Mother Teresa once said:
“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody.”
Doctors have now measured the effects of the loneliness disease, warning that;
“Lonely people are nearly twice as likely to die prematurely as those who do not suffer feelings of isolation. Being lonely it seems, is a lot more worrying for your health than obesity”.
“Loneliness is associated with a significantly greater risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. It suppresses the function of one’s immune system and contributes to a faster onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness has also been known to interrupt the regulation of cellular process so that it predisposes people to premature aging and can take years off one’s life-span”- Cherese Jackson.
What is Loneliness:
Loneliness is a feeling of sadness or distress about being by yourself or feeling disconnected from the world around you. It may be felt more over a long period of time. It is also possible to feel lonely, even when surrounded by people.
Isolation is being separated from other people and your environment. Sometimes this occurs through decisions we make ourselves, or because of circumstance e.g. doing a job that requires travel or relocation (lifeline).
We now know that loneliness, a social emotion, can reach into our bodies and rearrange our cells and genes.
Today I am chatting with my husband Philip Wotton. He has been saying to me for a while now that loneliness is a big problem in society especially with men. I hadn’t really thought about it a lot, but as I began to research this and talk to people about it, I realised that Phil was right. It is a big issue, one that is hidden, silent and comes with a lot of stigma.
Here are some of Phil’s thoughts on the subject:
I feel that loneliness is one of the silent killers of the 21st century and affects many more people than we care to realize. I know from my own personal experience, that it is very easy hide in the crowd and to have many acquaintances, whilst in reality, being totally alone.
Personally, I have found that I can navigate my way through life, having social interactions at work or in the sporting arena, for instance, without having anyone in my life who actually knows me, or gets me or cares for me. I have also learnt to like my own company, when I am on my own, in order to maintain a level of normality and functionality, but at the same time with the need to connect and to fill a void, that I can’t actually explain.
I know that man was created, to be in relationship with his fellow human. So whilst we can survive in a bubble of social media and acquaintances, I have found that actually hurts the heart and soul to be separated from a deeper level of relationship and sense of belonging.
“People cannot exist in life without solid relationships. Contrary to what some may believe, no one is an island to themselves. Everyone needs relationships; they are important to humanity” (K.Eisold).
There are probably two sides to this topic;
- firstly those that struggle through life alone and the associated impacts to their health and emotional wellbeing.
- secondly the community within which we live.
- Perhaps people not caring or being aware enough of what is happening in the lives of the people around them.
Extreme examples of this are the stories that you hear about people dying in their homes without anyone noticing. There are even stories about people who have died in their work environment, without people realizing!
One man in Helsinki was reportedly dead for 2 days in an office of 100 people, without being noticed. Another man, in New York was reportedly dead at his desk for 5 days, before he was noticed by the cleaners on a Saturday, propped up at his computer. He apparently worked in isolation and was the first in and the last out every day, so no one took any notice.
It is a topic that we never really discuss. Where do you go to say: “Hey, I am lonely, please help”? Having said that, it is often easier to be alone and something that I often pursue. People are messy, relationships can be messy and they all require hard work.
If we are being totally selfish, it is a lot easier to just look after our own space and to control what we can control, so I realize that you cannot expect people to invest their time to get to know you, if you are not prepared to invest in them! It is a two way street.
Do you think it’s harder for men?
Well I think that men are not as good at making the effort to connect socially. Men often put up walls to protect themselves, either perhaps because of past rejection or pain or to present a certain macho image. Men don’t like being vulnerable, they prefer to be in control. So men often make a lot of small talk but don’t like to confront the deeper issues.
There are maybe a few reasons for this:
1: It’s sometimes harder for men to relate and to put the effort into relationships, particularly in the context of the busy lives we live. It is actually easier not to make the effort than to go the next step to dig deeper and to actually care. As long as their needs are being met the rest is really an effort.
2: Also, men often aren’t interested in going any deeper than small talk. They are not so good at noticing and are not interested in hearing the answer to say “How are you really”?
Understandably, people don’t want to take on others peoples pain, life is hard enough as it is. Sometimes it is easier to be alone, to go home and to simply zone out. It takes effort and hard work to involve yourself in other people’s lives. We often couldn’t be bothered but yet we are all constantly longing for someone else to reach out to us and to be connected. It’s a conundrum.
The fact remains that people need to feel loved, listened to and valued by those near to them.
Stephen Fry says it this way:
“In the end, loneliness is the most terrible and contradictory of my problems. I hate having only myself to come home to…
It’s not that I want a sexual partner, a long-term partner, someone to share a bed and a snuggle on the sofa with – although perhaps I do and in the past I have had and it has been joyful. But the fact is I value my privacy too. It’s a lose-lose matter. I don’t want to be alone, but I want to be left alone (source).
Phil, what made the difference for you personally?
For me, I actually came to the understanding or revelation one day that there is a God and that he actually does love me, care for me and that he has a purpose for my life. Up until that point, I was a closed shop, with a very hard heart, that no one and I mean no –one, was going to get anywhere near. All of a sudden I had a totally new perspective on life for which I am very grateful and it actually saved me.
I came to realise that I was not alone, God has a purpose for me and that there was actually meaning and hope to the crazy world I was living in. It was actually a huge relief. I was about to explode. From there I was able to reset and move forward, although this did not take away the for need for relationship and community.
It did take a crisis in my life to wake me up and as Richard Rohr explains :
“When a person is on a serious inner journey to his or her own powerlessness and is also in immediate contact with the powerless men and women, then community will result”.
Suffering seems to get our attention. If you don’t have a conflict moment, you don’t stop long enough to explore what happened or to work out what you think and who you are. I think that’s why there is so much small talk. Either people have not faced serious conflict and have never learned to go deeper, or they are just not interested.
Thanks Phil so much, this has been a real eye opener for me and I’m sure there are many who identify with what you have said.
If you are feeling lonely and need assistance please talk to someone and tell them how you are feeling.
OR You can call life line on 131114
Richard Rohr – “Simplicity” The Freedom of Letting Go.
Post published by Ken Eisold Ph.D. on May 24, 2013