Synopsis: The why’s and good reason for loneliness and it’s pain; wrong things to do that don’t end the pain; our epidemic of killer loneliness; social media and some very good news about what can be done about loneliness and the absence of love are all here.
The Why’s of Loneliness ?Why do we get lonely? Do we need loneliness? Does it do anything for us? What is the purpose of the pain we experience when we feel acute loneliness? Did nature, evolution, a deity or all three put loneliness in our lives for some good reasons? Will our loneliness go away if we understand the why’s and what for’s of loneliness and act on that understanding? What are the best things to do about loneliness, lovelessness and their agonies? Are these the right questions that will get us to the best answers about loneliness and the absence of real love in our lives?
The Purpose of Loneliness and Its PainConsiderable research shows loneliness works like a hunger for something we need for our psycho-biological well-being. Ultimately loneliness is a hunger for love and the life connections that can lead to love. When we satisfy that hunger, our physical brain and systems in our bodies work better. When we don’t satisfy the hunger of loneliness and love hunger, we move toward brain chemistry malfunction, greater disease susceptibility, we become de-energized, less productive, less creative and less socially adept. When we satisfy this hunger, we reverse all that and also do better at cooperation, feeling a sense of fulfillment and a long list of the other benefits of positive companionship.
Using the concept that all emotions give us guidance, we can see that loneliness tells us to seek positive connection and nurturing interactions with others. This includes being accepted, cared about, liked, affirmed, safeguarded and ultimately loved (see “Dealing with Love Hurts: Pain’s Crucial Guidance”). When we achieve the nourishment of being connected and love-bonded, our brain and body chemistry responds very positively and we definitely are healthier, live happier and longer because of it. This, by the way, turns out to be true not only for humans but for all mammals so far studied, plus many birds and perhaps some other life forms as well. In short, to live well, we need each other and loneliness tells us when we need to do something about that. So, to avoid toxic loneliness, actively seek emotionally meaningful life connections with others. Then work to grow some of them into real, love relationships (“Behaviors That Make And Grow Friendship Love”).
The pain of loneliness tends to grow stronger when we do not succeed at following the guidance message loneliness is attempting to give us. In a way, loneliness is like a good friend hounding us to do something positive to end the loneliness and not just suffer it (“Loneliness and Love”).
Doing the Wrong Things to End the HurtSome people try to end the pain of loneliness and love hunger in very unhealthy ways. They turn to drugs, drink, or the destructive distractions of enthralling danger and fascinating dysfunction. This easily can be done with sex, gambling, several forms of false love and excitement junkie behaviors. All those things might work but only for a while. Unless the behavior has healthy, real, love possibilities it is probably not going to pay off well.
Some people try to escape the pain of loneliness and love hunger through quantity instead of quality seeking. Popularity, mass approval, fame, having high status connections, and the like, can result in ego boosts but very seldom in deep and love-bonded, meaningful, love relationships. Others try to purchase friendships and love not realizing only false friends and false lovers are for sale.
Then there are those who live in crowded loneliness thinking they have many friends but they still feel lonely. In truth, what they have are basically only acquaintances. Acquaintances are better than nothing and they have the potential of becoming more if the right things are done to deepen some of the acquaintance relationships. Remember, it is not about quantity it is about quality.
Tragically, the ultimate escape from the pain of loneliness and love hunger too often is suicide. For some, the pain of loneliness and love starvation is just too much for them, or so they think. Sadly, they may see the efforts required are far too difficult and the likelihood of success much too dismal. Getting new friends and growing new love often is hard and slow but with the right know-how and practice, it definitely is doable.
Unfortunately, all too many of the lonely and love malnourished have arrived at the conclusion that no one could or will ever like or love them because they are somehow crucially flawed. Therefore, their future is one of nothing but painful loneliness and love starvation. This is not true. Time and again in counseling I have seen people learn the skills of friendship-making and love relating. When this happens, almost universally they go on to love-filled and friendship-filled living.
Preventively, this is where pets can come to the rescue. I, and quite a few of the counselors and therapists I have trained, report love of and from a pet dog has made a life-saving difference. For those living in lonely despair, for those who have lost a major love source and for those stranded in social isolation, for whatever reason, pets can make a huge, real, love difference. Dogs seem to know how to do love especially well but we see cats, parrots, horses and monkeys do quite well at giving and receiving love too (see “Pet Love”). Initially after a love bond with a pet has formed, it is not too long until the pet owner usually begins doing better connecting with people and then starts attaining a life of greater health, happiness and general well-being.
Our Epidemic of Killer LonelinessIf too often and too strongly you are lonely, you are more likely to die prematurely. That is because loneliness does bad things to your brain chemistry and brain functioning and then to your body. In many places around the Western oriented world, research shows loneliness and its detrimental effects are growing to epidemic proportions. With this epidemic of loneliness, stress illnesses especially are increasing and related life expectancy is leveling off or beginning to decrease.
The research done by the UN, WHO, the US CDC, the National Health Service of the UK, countless medical schools and universities, and a plethora of epidemiologists confirms the veracity of these conclusions. In England and Scotland, special anti-loneliness programs are being started by the health service, partly modeled on the cultural behaviors in countries in the world where the loneliness epidemic has not taken hold. So far, they seem to be working well for many.
The Very Good NewsThe good news is you can hear the guidance message of loneliness which is to push yourself into connecting with others including pets; learn and do what it takes to make and keep real friends and then grow healthy, real, love relationships of several types. It is likely you will have to overcome both internal and external obstacles, or you would have done it already. Defeating loneliness is being done successfully by a growing number of people as they work to build their network of liking and loving others. Do you think you can top and act on that?
Can Social Media Help?So far, the research results are mixed. It seems to be that if your connections with others via the Internet are marked by some emotional realness, positivity and backed up with some healthy self-love (see “From Self-Love to Other Love and Back Again”), healthful sincere connecting may occur. It also helps if the connections are more face-to-face with the assistance of Skype or similar visual services. Note: the highly important psychobiological contributions of loving touch still will be missing (see “Love Hugs for Health & Happiness”).
Some of What You Can DoIf you do not have a pet, really consider getting a good loving and lovable one soon ( see “Pet Love”). Next, Look up some how to books on loneliness or friendship making, pick one, read it and do at least some of what it says. Then start another. Frequently older books are better than new ones. For an in-depth approach, I recommend adding to the how-to books Love and Loneliness by the wise and highly readable, existential psychotherapist, Dr. Clark E. Moustakas.
Next you will have to pick an action to take and then risk doing it at least three times, not expecting any success at all. Learn from what happened and improve the action, then do it again. After that, add another action and start doing it again and again, not expecting or counting on anything improving whatsoever. As you go, keep studying the how to’s of healthy, real love and enjoying everything you can about this process. This is what it takes in experimenting and practicing before success starts to happen unless you are extraordinarily lucky. Also know it really can help to get the assistance of a good counselor, personal coach or therapist as you tackle loneliness and/or love absence and their life-impacting difficulties.
One Other ThingTalk about what you have just read with someone and that likely will help to implant these concepts as well as motivate action. While you do that, we would like it if you would mention this site and our free subscription service. Thank you.
As always Go and Grow with Love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly
Quotable question: is it more our duty, or our privilege to grow our own love giving and getting network?