I have been thinking for a while about the nature of loneliness. Obviously being lonely isn’t being alone, people can be alone and not be lonely. People can also be lonely in a group of people. So, what is it to be lonely?
My experience of being lonely around people came to me with my first girlfriend. Perhaps she was boring, I will never know, but one time I just started to feel miserable around her. Extremely alone and sad. Was I depressed? Probably, I don’t know. Perhaps I was unhappy, that is why I broke up with her. The problem with trying to figure out what loneliness is, is that it can easily be confused with other emotions. Can you truly say you know what being lonely is?
It is usually described as being sad because you are apart from people. While isolation can cause loneliness it is not in itself loneliness. When people are lonely they crave company but this isn’t the essence of loneliness, loneliness isn’t craving company. That is confusing the causes of loneliness and what loneliness causes with loneliness. So then what is this thing that makes us crave company, that usually arises when we are apart from people?
I carefully observed the moments I felt lonely and the moments I didn’t feel lonely to try get to get at the bottom of it. A pattern started emerging. I wasn’t lonely when I did something I loved, I wasn’t lonely when I was being challenged and I wasn’t lonely around people I was absolutely comfortable with. What do all this situations have in common? They all had something to do with the self in a particular way. People feel lonely because they simply aren’t in situations that allow them to genuinely express themselves, whether alone or with others. They aren’t allowing their self to be active and stimulated. This is why boredom is often a precursor to loneliness, because when we are passive they are starved of expression, stimulation and activity. The people who engage us, who we aren’t afraid to be ourselves around, who give us the freedom to be ourselves stop us from being lonely. Loneliness in a nutshell, at its very essence, is the cries of a stifled self, all parts of the self (the recluse, the thinker, the social butterfly etc) suffering from a lack of exercise/noursihment. It is an ailment of the self.
In the paper Loneliness: A disease? Dr. Sarvada Chandra Tiwari recognizes the fact that loneliness is an ailment. The doctor writes: “Lonliness with its epidemiology, phenomenology, etiology, diagnostic criteria, adverse effects and management should be considered a disease and should find its place in classification of psychiatric disorders”. On the 28th July 2010 The Daily Mail, reported that loneliness is as dangerous as obesity and smoking. Clearly the idea that loneliness is an ailment with adverse health effects isn’t new. What Dr. Sarvada Chandra Tiwari and others have in common is that they mainly think of loneliness as an unpleasant feeling you get from being alone, the unpleasant feeling you get because of the perception of being alone, or as a result of mental distress, low self-esteem and guilt; or simply social isolation. They are overlooking the idea that at its very essence loneliness is different parts of the self aching from neglect, abuse or lack of exercise.
The self has simple needs, to be itself, to express itself and to be loved. It gets love through interaction with others and from a positive self-image. It expresses itself with stimulating activities it can do alone or with others. It gets to be by being genuine and honest around others and itself. When it can’t do these things, it becomes stifled and it ails from lack. That is what we are experiencing when we are lonely, loneliness is a symptom of a malnourished self. Even the measures of intervention suggested by mental state view supports the self-centric view more. You will notice that the following are leaning more towards nourishing the self than changing a mental state, it is the nourishing of the self that dispels the mental state (the symptom):
Apart from planned interventions, there are some other useful strategies to fight against loneliness like keeping self-busy, sharing feelings, involving self in some activities(spending time together, discussing problems, maintaining interaction), helping others, avoiding escapes, developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests and/or values, collecting good thoughts and managing unfortunate happenings, joining groups of self-interest, pharmalogical management of physical ailments, staying in contact with family and friends. – Dr. Sarvada Chandra Tiwari, Loneliness: A disease?