Only the lonely truly understand
“Only the lonely … Know the way I feel tonight … Only the lonely … Know this feeling ain’t right …”
— Roy Orbison
By Martha Adair, New Oakland Therapist, Director
Decades back, the late and great Roy Orbison sang “Only the lonely” about the pain of love lost. Since then, we’ve come to understand loneliness as much more than a temporary condition that vanishes when a new lover comes along. Loneliness in our world today is breaking more than just the hearts of jilted lovers, and as a culture we rarely talk about it!
Loneliness is a symptom of mental health issues, and for people 60 years and above, loneliness has become a disease in itself. It’s reported to be more dangerous than smoking. But don’t mistake loneliness as a plague of the elderly. It is pervasive and damaging in every human demographic.
Loneliness causes people to feel empty, alone and unwanted. Lonely people often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with others. In many cases, the lonely are in the midst of many people but perceive loneliness.
A college freshman may be a good example. His peers are everywhere, but he feels inadequate, scared and alone. We also know this from the explosion of social media, where genuine, in person human interaction is replaced by the two dimensional sharing of files. No one has a thousand “friends.”
John Cacioppo is a University of Chicago psychologist and a foremost loneliness expert and author of, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. “Loneliness is strongly connected to genetics” he writes. “Other contributing factors include situational variables, like moving, divorce and death. It can also result from psychological disorders such as depression as well as from a lack of confidence, making one feel unworthy of the attention or regard of others.”
Loneliness is on the rise in the U.S. In a 1984 questionnaire, respondents most frequently reported having three close confidants. When the question was again asked in 2004, the most common response was zero! Experts believe that three close confidants is plenty to ward off loneliness and the negative health consequences associated with loneliness because the quality of social interactions easily trumps quantity.
The health consequences of loneliness are serious, including:
- Depression and suicide
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Increased stress
- Decreased memory and learning
- Antisocial behavior
- Poor decision making
- Alcoholism and drug use
- Progression of Alzheimer’s disease
Cacioppo’s research recommends how to deal with it:
- Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change
- Understand the effects that loneliness has on your life, both physically and mentally
- Consider community service or activities you enjoy to cultivate new friendships and interactions
- Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share your attitudes, values and interests
- Expect the best, not the rejection lonely people expect by focusing on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships
Even Orbison holds out hope in his “Only the lonely” lament:
A new romance
No more sorrow
But that’s the chance
You gotta take
If your lonely heart breaks
If you are chronically lonely or want to help someone who is, call New Oakland. We have professionals who are experts in this field and stand by ready to offer advice and therapy.