Why is it that certain people struggle with the effects of chronic loneliness, while others do not?
A recent article in Psychology Today called “Solutions for the Solitary” offers an interesting perspective about the subjective contribution to feeling lonely. The article concluded that feelings of loneliness are not directly tied to objective measures such as a person’s number of relationships – in fact, the study reported that 60 percent of the people who reported feeling lonely were married. Meanwhile, while these married people can report debilitating feelings of chronic loneliness, others can feel perfectly content despite having much fewer strong relationships and friendships. This is because the root cause of this sense of loneliness is not objective isolation, but the subjective experience of the person struggling with it.
Of course, we can also feel lonely while being surrounded with people if we don’t feel we belong; or if we feel we are treated in ways that subtly exclude us. We can certainly feel terribly lonely if we are in an intimate relationship where we feel misunderstood, frustrated, disappointed, or unappreciated. As the Harvard Study of Adult Development showed, the subjective experience of loneliness does not depend on the number of our meaningful relationships but on the presence of at least one or two such connections in our lives.
So what is new from the science of loneliness? The recent article in Psychology Today points to a tendency, a certain bias in the way some people perceive their existing interactions with others, which might contribute to their feelings of loneliness. Studies have shown that lonely people regularly numb their perception of gestures that confirm their bonds with others, while they continue to place a strong emphasis on the significance of events that disconfirm these bonds. A lonely person is inclined to overlook the caring gestures of a friend, but much more likely to dwell on a snide remark or minor personal slight.
The overall effect of these tendencies leads the chronically lonely to undervalue their friendships and to perceive themselves as insignificant in the eyes of their peers, as well as socially isolated.
This, in turn, can lead to a whole host of negative consequences, including a depressed immune system, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and clinical depression. Research presented in the same article even shows that chronic loneliness can increase the chances of an early death by up to 14 percent.
Luckily, there are ways to combat such feelings of isolation and insignificance before they have the chance to ruin your life. If you or someone you know struggles with chronic loneliness, consider seeking treatment, or at the very least attempting to use some of the strategies s that can help mitigate it. For more, follow this link to the article.