“Loneliness … is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.” Thomas Moore
Loneliness is defined as “the quality or state of being alone including isolation, singleness and solitude.” Loneliness is a discrepancy between one’s desired and achieved levels of social interaction, while solitude is simply the lack of contact with people. Loneliness is a subjective experience; if a person thinks they are lonely, then they are lonely.
People can experience loneliness for many reasons:
- childhood abandonment
- the lack of friendships during childhood
- physical absence of meaningful people
- breakup, divorce, or loss (death) of any important long-term relationship
- chronic depression
- after the birth of a child(postpartum depression)
- moving into an unfamiliar community (homesickness)
- living in places in which there are comparatively few people to interact with
Robert S. Weiss categorized loneliness into two types: emotional and social. Emotional loneliness is derived from attachment theory, as seen when adults get attached to romantic partners and show separation distress (even depression and/or lack of meaning in life) when separated from or when they lose these partners. Social loneliness is experienced because of the lack of a wider social network in which one does not feel that one is a member of the community and/or does not have close people one can rely on in times of distress.
Despite our external connectedness, we often still feel alone. Psychologically, there exists an inner loneliness resulting from a sense of disconnect not with others but with our selves.
Jung suggested, “Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”
Loneliness evokes unpleasant feelings in which a person feels a strong sense of emptiness and even despair. If loneliness brings such suffering then it is understandably avoided. When feelings of loneliness do arise, we may try to cover them with busyness, alcohol, food, shopping, screen time, or other distracting measures. We often try to solve our loneliness by searching outwardly for a “magical Other” whom as author James Hollis suggests “will rescue us from [our] existential isolation.”
In these often agonizing moments, we realize that we are truly alone, and again are reminded that our validation must come from within and not from others. As psychoanalyst Aldo Carotenuto reminds us, “If we succeed in bearing the anxiety of solitude, new horizons will open up to us.”
In myths and fairy tales, the hero must venture alone into the world, perform tasks, learn new attributes, relinquish overused and mislearned beliefs, and truly stand by him or herself. In loneliness, we are summoned to drop our ego resistances and let go of a part of our personas, in order to gain a greater sense of who we truly are.