Reflections on loneliness in 2017
“The best way to be happy with somebody is to learn how to be happy while being alone. In that way company becomes a choice and not a necessity”
Loneliness is an epidemy which will soon affect a big part of society. Loneliness, the most disliked friend of Federico García Lorca in his poems, the one of the Buendía family, far far away from modern society in the master piece of Gabriel García Márquez and the one which Bequer referred to as the empire of consciousness. But…
What is going on in our society? What has caused loneliness, an evil of all times, to become an epidemic so big we have to fight it?
Many people refer to loneliness as a phenomenon which is slowly overtaking our lives. In a recent meta-review of 200 studies in which a total of 300.000 participants were investigated, it was found that loneliness (social isolation) already beats obesity as one of the main threats to public health (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015)
‘Sullivan (1953): an unpleasant experience which is connected to being unsatisfied with regards to the need of interpersonal intimacy´
‘Weiss (1974): a consequence of the absence of a special relationship’
‘Peplau y Perlman (1982) define it as an unpleasant experience that happens when the social network of the person is not functioning properly, either on a qualitative, or quantitative level’
‘Loneliness is a subjective, dynamic concept which has been present through all eras. As Ramona Rubio said “It is not a heritage of previous or present generations. Loneliness is a true problem of all cohorts and generations” (Rubio, et al., 2011, pp.310)’.
Now, as a psychologist I’d like to ask several questions in order to reflect on-and analyze this complex problem and to think about how it affects our condition as human beings.
What has caused loneliness to become such a big problem in our society?
And above all, what can we do to prevent us and future generations from suffering from this issue?
With regard to the first question, there are various possible causes. The first one, which has been mentioned a lot, is the frantic evolution of our society. This evolution has caused us to slowly become involved in a world we’re not yet prepared for. That is, there is a bad adaptation to- and a bad balance between those factors that build up the person; such as identity, personality, experience, education, biological factors, and the kind of life they’re living.
If we ask the people who feel lonely about what might have caused their feelings of loneliness, most of them will mention their hopelessness, feelings of emptiness and feeling misunderstood.
It is important to construe something where there was emptiness, loss, lack of experience, necessity, being misunderstood, dependency, depression. To understand how you ended up in this situation, and to gain an understanding of what caused the people around you to not to see you is essential. To find out what blocks you and what you haven’t learned yet. To get to know that in order to adapt yourself to society you have to leave behind these hurtful feelings of loneliness and transform them into a yet unreached goal.
Loneliness can be caused by many different factors, some known and many unknown to the person who suffers from it. But both unknown and known factors influence the way we live and behave. This is when we ask ourselves:
- Is the person ready for real life and are they ready to start this new trajectory?
- Are our current society and the people living in it prepared to continue to live under the same parameters?
- How do we face- and deal with the constant evolution around us, both our own and the one of our environment?
- How to deal with the disequilibrium between what we want and what we have?
These are some of the questions someone who feel lonely should ask themselves.
With every new generation we face huge changes. Our current society is going through that same process of change right now. I would like to compare the era we’re in with the Renaissance, as the individualism, the man as the center of the universe is to be found in both periods of time. Our current society though, is on the constant edge of neurosis and uses the exaltation of art only to serve the ego; as opposed to man serving art, which was the paradigm throughout the Renaissance.
Education, social rules and values are unequal for everybody, but right now there is an incredible difference between grandfathers and parents, and parents and their children. There are many people who don’t know how to see and how to prepare for their present or future. They face a dichotomy between what their family has taught them and the situation they’re living in.
This situation causes feelings of confusion and unrest. Your teachers, mentors, examples, and authority as whole vanish, bit by bit. There’s a part of you which doesn’t want this to happen, a part which doesn’t understand what’s going on. This part doesn’t want to face these problems alone. It wants to fill up the emptiness with companionship, success, help, revenge, or rage… depending on the experiences you have faced in life, and on how your psyche has been construed. The psyche is normally construed and made up from instincts (behavior that is genetically passed on between members of the same species which makes them behave a specific way when facing a specific situation) and drives (the power that provides people with the impulse of achieving a goal, which will satisfy an internal urge).
Do you want help? Do you need to learn? Do you need to adapt to circumstances?
You should start a family, get married and get children, a house, a car… You’ll be happy. You’ll be taken care of.
This message, as many others, has become more and more diluted over time. However, most of us grew up with it, and made it a model to live by. Nonetheless, do you think it’s actually true?
We could say that this is not completely true. That is, this objective seems to be an underrated value in our current society and a magnified value in others. A part of the population is still trying to fulfil the typical image of having a family, a house and a dog. However, even the ones who achieve this find that this life doesn’t necessarily provide us with what we expect. The ones, who don’t manage to establish a family on the other hand, feel frustrated and empty. They battle against the lack of time and space, and struggle to adapt to this new society in which commitment is not one of the highest values anymore.
Many relationships end at the first signs of a struggle, which makes it difficult to find yourself firmly rooted. The “liquid society” we’re living in is more focused on technology and being seen by “the entire world” than to getting to know the name of your neighbors. That is, there is a lack of close connections and a presence of continuous superficiality.
Technology provides us with ways of communication that we never had before. However, most of the time it is you and your phone, or you and your computer. In a way you’re fooling you’re brain. You’re tricking it into believing that with little effort you can achieve real connections.
Also, the way in which we present ourselves has changed. The erotization of our species (even the smallest ones) and the worship of body image seem to be core values in our current society. They even seem to outweigh the efforts of spending time with real people in importance. I don’t want to appear pessimistic; there are many benefits to be found in change and technological advances. However, the consequences of this supposed progress should be studied.
Another influential cause is the denial of all that is negative. A society, or better said, an individual, especially the capitalistic and occidental one, shows themselves as if they were perfect. To admit that there are problems or to want to solve them is seen as a sign of weakness and is easily dismissed. Instead of sharing them, discussing them, or asking for help to solve them, they are usually dealt with alone; usually under the false appearance of well-being.
The lack of the debate, “likes”, perfect couples, trips and lives you can only dream of, experiences, what is expected of you… The tendency to show and camouflage all difficulties in life without focusing on any other aspects than the “good ones” can get imprinted in the individual, thereby fomenting loneliness.
The lack of expression, support, community, company, and foremost reality, is a big problem. Because when you’re older, or not even, a simple like or a trip won’t be sufficient to deal with and overcome your difficulties. Instead of that, you’ll be longing to fill up the profound emptiness you feel inside, and you’ll want to talk and beat the cursed silence of your soul.
The three fundamental characteristics of loneliness. Jong-Gierveld and Raadschelders
If we would ask people who suffer from loneliness, surely more motives would come up such as the loss of a loved one, lost dreams, a friend who’s not around anymore, a vital change in your daily habits, an illness, getting older, being bored with life… Probably more than we could name.
In IPITIA Square we create spaces where you can debate openly, where you can find commitment, groups you can join and regularly published articles, because we feel committed to you and our society.
What can we personally do in order to prevent other people from suffering from loneliness?
If we put the responsibility of preventing loneliness in our own hands, we have to become conscious of the difference between our emotions, experiences, desires and dreams and learn to adjust them so they end up being more realistic. We have to substitute the void loneliness leaves with practical skills, such as learning how to communicate and express ourselves in a warm way. In order to reach this goal it is important to integrate these skills in our educational system and make it a core value in our society.
These measures won’t root out loneliness completely but will make it an issue with less influence on our society.
‘Stop being individualistic and selfish’
This doesn’t mean that we have to be friends with everybody, or that we have to end up living in a utopic community. We human beings are complex and we all have different needs, so we shouldn’t simplify things. However, it is important to have a person in your life who is an example to you, who can teach you and support you. Also, we need to establish real connections with the people around us. We are biologically programmed to do so.
Loneliness is a problem of all times and generations. It will always exist. Though the causes behind it may shapeshift, the individual is always in danger of being affected by it.
This is why we have to combat loneliness through our educational systems, politics, as well as by working on ourselves, by learning how to adapt to a continuously changing society.
Tools and ways to fight loneliness
- Make real social connections a priority
- Learn to integrate and recognize your true needs and emotions
- Foment healthy values
- Look for examples, mentors and teachers in your life
- Dedicate attention to communication and expression in our educational system
- Learn to commit yourself to somebody else as opposed to establish superficial relationships
- Learn how to overcome real situations and problems in life
- Join groups
- Become involved in politics
‘…I miss something I do not know what it is yet. I feel it has been with me for a long time, it has gone and I can not live without it. I missed a part of me and I know it will not come back again…’
Psychologist at IPITIA
Nº Col.: 19697