Leaving Loneliness Behind
The Faces of Loneliness
- Emotional isolation springs from the absence of close emotional attachment. Dr. Robert Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a social scientist who did much of the seminal research on loneliness, describes emotional isolation as the terror of a small child who feels abandoned by his parents.
- Social isolation results from the lack of a social network. Dr. Weiss characterizes social isolation as the mind-set of a child who is bored and feels left out when his friends are unavailable at a given time. It is no coincidence that children often create imaginary companions to chase away their feelings of loneliness.
- Spiritual loneliness stems from a void within ourselves, a sense of feeling incomplete and unfulfilled even when we have many loving people in our lives. Mark Epstein, MD, a New York City psychiatrist, practitioner of Zen Buddhism, and author of Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, tells his patients that instead of fearing this emptiness, they should learn to embrace it. He writes, "Only when we stop fighting with our personal emptiness can we begin to appreciate the transformation that is possible. Only then can we have access to the still, silent center of our own awareness."
Loneliness vs. Solitude
Loneliness and Your Health
Tips for Combating Loneliness
- Seek out people. If you are lonely due to a situational factor (recent divorce, job loss, or a move to a new community) realize that your feelings are transient. Give yourself some grieving time, and then seek out people who are in a similar situation. Find a support group, or join a community center, health club, theatre group, or religious organization where you can meet other people and share something in common. Explore chat rooms and websites for singles, divorced people, single parents, folks in recovery from substance abuse, and others who might be prone to loneliness.
- Build social skills. If you are chronically lonely because you are shy or do not relate easily to other people, brush up on your conversational or social skills. Force yourself to engage others in conversation. (Remember, people love to talk about themselves, so ask plenty of questions.) And go places where there will be people to talk with. Join a singles organization and get involved. If your loneliness has led to serious depression, see your doctor or seek therapy.
- Be active. Participate in activities that you love. It is hard to be lonely when you are smashing a tennis ball back and forth or soaring down a ski slope. It is also likely that you will meet people who enjoy the same kinds of things you do. Ditto for volunteer work.
American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org/
Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/
Canadian Psychiatric Association http://www.cpa-apc.org/
Canadian Psychological Association http://www.cpa.ca/
Epstein M. Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: a Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness. New York, NY: Broadway Books; 1998.
Lynch J. The Broken Heart: the Medical Consequences of Loneliness. New York, NY: Basic Books; 1977.
Opening to Grace website. Available at: http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/G-LONE.html.
Self-help Magazine website. Available at: http://www.shpm.com.
Solo for Singles website. Available at: http://www.solosingles.com.
9/12/2012 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Perissinotto CM, Stijacic Cenzer I, Covinsky KE. Loneliness in older persons: a predictor of functional decline and death. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(14):1078-1084.