Are You Lonely?
About twenty percent of people feel sufficiently isolated that they would say they are lonely. That’s about sixty million people in the United States alone. But what most people don’t understand is that their feeling of isolation is more the consequence of loneliness than it is a cause. There are multiple studies which show that people who typically report they are lonely are in contact with more people over a given period of time than those who say loneliness isn’t an issue with them.
So which one of you will struggle with loneliness? Researcher John Cacioppo has found that it has nothing to do with living alone, or solitude, nor does it relate to being an introvert. In the book he co-authored with William Patrick titled Loneliness, he identified three factors that contribute to the chronic experience of loneliness.
The first factor has to do with one’s vulnerability to the common experience of social disconnection that all humans experience. That’s part of our genetic makeup. Our environment has affected our genes.
The second factor is how we regulate our reactions related to being disconnected and isolated. It’s not just our surface reactions to being isolated but, more importantly, what is going on deep inside of us about being alone. How intense are our emotions related to feeling lonely?
And third, the experience of loneliness is directly related to how we frame our experience of isolation. Our ability to properly frame our experience will greatly diminish over time–in other words, our experience of loneliness will simply intensify over time because of how we dwell on the idea of being lonely.
But it gets more complicated, for each of these factors interact with each other and affect how we handle each of these factors. The more these factors interact, the more lonely we will feel. And eventually even our thinking will gradually change adding to the feeling of loneliness. All of this to say that our feelings of loneliness will feed on themselves, and in spite of the realities of life, we will become more and more lonely until we make some drastic chane in how we see ourselves and our loneliness.
One more important fact: Lonely people are no more stressed by life’s circumstances than those who report not feeling lonely. But lonely people do experience more divorces, more run-ins with neighbors, more estrangement from their family, and more weight gain. They also have a lowered immune system, and don’t sleep very well.
Next post we will look at what goes on in the brain of the lonely person.
Question: What do your think of the fact that lonely people have more people contact than people who say they don’t experience loneliness?