In a world filled with isolating activities such as computers, phones, and constant running, it is no wonder that therapists hear that loneliness is one of the major concerns people voice in private therapy sessions. What is surprising is that it appears as an emotional response in the lives of all types of people – single, married, divorced, or widowed. Another surprise is that it does not occur in that same demographic across the board. In other words, it is a major concern to some of the population, some of the time, under some circumstances. Understanding why loneliness happens and who will experience the intense sense of being alone is still a mystery.
Although experts believe modern conveniences are the basis of many people’s lonely feelings, there are also changes in shifting values, family life, and job location. As the family members shift away from one another and friends lose touch, it is natural to feel the sense of loss the void can create. Experts report that although loneliness has grown, there doesn’t appear to be a consistent reason at the base of these emotions, thoughts, or feelings. Some people that live alone report no sense of loneliness, while others that live in a crowded house express loneliness as a major concern.
Loneliness is classified into two categories – the social and emotional. When a person moves away from familiar surroundings, they may experience social loneliness. Emotional loneliness occurs when a person feels they are not understood or don’t have anyone to talk to. Both types can be debilitating, and that is why loneliness is such a social concern.
In a book written by Rubenstein and Shaver called “In Search of Intimacy,” the authors describe four reactions to loneliness within different individuals. The reactions are active solitude, social action, distraction, and sad passivity.
Active solitude and social action are believed to be positive and can help individuals build skills and self-esteem. Both of these reactions to loneliness can alter the way a person behaves, such as learning to appreciate the time one has alone with music, reading, or exercising. It can also create a positive experience for the individuals as they reach out to friends and family to create social situations to break the loneliness and emotional isolation.
Distraction is neither positive or negative; rather, it takes a person’s mind off of the immediate sense of self and allows the focus to shift to other needs such a shopping, driving, or work. These feelings are temporary, and there is nothing that changes in the individual’s life to remove or enlarge the sense of aloneness. Passivity is a negative response to the loneliness that can enhance the sense of inner isolation. Often paired with a growing sense of depression, passivity can lead to a sense of loss, over eating, self-medicating, and self-harming. Passivity can also involve severe depression that results in doing nothing except sleeping for long hours in isolation.
Therapists work with individuals suffering from feelings of loneliness by helping the person understand that the sense of self is like a TV with channels that can be moved from one to another. The person can understand what the channel his or her current life is experiencing and move to another channel using special counseling techniques. By identifying how the person is feeling at any specific moment and moving past the self-defeating thoughts and behavior, loneliness can be seen as a fleeting moment in an otherwise positive world, rather than an emotion that causes full world isolation and lonesomeness.