Loneliness is a phenomenon we’re all familiar with. At some point or the other in our lives, we come across a situation where we feel like we have no one to talk to or no one who truly understands us.
Maybe a long-standing friendship or relationship just got broken. This can set in a depressed and lonely state.
So the question is – how does one deal with this loneliness and eliminate it? In this article, we’re gonna look at just that with the help of Psychology.
What is Loneliness?
Before tackling how to deal with loneliness, we should understand what it means. Loneliness is nothing but unhappiness caused by few and less satisfying relationships.
You could know a lot of people (acquaintances) and have “friends”, but you can still be lonely if they are not close enough & the relationships are not fulfilling.
Why Does it Happen?
Loneliness usually happens for 4 main reasons:
- Attachment style
- Learning during early life
Sometimes, there is a genetic factor which leads to loneliness. It’s not clear how it operates, but the genes affected may be linked to depression and hostility.
Higher states of depression and hostility can lead to more loneliness. Depression can lead to withdrawal from others. Hostility can lead to hurting others or forming a negative impression on them.
2. Attachment Style
Attachment style refers to how much security you experience in your relationships with others. It is affected by how you evaluate yourself and how you evaluate others.
Do you see yourself positively or negatively? Do you feel others are trustworthy, dependable and reliable (you have interpersonal trust) or not? These evaluations are formed during infancy/childhood.
Based on these factors, there are 4 attachment styles:
- Secure: High self-esteem & high interpersonal trust. This is the ideal which will help you avoid loneliness the most.
- Fearful-avoidant: Low self-esteem & low interpersonal trust. It is the most insecure & least adaptive style. Has the highest risk of loneliness.
- Preoccupied: Low self-esteem but high interpersonal trust. You really want close relationships but you don’t feel you’re worthy of it. You feel that this may bring about rejection.
- Dismissing: High self-esteem but low interpersonal trust. You feel you deserve a close relationship but don’t trust others. Hence, you may reject others at some point because you don’t want to be the one being rejected.
3. Learning during Early Life
Lack of social skill development early in life can also result in loneliness. If you’re not aware of the proper or best way to interact with someone, you won’t be successful in your interactions.
For example, if you’re too hostile/aggressive, shy/withdrawn, or teasing (without paying attention to any hurt/anger caused), then you’re less likely to do well in social situations.
These habits do not just go away after childhood unless there is some intervention. Hence, they could continue all the way to adulthood.
The culture you grew up in can also affect the loneliness you face. For example, studies indicate that North Americans tend to place the main blame for loneliness on unsatisfying intimate relationships. South Asians, on the other hand, tend to blame it on their own personal shortcomings.
What Can You Do about It?
There are two main treatments suggested – cognitive therapy & social skills training.
While I’m not a psychologist, it is evident, based on what we’ve understood and what these treatments target, that there are two main things you need to change.