Loneliness just might feel too familiar
We all know how low loneliness can make us feel, but are we aware of how it breaks down both our body and our mind?
I used to think I was less worthy than a dung beetle. Today I feel at ease with people and no longer even rush around cleaning my house when visitors come to call. I actually HAVE visitors. Suspend your disbelief for a while, just book a single session and give me the opportunity of explaining how I can help. Give me a bit more of your precious time while I explain the science.
Research clearly indicates that loneliness adversely impacts health, leading to many health professionals treating people in groups. For people with social anxiety, though, support groups can be a step too far.
Humans are vulnerable to predators in the wild, cavemen needed the protection of the group to stay alive. Social isolation (e.g. not being picked for the team) feels devastating because in cave times, it would have been fatal – arguably, it still is, but it kills more slowly than a predator. People who feel alone are at risk of shorter life spans, insomnia, immune problems, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.
Just as a lumberjack is physically tired at the end of the day; someone who is socially sensitive can find themselves exhausted and drained after a day of social exposure, needing alone space and time for self regulation.
Social butterflies find quieter people strange. In 2006, Cacioppo controversially concluded that lonely people tend to be more self-centred, because their lack of social commitments gives them more time and attention to focus on themselves. A softer, and more modern, view on introversion by Elaine N Aron points out that it takes all sorts to make a world and quiet people add tremendous value to strong communities.
Cognitive behavioural psychologists have long observed that loneliness changes perception and thoughts. People who have been isolated for a long time, have significant structural and chemical changes in their brains. The brains of lonely people respond less to rewarding social stimuli. Loneliness can be the cause, rather than the consequence, of a number of physical and mental conditions. Social isolation can influence genes linked to anxious behaviours.
Mammals show neuronal growth during very social periods while being kept in isolation suppresses this growth.
A lumberjack might be physically tired at the end of the day; we can also be socially tired and drained after a day of social exposure, needing time for self regulation.
Isolated mice show reduced delta-wave activity during deep sleep; and increased inflammation. In one study, three in five isolated mice died following an induced stroke, whereas every one of their socialised peers survived it.
Self image influences how we feel in social situations, but every human being has a blindspot when it comes to their self image. You may not be ready for group support, but if you can force yourself to endure a few weeks of it, it really might help. A simpler way to start would be using the forums at coaching.care/forum. Alternatively, is there one person (preferably not someone you live with) with whom you could start a mutual support situation? They just might be really relieved.
Loneliness is an intense form of suffering. Suffering is a normal and healthy part of life, just one step in a four-step process to success. You don’t have to live with the misery of isolation when you understand the positive reasons behind being yourself and have the right sort of care and understanding.
The positive intention of loneliness is to ensure we socialise, but it is easier to get eaten alive by the pain of loneliness than to venture out and grow.
It’s ok to feel bad, and it even feels ok to feel bad as long as you use it as fuel to propel you forward.
Suffering is temporary unless you stay home and wallow in the shame of feeling rejected. Everyone gets rejected and tries to run from that feeling sometimes, but when we feel it, we can heal it – with the help of experienced and caring professionals.
- Aron E. (2000). High sensitivity as one source of fearfulness and shyness: Preliminary research and clinical implications. In L. Schmidt & J. Schulkin (Eds.).
- Extreme fear, shyness, and social phobia: Origins, biological mechanisms, and clinical outcomes, New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Aron E. (2004). Revisiting Jung’s concept of innate sensitiveness. Journal of Analytical Psychology.
- Cacioppo, S., Capitanio, J., & Cacioppo, J. (2014). Toward a neurology of loneliness. Psychological Bulletin, 140.
Leave a Reply