Loneliness can accompany a lot of isolating experiences. There is a correlation between loneliness, suicidality, and addiction. In the US, particularly young men make up the population with the highest amount of reported loneliness. Those loneliness statics also seem to correlate with male suicidality (males are 3.7 times more likely to commit suicide than women) and male chemical and behavioral addiction statistics. Along those lines, in 2005 a study showed a significant connection between internet pornography use and loneliness. How many problems can you attribute to loneliness in your life?
Soap Box Moment
Perhaps one of the issues that surround emotions, in general, is our treatment of them in the English language. We tend to identify with our emotions as if they were our names—“I am happy”, “I am sad” as if it were, “I am Chris”. Whereas Spanish speakers do not identify with the emotion, rather they have it—“I have loneliness”. This could be an important distinction because when you have something, you’re not the thing you have, it’s external to your person. Perhaps try setting boundaries with yourself and your emotions by thinking about how you have them, rather than embodying them.
There’s a lot of stigmas around loneliness. We automatically assume there’s something wrong with the lonely person, and the lonely person certainly feels like there’s something wrong with them. When we get into the space of loneliness it can be hard to admit that we need other people, and we might be afraid to be labeled as “clingy” or pathetic. It’s no wonder then that It’s hard to admit when we’re lonely because it feels like we’re admitting to being weak.
We actually seem to go to great lengths to keep from talking about or experiencing feelings of loneliness, even in the mental health community. In clinical counseling programs, classrooms, and texts books, loneliness is hardly ever mentioned. The most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the official mental health book of psychological disorders) lists loneliness only twice.
Soap Box Moment
It seems as though we have replaced words like sadness, melancholy, loneliness, unhappiness, sorrow, grief, despair, misery, downcast, and downheartedness, with the word depression. As alluded to above, these words seldom exist in the clinical setting. The clinical setting is constantly problem-solving ways to scientifically measure the human experience, and we must do so because it helps us have conversations we may otherwise struggle with. However, in creating measurements, it also means we strive to standardize definitions and this is a double-edged sword because it also means we lose an expansive and expressionistic vocabulary. To check out more about words and the way to envision emotions check out, It’s Not Always Depression. I’ll be honest though, I also have to wonder if we willingly gave up these words for the marketing purposes of major drug companies pushing anti-depressants. At the same time, I’m very thankful we have such medications as they have helped many struggling people. And it has been by the aid of medications that some of them are even still alive.
When I’m lonely, I find that being with other people can actually make it feel worse. When people don’t feel lonely they almost forget what it feels like. They forget how to empathize. There’s a sort of selective amnesia that comes over us, which only adds to the experience of the person feeling lonely. We’re lead to believe that being around or acknowledging loneliness means we too will become lonely--as if it were infectious. Perhaps we already were lonely and the lonely person is simply reminding us, of course I could also see how this would not be a great experience at a birthday party. So perhaps we’re not entirely wrong to be afraid of how we might be received. It’s probably for that reason, feelings of loneliness are just as likely to lead us to our phones in the middle of a social gathering as something like social anxiety. Moreover, studies indicate links between loneliness and social anxiety. And why not? It kind of works. Stuff like gaming, pornography, social media, messaging apps, and texting gives us a way to connect without feeling the pain of rejection, or keep us from feeling so much, the nagging reminder that we’re lonely. Moreover, studies have shown that internet use can strongly decrease feelings of loneliness. But the downside is that with increased internet usage, also comes disruptions to daily functioning and perhaps even addictive behaviors.
I think it’s important that we begin having a more intense conversation around the range of emotions we experience, and how to better preface our treatment of them. Perhaps in the future I will write about other emotions. We may find that as we acknowledge our loneliness and the experience of our emotions that we become a little more balanced in our behaviors, and a little less desirous to end our sorrows and thus our lives. As a practicing therapist, I will not be giving tips on how to avoid, cure, or fix loneliness to my clients. I feel that such measures only pay lip service, to the lived experiences of the increasing populous that experiences such pain and may even only add to their suffering. Instead, I only wish to say to you, me too.