According to research reported by theguardian.com, loneliness can have dramatic consequences on one’s health. Feeling isolated from others can disrupt sleep, raise blood pressure, lower immunity, increase depression, lower subjective well-being and increase the stress hormone cortisol (at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually wears your body down). Some are going so far as to label loneliness a disease, no different from heart disease or cancer.
So is it loneliness itself that impairs or even kills people? Or is it one’s ideas, beliefs, cognitions, silent premises and feelings that create the problem? Is loneliness literally a disease, suggesting a biological cause (such as low immunity or high cortisol)? Or is it more of a malaise; the culmination of mistaken choices and thought patterns coming to a climax in the form of a chronic state of loneliness?
I’d love to see research tackle the issue from this point-of-view. Perhaps we’d get a more in-depth understanding of loneliness than simply writing it off as a disease – requiring more of the same old “solutions”: funding from the government, questionably effective self-help techniques and vague psychotherapies.
My experience suggests that loneliness is a state of mind rather than a physical malady. It reflects facts of objective reality, but also has a lot to do with how people (often mistakenly) view things. Some people feel chronically lonely because of mistaken beliefs or attitudes. For example, they feel, “I’m not worthwhile unless others like me.” When others do interact with them, they take that as a validation of their worth. But when their social calendar is suddenly empty, they think they are no longer worthwhile. Another false belief is, “I can’t be happy unless I have other people in my life.” It is true that we need interpersonal satisfaction and gratification to thrive, but we don’t need people who are toxic, self-destructive, or who seek to put us down as a way to make them feel better about themselves. True satisfaction must come from mentally healthy people who share our interests and priorities enough to make for a healthy connection.
I have found that some of the loneliest people are those who do have friends, or are married with families. In other words, things are not always as they appear. There’s more to loneliness than meets the eye, and there’s more to personal connection when those who are married or have friends are still lonely.
Lonely people often think and feel things like, “Nobody wants me. I’m all alone.” What they should be thinking is something like, “What’s wrong with the people who don’t appreciate what I have to offer? There have got to be some people out there who value the things I do.” Or, “What am I possibly doing wrong to not get myself out there to encounter the right kinds of people?” So it appears that the challenge isn’t so much to find people who like you, as to find your kind of people. It pretty much boils down to knowing what you want and why, going after it, and then fostering these personal connections once you have secured them.
If you’re true to yourself in a sustained and consistent way, then loneliness is not the deeply psychological problem so many claim it to be. It’s really more a matter of finding your own kind of people who can bring value and satisfaction to your life – and, just as importantly, you to theirs.
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