(by George Zachariadis, Clinical Psychologist, Leiden University)
Loneliness is an ongoing process characterized by the lack of emotional proximity with one’s family and social circles. In other words, it's the feeling of disconnection from others but also from our Self. And although loneliness has been mainly identified as a painful reality for the older people, lately we see how much of a challenge it has been for other age groups as well.
The Older People
Having progressed to the third and final stage of life means that one has lost a number of loved ones and important figures in their lives, and therefore loneliness is becoming louder and louder around them. At the same time, according to a Swedish study conducted with people 75 years old and older, the feeling of loneliness isn't increasing with age, but it remains the same. Which, in other words means, that either you are 75 or 90 doesn't really change how lonely you would feel. It's the same crippling feeling of being left alone by the people you have loved most.
The Middle Age
Divorce or separation is the No1 cause of loneliness in middle-aged people (around 35 to 50). Women seem to be more affected than men and that happens mainly because women are initiated early into a system of dependency upon others while men are encouraged to be independent and self-sufficient. Of course, that doesn't mean that men do not experience intense loneliness when divorced. Surprisingly, 64% of men and 52% of women reported feeling lonely before the final divorce document was signed, and that's something we can see in people who join Divorce Support Groups.
Even more surprisingly, the presence of children or the number of them did not appear to affect the feelings of loneliness. It's the importance of marital gratification that makes middle age such a sensitive period not only for feeling loneliness but also for developing depression.
Moreover, middle-aged people feel more pressure by their subjective perception of time and life expectancy. In other words, they feel they have less time to live and to enjoy their life. And in order to feel that they enjoy life, they have to spend it with the right people besides them. If they are missing, time is felt like a cruel reminder of their loneliness.
The Young Adults
The biggest source of loneliness in the community of young adults stems from the need to feel productive in their work environment and the need to find or maintain a romantic partner. In their 20's, people want to see tangible results of their efforts. Their idea of growing and entering the adult world is identified with specific milestones (studies, career, family), which they feel they are expected to reach.
A study revealed that the fear of rejection was linked to loneliness since this feeling of being rejected could possible mean that their career progress or their relationships are not growing according to the initial plan or their expectations. The disappointment of real life where plans are possible to change, or even worse to fail, is sometimes a strong reason for feeling rejected and thus lonely.
School and performance expectations influence feelings of loneliness. The lower the grades, the greater the emotional isolation, according to a study conducted with high school students.
Relationships with peers
Poor relationships augment the feeling of loneliness with girls reporting lonelier than boys. The main reason for this difference is because girls value emotional support and attachment more than boys, and when these two elements are missing they are feeling more isolated than boys.
Furthermore, teenagers experience sudden and vast changes in their body as well as on their perception of their body. Pre-mature growth, acne or weight gain can result in an intense dissatisfaction with one’s own body. Here, loneliness can be seen as a two-dimensional construct. The first one refers to emotional distress (feelings of sadness and unworthiness) doubled with behavioral strategies (like avoiding social events to prevent humiliation). Behaviors like these intensify the feeling of loneliness as self-esteem becomes lower and underestimation of one’s self-significance among peers becomes higher.
If you are experiencing loneliness, you are not alone.
Kudos to George Zachariadis, AntiLoneliness' intern from University of Utrecht (Clinical Psychology department), who contributed immensely to the writing of this blog post.
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