Loneliness is More than a State of Mind

Loneliness is a state of disconnection from the community, or a lack of connection to community. Loneliness may serve as a social pain to protect people from the dangers of being isolated. It may serve as a prompt to change behaviour, to pay more attention to relationships which are needed for survival.

This notion of loneliness was a hardwired survival mechanism in humanity’s early days, when separating from the tribe could mean becoming lion food. The need for connection, left unmet, still has the power to kill us—just by a slower, more invisible mechanism than starvation or predation.

Feeling disconnected from the people we rely on for help and support puts us on high alert, triggering the body’s stress response. Studies show that lonely people, like most people under stress, have less restful sleep, higher blood pressure, increased levels of cortisol, inflammation and weakened immunity.

Major life transitions such as moving, the birth of a child, loss of a loved one, divorce, separation, breakdown of relationships and job loss can also have a flow-on effect in terms of a person’s social connections and subsequently lead to social isolation.

Research suggests a variety of contributing factors as profound loneliness can go back many years. Some sources say that the roots of profound loneliness come from experiencing lack of love as a child in your family of origin. For others loneliness may come from experiences at school. Loneliness in childhood seems to be related to loneliness as an adult, including an increased sensitivity to loneliness.

Some barriers to breaking the cycle of loneliness and isolation are fear of being hurt, abandoned, abused or betrayed by others and avoiding making connections to evade the pain of past experiences. Others seem connected, but don’t know how to open up and share intimately, so their relationships remain superficial and lack emotional depth.

Research shows that the quality of social interactions makes people feel more fulfilled, as opposed to the quantity. Try sharing your true feelings and emotions. Sharing hurt, annoyance and pain are part of building relationships. When you share difficult, authentic emotions, you build trust and connection. There is a balance though. If you share only difficult emotions, or if you share only happiness, the imbalance will interfere with building connections.