Dealing with Loneliness

  • According to projections made by the UN Population Division, there will be approximately two elderly persons for every child in the world by the year 2050.
  • This implies that the aged 60 and above, which currently constitute less than 20% of the population will account for 32% of the population by 2050.
  • Today, the biggest enemies of the geriatric population include solitude, loneliness, isolation, neglect and a sense of not being wanted.
  • Our society has traditionally treated the care of the elderly as the responsibility of the younger generation.
  • However, the rapid increase in the number of nuclear families, the growing urbanization and the global nature of employment opportunities are forcing a change in this implicit social contract.

THE CONCEPT OF ‘LONELINESS’

  • Loneliness and the state of being alone are different entities.
  • ‘Aloneness’ is simply being physically away from others. Loneliness, on the other hand, can be defined as a chronic, distressful mental state whereby an individual feels estranged from/rejected by peers and is starved for the emotional intimacy found in relationships and mutual activity.
  • Loneliness doesn’t refer to depression or grief. Though depression may result from loneliness, the two are not synonymous. A lonely individual is driven to establish new relationships to eradicate the distressful state he/she endures. A depressed individual, on the other hand, is unwilling to impose his/her unhappiness on others and therefore remains in isolation.
  • Loneliness also differs from grief. Though loneliness could result from the death of a spouse or the end of some significant relationship that may have comprised the bulk of an individual's social interaction, it is not the same as grief. Grief is the process of coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, while loneliness is simply a component of this procedure responding to the absence of the loved one.
  • Loneliness is not the self-imposed. Though many artists (of various vocations) seek voluntary solitude as a means to get inspired and focus on a project, ‘constructive aloneness’ is not tantamount to a state of loneliness. In fact, when adolescents were tested for loneliness and creativity to determine if this correlation existed, an inverse relationship was found.
  • It should be noted that loneliness is also not the self-imposed isolation sought for spiritual purposes.
  • Taoists speak of a state known as ‘returning’, which is the centering of the self after having been involved in the day's social activities. Returning comprises of isolation from others to cleanse oneself of their influences. The same is true of monks and nuns of many religions who live a cloistered existence, sometimes abandoning speech or other forms of human interaction as a means to achieve greater enlightenment on spiritual matters.
  • Again, this is a form of solitude that is chosen, and is designed to achieve a specific goal. It does not accurately reflect the distressful, unwanted state of loneliness.

CATEGORIES OF LONELINESS

  • Loneliness can be divided into two categories with separate symptomology and differing courses of treatment:
  • Emotional Isolation – This is brought about by the loss of a significant relationship in one's life through death/divorce.
  • The only means by which this loneliness can be remedied is by finding another equally important relationship to fill the void, and not just by becoming socially active in a superficial, non-intimate manner.
  • This type of loneliness is often accompanied by hyper-alertness and anxiety, making the individual oversensitive to social cues, leading them to misinterpret or exaggerate the intentions of others (whether positive or negative).
  • Emotional isolation is compared to the ‘fearful abandonment feelings’ of childhood. Attachment styles learned in childhood, as a means of relating to a caregiver are repeated through adulthood as one bond in other significant relationships. Therefore an individual who achieves a secure attachment style with a caregiver in childhood is less likely to experience loneliness as an adult, due to the fact that they have developed trust and social skills that facilitate interpersonal relationships.
  • Emotional isolation has also been termed as the ‘loneliness of early detachment experiences’ and at times, has even been referred to as ‘primary loneliness’, in order to differentiate it from other temporary types of loneliness.
  • Social Isolation – This involves the deficiency of a social network.
    • The feelings in this form of loneliness revolve around boredom, a lack of focus and a sense of being marginalized/rejected by peers. Once this individual has access to a network of social interaction, the symptoms usually dissipate. Six key relationships have been identified, and a deficit in any one of these can cause ‘social loneliness’.
    • The first is termed as ‘attachments’, which refers to associations in which one feels a sense of safety and security, such as with a spouse or parent/s.
  • The seconds is termed as ‘social integration’ refers to the existence of a network of relationships, generally provided in a group setting such as a neighborhood, church or club.
  • The third is termed as ‘opportunity for nurturance’and refers to all associations that involve the individual acting as a caregiver or simply being responsible for another's well-being in some fashion.
  • The fourth is termed ‘reassurance of worth’ and refers to relationships that highlight/acknowledge a person's skills and abilities, such as in a work setting.
  • The fifth is termed as ‘reliable alliances’ and refers to having support and others to count on.
  • The sixth and final is termed as ‘guidance’and refers to the comparative advantage of having people in your life whom you can trust, and can seek advice from. The absence of any of these associations could bring about social loneliness as the many facets of an individual's social needs are not being met.
  •  

    LONELINESS AND ELDERLY

    • The elderly tend to face the issue of loneliness the most. One may lose a spouse through death or divorce. Friendships cease due to death or retirement relocation. Children leave the nest for college or to begin their own lives, perhaps in other cities, and focus their energy away from the nuclear family.
    • Moreover, due to failing health or the inability to drive or walk, an older person may become housebound.
    • More revealing, however, is the locus of control attribution in the aged. Those who internalize the responsibility and control of their own lives were found to be less lonely than those who felt they had little control over the latter part of their lives.

    STRATEGIES TO COMBAT LONELINESS

      • Keep busy: If you are lonely, do with eagerness whatever is in front of you to do: for example, write letters, visit people, fix something that needs to be fixed, take up a hobby, startcollecting something of value and so on. The cure to loneliness is keeping busy.
      • Involve yourself more: If you are lonely, involve yourself in community affairs. In many cases, when people retire, they find themselves in a burned-out condition, thus resulting in them leading a sedentary lifestyle. This kind of mental attitude sets a person up to be lonely.
      • Help others: If you are lonely, look for and strive to cure the loneliness of someone else. In the process, you will also manage to cure your own loneliness
      • Avoid escaping from reality by day dreaming, sleeping too much and watching too much television. The television can be a life-saver at times, but excessive television-watching is a sure-shot way of becoming depressed and lonely. Too much sleep can be a powerful escape mechanismfrom guilt, responsibility, failure, and hopelessness.Fight the tendency to sleep too much.
      • Choose to be happy: If you are lonely, you are probably depressed and unhappy. Choose to be happy in spite of the circumstances. For example, Asking yourself questions like, "How does my unhappiness change my situation?" will make you realize that it doesn't, and that it just makes it worse. So make things better for yourself by choosing to be happy. Fight depression by talking out your problems. Talk to friends, relatives or a counselor, and keep talking until you find yourself maintaining an attitude of optimism.
      • Collect good thoughts: If you are lonely, collect inspirational thoughts, good jokes, meaningful poems, and literary masterpieces. Read as many books as you can. Make a list of good things that you read about and then try to memorize some inspirational quotation and share it with whoever comes your way. Collect good thoughts to share with those people who come your way, and soon others will seek your company.
      • Join a social group: If you are lonely, join one of the many social groups in your community. See that you visit the Senior Citizens Club regularly and meet new people. Commit yourself to one or more groups that interest you.