The Benefits of Loneliness - Is There a Positive Side?
Out of curiosity, this past Sunday, I created a short survey wherein I asked people close to me to give their perspectives on loneliness. I found it enjoyable to play around with the questions and interesting to read answers that came from said questions.
My improvised questionnaire was far from being a standardised, statistically approved tool. However, it was my way of engaging in a late-night after-party conversation with friends of mine from all over the world. If there is one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love conversations where people open up and talk without a filter.
So, What is Loneliness?
In the survey, I initially asked my friends to define Loneliness. Interestingly, once I accumulated all the answers given, the definitions fell under the category of one of the following: physical, emotional, or intellectual. When defining loneliness, many individuals had distinguished between feeling lonely and being alone. In other words, they made a distinction between the feeling of loneliness and Solitude. Here are some types of definitions they gave:
1. Some individuals focused on the physical-social aspect of loneliness. They defined loneliness in two ways:
2. The majority of the survey-takers focused on the emotional side of loneliness, namely not being alone, but feeling alone. They found that loneliness was a lack of a deeper-level connection and an emotional distance from people that they care about. One individual described this difference as “You may be in a room full of people but feel like nobody is really there for you”.
In addition, as described in the literature, affection deprivation (i.e., wanting more affectionate communication through touch) shows negative associations with general physical and mental health (e.g., happiness, social support, relationship satisfaction, and attachment security).
3. Many survey-takers also described the intellectual-understanding component of loneliness. They shared two ways in which intellect plays a role in loneliness:
This brainstorming, wherein an accumulation of definitions was found, could not have gone any better. All aspects of loneliness had been touched upon by those who contributed: 1) the different reasons one may feel lonely, namely the lack of physical, emotional, and intellectual connection, 2) the distinction between loneliness (i.e., feelings of isolation despite wanting social connections) and having alone time (i.e., voluntary Solitude).
The Fear of Loneliness
After gathering the various definitions of loneliness, I wanted to go one step further and address the fear of loneliness and the negative connotations surrounding loneliness. On a scale from 1 to 5, (1) meaning “not at all” and (5) meaning “too much”, half of the participants scored four on their fear of feeling lonely. They were subsequently asked why and described the negative sides of loneliness.
They mentioned that when feeling lonely they:
For some, loneliness feels like rejection or even a punishment for their inability to find friends or enter romantic relationships. For others, the fear of feeling lonely is rooted in the idea that there is something special about sharing ideas, feelings, and thoughts with your significant others. One individual explained that in general, the world feels bigger and you feel smaller when you are lonely, in a way that the weight of your responsibilities is on your shoulders and no one can help you lighten the load.
Are There Benefits To Loneliness?
Moving on from the negative aspects, I wondered if there are also people who embrace loneliness and, if so, why. Acknowledging how tough but also perfectly normal this feeling can be, I wanted to explore the potential positive sides and gains of allowing loneliness into our lives.
Using a similar scale ranging from 1 to 5, (1) meaning “not at all” and (5) “too much”, more than half of the participants scored three on a question about how comfortable they felt with embracing Loneliness.
The Colors of Loneliness
While reflecting on the topic of loneliness, I thought about a potential connection between colors and emotions. Colors, like orange, for example, can be a mix of other colors, like red and yellow. Colors also give context to anything we see around us. Similarly, emotions, like loneliness, for example, can be a mix of multiple psychological experiences, like fear and self-awareness. This mix affects our interpretation of anything we experience in our lives. Thus, as a final remark in the survey, I asked: “If loneliness, as a whole of potential negative and positive sides, was a color, which one would you choose and why?”
There was a multitude of responses provided in the survey…White, Blue, Yellow, Violet, Black, Dark purple-ish, Deep and Mat Purple, Dark Green, a mix of Orange and Yellow, Light Blue, Grey, Dark Grey, Orange, Dark blue, Autumn tree leaves color… In addition to the colors described, many possible explanations as to why these colors were related to loneliness were given. So, this is where I ask you:
If Loneliness has so many different colors, why are we so afraid of its “darkness”?
There are always two sides to a coin, sometimes the feeling of loneliness can help you realise what you want to change in your life. It’s up to us to decide how we want to deal with and react to this feeling. Maybe the key is finding the balance between social interactions and self-reliance.
Written by Alexandra Symeonidou, Intern Psychologist at AntiLoneliness
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