Harvard Study: Is This Why People Are Lonely?

Is it just random external circumstances that lead people into loneliness? Or are there other factors that promote loneliness? A team of scientists from several universities has investigated exactly that.

Humans are social beings, we need connection, closeness, contacts, relationships to be happy and healthy, strictly speaking, to survive. Feeling lonely, i.e. isolated, left behind and as if there were no one in the world to turn to if the worst came to the worst, is stressful for everyone and can hardly be endured in the long run. It should be noted that loneliness is different from being alone: ​​we can be alone (even a lot) without feeling lonely if we know that we have functioning relationships, are loved and are socially integrated. Conversely, we can feel lonely surrounded by people when none of those people understand or know us.

Despite numerous modern communication options and technologies, loneliness seems to be a common phenomenon, perhaps even more so than before. External factors such as the corona pandemic, changes in the world of work due to technologies that force multi-tasking and cost so much mental energy that there is no strength for a social life after work, or age and the loss of friends and life partners that goes with it :in – all of these are certainly reasons why too many people in our society live in solitude. But are there other drivers of loneliness? For example, traits that favor them? A team of scientists from Harvard, Stanford and Curtin Universities as well as the University of Western Australia have dedicated themselves to this question.

Do lonely people deal with feelings differently than non-lonely people?

Specifically, the scientists wanted to find out what influence dealing with feelings, i.e. emotion processing strategies, could have on loneliness. They asked around 500 people between the ages of 18 and 88 (average age in the test group was 47) about their social situation, i.e. how much and how often they felt lonely, and their habits of coping with feelings. In fact, they could see certain significant correlations in the data.

More than half of the subjects who felt lonely tended to use unhealthy emotion-coping strategies, such as blaming themselves or others, dramatizing/catastrophizing, brooding, and suppressing emotions. In addition, according to this study, lonely people showed a tendency not to seek or accept help from others. The authors of the study suspect a possible causal connection: “As such, these emotion regulation patterns could solidify states of loneliness and social isolation,” they write.

Are lonely people to blame for their situation?

The brief synopsis of this small study may be tempting to blame people who are lonely – if you can’t deal with your own feelings, you’re living in isolation. But such a link would be simplistic and wrong. On the one hand, the causal connection that a person remains lonely because they do not want to accept help or suppress their feelings is by no means set, but merely a possible interpretation of the results of this study. We could just as easily surmise, for example, that lonely people feel insecure because of their isolation and don’t have enough self-confidence to seek help, allow it, or own their feelings.

On the other hand, our emotional coping strategies are usually not self-chosen, but result from our upbringing, personality, experience and much more. We can change them with a lot of patience and will if we find that they get in our way or make us ill. But no one chooses to have difficulty processing emotions.

Also: Even if a lonely person realizes that he is withdrawing and closing himself off, and even if he then finds the strength to work on himself, to change and to approach others, in practice and in real life it is often everything other than simply connecting and breaking out of isolation. After all, most lonely people are surrounded by well-integrated, non-lonely people who are reluctant to expand their social network with new acquaintances just so no one is left behind.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be healthy, constructive about your feelings, and some people may find it easier to connect by changing their emotion-regulation strategies. But loneliness can hit anyone. And it is our common, social task to think of those affected, to take care of them and to reintegrate and involve them.

Source used: psychologytoday.com

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Bridget

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