Learn to Overcome Aloneness
It has been a rather silent epidemic, however research shows Americans currently are suffering from greater isolation and feelings of aloneness than in past decades.
Research is finding that aloneness has the potential to take a toll on our health, on our relationships with friends and on our marriages.
In this post, I’ll help you understand the forces creating this trend of greater isolation, the impact on us personally and how individuals and couples can take steps to become more connected and engaged in their daily lives.
Isolation in a 'Connected World'
Americans are more alone than ever before. And, this despite (and at times because of) the capability of the internet to let us more easily reach out to many others.
Here’s what researchers have found:
- The number of Americans with no close friends has tripled since 1985
- One quarter of those people reported that they had zero confidants
- There’s been a one-third drop in the number of people we feel we can talk to about “important matters.”
The problem of isolation is very hard on humans because we are hard-wired to be with others. As social creatures, we truly need to have strong connections with other people. Therefore, this increased aloneness and isolation can actually be unhealthy. Loneliness appears to have a direct physiological impact on the body in a number of harmful ways.
The health implications of isolation are indeed profound:
- Loneliness can double the risk of dying from heart disease
- Feeling lonely can increase the risk of dying by 26%
- Some research shows that lonely women can feel hungrier, possibly contributing to weight gain
- Loneliness might be a more significant health factor than obesity, smoking, lack of exercise or poor nutrition.
Doctors and researchers are increasingly viewing loneliness in the same way as they view the negative impacts of stress, including hardening of the arteries, depressing the immune system and impacting our brains.
Loneliness is such a problem for older Americans that the AARP has begun a major initiative to study isolation and to help seniors reach out to others.
Loneliness in a Time of Easy Connecting
The major culprit, according to researchers, seems to be one that appears to help us stay “connected” — the internet. Studies are finding that the internet is actually adding to isolation rather than decreasing our feelings of loneliness.
The internet only temporarily enhances the social satisfaction of lonely people, who may be more likely to go online when they feel alone, depressed or anxious. We may feel better in the short, temporary period but internet connections tend to be only superficial and do not deeply satisfy that human need for close connection.
Use of the internet actually disconnects us from the real world. Research indicates lonely people use the internet to feel “totally absorbed online” — but this decreases time and energy we might spend on social activities and building more fulfilling in-person friendships.
There is concern that teenagers are not developing in-person social skills because they interact so extensively online.
When we use the internet to soothe our feelings of depression and loneliness and for distraction from those feelings, we actually weaken our abilities to move toward greater self-acceptance.
Another longer-term contribution to increasing loneliness in the U.S. has been the mobility of family members, who now live greater distances from each other.
Lonely in a Marriage or Relationship?
Distractions such as the internet can reduce time together for couples — for sharing, for reaching for the partner for comfort, for intimacy and for quiet times together that include eye contact, touching and tuning into each other’s feelings and needs. These are all ways that the bond you have with each other is reinforced and remains secure.
It’s not unusual for couples to come to counseling feeling more and more detached from each other. “We’ve become merely roommates,” is a common complaint. Energy is focused on kids’ activities, careers and work. The close connection and bond established when the couple fell in love has become strained.
Unfortunately, many couples don’t know how to reconnect emotionally and the distance grows greater. Counseling helps the couple recognize the importance of making the marriage a priority. After all, your marriage is the foundation of your family, and a close, loving marriage is a great model for children to see and experience.
In Emotionally Focused Therapy, couples learn how important their attachment, or bond, is to greater happiness and to helping the couple and their family weather difficult times. Couples learn how to talk about this distance and to collaborate to maintain closeness and set aside time regularly just for each other.
Helping Singles Build Greater Connections
Isolation can contribute to a negative self-image. Unfortunately, the brain loves to overanalyze situations and even short periods of loneliness can trigger negative emotions and self-judgments, such as, “Am I a loser because I don’t have plans this Saturday night?” That inner dialogue can easily contribute to a depressed mood, which then can cause the person to avoid going out with others. The loneliness can become a “habit.”
In therapy, I help individuals explore the inner experience, to discover whether there are hidden feelings of pain, shame and past trauma that contribute to isolation. Through the compassion and normalization of these feelings, I help people accept these thoughts as common for many people and not the total sum of who you are.
Acceptance by another person opens up the channels for individuals to see different perspectives, heal from past difficulties and to feel more courage to explore more social opportunities.
I welcome your call to see how counseling can help reduce isolation, depression and anxiety. For couples, you can work to enrich your marriage and heal any past feelings of anger and hurt that may be pushing you apart.
I Am Stuck!
Seeking professional help may be appropriate when important issues are repeatedly leading to negative cycles and affecting your emotional security.
I invite you to reach out to me for further information and with specific questions about how counseling can be helpful.