1. What is loneliness?
Most people would say, “Why do I feel alone? Yet I am always surrounded by people, at work, in the street, at home”.
In order to understand the meaning of loneliness, we first need to distinguish that one thing is to feel lonely and a quite different one is to be alone. Once this is said, it always seems obvious to everyone but sadly not before, most people get confused about their feeling of loneliness because feeling lonely can trigger a state of anguish.
2. What are the signs of loneliness?
Attachment theory gives us some light and clarifies that during early developmental years we may develop what is called an ambivalent – anxious and /or avoidant attachment pattern, which in adulthood may be related to feelings of loneliness. That is to say, as we try to approach or engage with people, we experience fear of rejection, this, in turn, stops us from approaching people in a productive way, so we experience being alone as a result and feeling lonely as the consequence of the isolation. It is therefore this primary feeling of detachment that is related to feeling lonely itself.
In dealing with loneliness we can encompass the attachment orientations developed at early stages of life that explain why people can have one or more close relationships and still feel lonely. As people grow or get older finding difficulties in forming close relationships will start the cycle of relational anxiety, such as fear of being rejected or fear of intimacy in a close relationship because the type of attachment interferes with the formation of such relationships deriving in loneliness.
3. How to combat loneliness?
In order to respond to this question, we need to understand what attachment style causes loneliness. Research shows that avoidant and ambivalent attachment styles were significant predictors for signs of emotional loneliness, and the ambivalent attachment style was the strongest predictor of emotional loneliness.
Research has also found loneliness to be linked to both anxious and avoidant attachment. But even after controlling for the effects of loneliness, the relationship between existential isolation and avoidant attachment remained. This reinforces the difference between feeling lonely to being alone.
Anxious attachment is related to wanting to be close with others but being very sensitive to rejection from others, therefore producing a negative sense of self and a positive sense of others. Also, anxious attachment is related to feeling lonely rather than to existential isolation.
Therefore working with your attachment orientation can help combat loneliness, by promoting more productive relations and resolving isolation because you are dealing with the source of the problem rather than just focusing on making acquaintances.
Surely giving you a list of things to do will keep you reading, however you may find that after you have done some you still feel lonely. This is because feeling lonely may be more related to your inner self rather than how many friends you have.
4. How to deal with loneliness?
Therefore we need to us ask ourselves how to work with your attachment style in responding to the important question that each of us asks on how to overcome my loneliness? The problem with any attachment style is that only puts emphasis in this “other” caregiver from who we derived our attachment style form. This is a problem because as we develop from childhood to adulthood, this “other” (i.e. caregiver) becomes us. There is a great deal to say about the psychology of the “other” and how we incorporate our caregivers into ourselves, but I will cover this in another article.
5. Can loneliness be chronic? Is there such a problem as chronic loneliness?
Most of the people who consult about loneliness are concerned about whether loneliness is a condition or an experience. There is an annual campaign that raises awareness of loneliness. The last loneliness awareness week took place on the 14th of July 2021. They highlighted the importance of building greater awareness and acceptance of loneliness to help ourselves and others manage the feeling. This campaign wants to promote people to see loneliness as an experience, rather than as a condition. This is true for the vast majority, however, when chronicity is at stake you make look for the following two main symptoms of loneliness to understand the level we are dealing with:
- 1. If you find yourself unable to connect with others on a deeper or intimate level.
- 2. If you realise that you never had a best friend or you don’t have close friends.
6. Loneliness and depression
Research has shown a connection between loneliness and depression. The main distinction between loneliness and depression is that depression is a mental health problem, while loneliness is a feeling that can bring you down. Loneliness relates to our needs for connection and belonging. While in depression you may find yourself unable to engage with others.
7. How to overcome loneliness
The most practical straightforward way by far to overcome loneliness whatever you do is undertake some volunteering task, job or activity. You need to identify with what you will engage in, so doing this for others becomes meaningful to you.
However, this fast-path may not be an option for some people and therefore finding out with a professional the causes of your loneliness may be the better option. You may address your attachment orientation as a way to combat loneliness from within but also as you identify who is or has been your primary attachment, or your substitute attachment.
For example, your primary attachment can be your spouse and your substitute one your work. If you divorce you may get lonely or if you retire you may find that you are lonely. Understanding your attachment style may help you see the impact on your relationships. Finally, you will need to change your attachment style from insecure to secure, here is when a psychological programme may help the shift or in some other cases engaging in therapy will be the answer. For most people, learning to live a securely attached life is a major paradigm shift.
8. Loneliness UK
The statistics from the UK Campaign to end loneliness and the Red Cross indicate that 25 million people in the UK may feel lonely at some point in their lives. More than 9 million people in the UK say “they often or always feel lonely at some point in their life, and since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, feelings of loneliness have only gotten worse”.
This is crucial in establishing that we are not alone in feeling lonely. Finding people in similar situations helps every one to get connected faster.
9. When you feel like” my loneliness is killing me”
It’s time to reach out and consult with an expert Clinical Psychologist to get a psychological formulation for your feelings of loneliness. Do not stay alone but reach out to professionals like myself, that we are ready to provide emotional help to you.
Psychological therapies will help you identify those emotions to stop getting entangled in complex patterns or vicious circles where we feel trapped. This is why seeking help from a clinical psychologist will help you to discriminate the effect or impact of guilt in your personal difficulties.