The lonely person is the most terrifying spectacle in the world. Loneliness, a fascination of science and art, is a detrimental human experience and one of our deepest fears. The analysis of loneliness is key to unlocking our social behaviors.
Loneliness differs from pensive solitude or the isolation required for creative productivity. Loneliness is not separation in order to process ideas, find center or pursue goals. Loneliness is not the temporary sadness we feel when experiencing disappointment or mourning loss since the well socialized overcome these.
Loneliness is a chronic and palpable starvation of intimacy.
Intimacy is the desire to be known, heard, understood and loved. It is a fundamental need present in mankind. To starve this need is to deny the nature of a human being. We require deep intimacy for emotional and physical health.
The renowned psychiatrist, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, concluded that loneliness lay at the heart of mental illness. Today’s scientists know that loneliness is the root of both mental and physical degradation. Emotionally and physically fatal, loneliness is sticky and parasitic. It can make healthy people sick and sick people sicker.
THE LONELY & SOCIAL
Loneliness is as present in a crowd as it is in isolation. When one’s true nature is vastly different from existing social spheres, it aches and burns the spirit. Loneliness becomes destructive to authenticity, creates trails to lose one’s character and deteriorates joys. Social circles do not stave off loneliness and close relationships that lack intimacy produce loneliness.
THE LONELY & MARGINALIZED
Social groups that experience discrimination suffer from psychological and physical burdens of loneliness. Surveys confirm that groups singled out by society are lonelier beyond normalcy. African Americans in the U.S. are generally lonelier than their white counterparts. Women are lonelier than men and this is true across divides. Communities can be as lonely as individuals when not justly and compassionately assimilated.
THE LONELY & REJECTED
Rejection is a key component of loneliness. During the 1980’s HIV epidemic in America, researchers found that the social factor which predicted if a man with HIV would die early was whether or not he was in the closet. A homosexual in the closet would be more sensitive to rejection and therefore, more susceptible to loneliness. This would produce chronic stress which expedited the disease. Those who came out of the closet built emotional resistance to rejection and staved off isolation by finding accepting communities. Today, emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking.
THE LONELY CURE
Evolution designed human beings to be social. We are more social than other primates and in order to survive, needed to corporate to defend ourselves from enemies and the environment. What we lacked in physical strength we made up for in savvy social strategy. Fast forward to our modern era and this resistance to loneliness continues.
The cure to loneliness is authentic and compassionate kindness along with genuine understanding. We can cure loneliness by committing to listen patiently, empathize deeply and accepting each other lovingly. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann found that when subjected to productive social experiences, loneliness vanished immediately along with its physical repercussions. We do not recover slowly from loneliness because our desire for intimacy is urgent and immediate. Every day we have the choice to uplift our peers with intimacy and fend off loneliness from society. As W. H. Auden put it, “We must love one another or die.”