broken Heart: the Medical Consequences of Loneliness. New York, NY: Basic Books; 1977.
Opening to Grace website. Available at: http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/G-LONE.html.
Self-help Magazine website. Available at: http://www.shpm.com/.
Solo for Singles website. Available at: http://www.solosingles.com.
9/12/2012 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/: Perissinotto CM, Stijacic Cenzer I, Covinsky KE. Loneliness in older persons: a predictor of functional decline and death. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(14):1078-1084.