The Problem of Loneliness

Loneliness

by Jayaram V

A tree has better chances of propagation and survival in the midst of a forest rather than standing alone in a grass land. Animals such as lions, tigers, giraffes, wild buffalos and elephants ensure their survival and safety by staying in groups and following group norms. Birds live in flocks and migrate from one place to another in groups. Even fish, bees, ants and several microorganisms live in colonies to ensure their safety and continuity as species.

The very process of survival of each group of organisms depends upon how its members contribute to their overall welfare and preservation, despite the competition they face from one another. Nature promotes survival of organisms that are best adapted to their environment living in groups and competing within themselves for resources and propagation. When you look at life in general, it becomes obvious that plants, animals or humans, generally tend to prefer to live in groups and follow group norms. The animals may not have our intelligence, but they know instinctively that living together is safer than living alone.

Social banishment is a peculiar custom followed not only by humans, but also by many animal communities. When it comes to punishing others, both humans and animals tend to isolate their targets as a very convenient solution to subject them to intense physical and emotional pressure and make an example out of them.

LONELINESS AND SOLITUDE

Loneliness is different from solitude. Some people prefer to stay alone for spiritual, personal or professional reasons. It gives them an opportunity to spend some time with themselves and focus on the important aspects of their lives. It energizes them and gives them a respite to recuperate from the sheer monotony of life.

Why people prefer to be alone.
There are many psychological, social, situational, religious and spiritual reasons why people prefer to be alone. Trauma, depression, introversion, low self-esteem, fear, distrust, social practices such as purdah, discrimination and excommunication, and spiritual practices which demand isolation and seclusion prompt people to go into some form of emotional hiding. Loneliness and alienation caused by characterological and psychological factors is different from loneliness caused by situational or spiritual factors and requires treatment or counseling. Emotionally, loneliness is an escape from the realities of life and unwillingness to live in the present. Extreme trauma, such as the death of a dear one can force people to go into temporary self-exile and avoid outside contact. American Psychologist, Carl Rogers believe that to enjoy a good life one must be open to experience, live in the present moment, trust in oneself, take responsibility for the choices made and regard oneself and others in positive esteem. Lonely people have problems in all these areas. Hence, they live and think not according to their experience but their preconceived notions about themselves, the world and others. Jayaram V

We all need time to be with ourselves. We need space so that we can be free temporarily from the social noise and recuperate. It is a conscious choice we make to be free from the pressures of life and find solace in the recesses of our own hearts and minds. Solitary living is an ideal, if not a precondition, according to many religions, for the spiritual advancement of an individual and for cleaning the body and mind of their accumulated toxins caused by stress and strain...

Loneliness on the other hand is not a choice. It is a persistent feeling forced upon people by their own beliefs or by circumstances beyond their control. It is a state of mind, because of which a person may feel lonely even in the midst of a crowd. It is a situation in which one fails to connect with the world outside in a meaningful manner.

In solitude people may not feel lonely at all, even if they are alone, as they manage to communicate with things they love, like the plants and animals or even inanimate objects they find interesting in their environment. But people suffering from loneliness prefer to stay alone as they find contact with the external world both uncomfortable and intimidating.

WHEN LONELINESS BECOMES A PROBLEM

Chronic loneliness is a more acute and abnormal situation. If allowed to prevail for long, it may lead to many psychosomatic disorders, such as heart ailments, stroke, depression and lack of sleep. Suicidal tendencies, antisocial or sociopathic behavior, aggression are other notable consequences of chronic loneliness.

There are many individual and circumstantial reasons why people suffer from loneliness as a direct result of their mental conditioning. The circumstantial reasons include any painful or traumatic event, such as accident, death of a family member, unexpected financial loss or bankruptcy, loss of job, an incurable or life threatening disease, physical disability or situations like imprisonment. They are life altering experiences which may shatter one‘s world view and severely reduce one‘s ability to respond to the challenges of life.

People living in unfamiliar places or foreign countries where they have to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers or people who experience social disgrace, a humiliating marriage, social boycott or debilitating illness may also suffer from feelings of isolation and separateness. In most cases the problem lasts for a while, as people are resilient and learn to transition through tough times, but in some it continues for a long time requiring medical intervention.

Changing moral and social norms, broken marriages, the problem of divorce, deteriorating family values and confused marriage roles and the pressures of urban life are some of the situational factors, which force people to feel distrustful of the world and others. Except perhaps in some rural and backward communities where people still care for each other, the situation is more or less the same in various parts of the world.

The internal factors responsible for feelings of loneliness are primarily early childhood traumas and mental illnesses such as some types of phobias, paranoia and chronic depression, which compel people to be alone and suffer rather than be with others. Such people, even if they live amidst society and seem to interact with others, actually live with a haunting feeling of loneliness and isolation and apathy. Because of low self-esteem, they frequently suffer from feelings of persecution and experience negative emotions, such as fear, suspicion, shame and resentment. They think and behave as if they have no power or control over their lives.

In the present day world even children are not free from this malady. Because of increasing number of divorces, economic upheavals, natural disasters, political problems such as war and terrorism, civil unrest, ethnic violence, urban life and several such factors, many children are separated from their families at an early age and forced to live in isolation and abject fear of their survival. They grow up feeling abandoned, lonely, unwanted, rejected, excluded, unloved and uncared for, a feeling which they carry into their adulthood and grow increasingly resentful of the society or the community to which they belong.

Sense of belongingness is an important personal and social need. Whether we are at home or at workplace, we love to be recognized, appreciated and accepted for what we are. Even if we have some serious reservations about the world in general, we need the company of others. Unless you want to renounce the world and seek salvation as a monk, your identity as an individual and your personal success and happiness are better ensured by living amidst society and interacting with others.

COPING WITH LONELINESS

The following suggestions are meant for normal and healthy individuals who are still in control of their lives and are willing to take necessary action to avoid becoming victims of loneliness.

Source: Reproduced partially from the article, "Becoming Aware of Yourself" from the book Think Success by Jayaram V. You may purchase this book from our online store

Suggestions for Further Reading

About Think Success: In 44 well written articles presented in this books, you are introduced to a treasure trove of transformational wisdom. By following the suggestions given in this book, you can achieve success and happiness and live. It is written by Jayaram V, author of several books and hundreds of essays about Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Spirituality and Self-help. This book is currently available at our Online Store (for residents of USA, Canada, UK and some other countries only).

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