Psychology series: Why are we lonely?

4:33:00 PM


First published in Vajb magazine, in Serbian language.

Why do we feel lonely?
To feel that way, you don't have to live on a desert island with a coconut on a stick named Bob as your only friend. You can be constantly around people - physically - but still feel like you don't belong anywhere.

Now, you may say that it's wonderful to be alone - and I completely agree. As an introvert, I love spending time alone; I even need to be alone in order to stay sane.

What's the difference between solitude and loneliness?

Solitude is a healing silence and peace of mind. As Osho said, the capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it's not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person--without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.

On the other hand, loneliness is feeling empty and restless; it's that horrible feeling that you're completely alone in this world.

It's not about how many people are watching your InstaStory from a party, or how many people you were with at a said party - but how many people you feel truly connected with.
So - quality over quantity.


But why do people feel that way? Why we don't form deeper connections with others?
The answer, just like the human's mind, isn't simple and one-dimensional. It depends on a number of factors.

One of them is - surprise! - ourselves; more specifically, the structure of our personality.
It's often (wrongly) assumed that it depends on whether you're an introvert or an extrovert. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your level of introversion, as being an introvert means "charging your batteries" in solitude, while extroverts gain energy when they're around people.
Being an introvert is not equal to being antisocial - I know plenty of very social introverts (as a matter of fact, I am one, too).

What you probably didn't know (I didn't, too, before I heard it when I attended a panel about psychology) is that loneliness can be genetic.
According to some sources, loneliness is partly inheritable (although that part is not very big); people with that genetic predisposition tend to feel lonely more often, even in situations in which the majority of people would feel content and satisfied. They are also more prone to depression.

 Another factor is our relationship with our parents, especially during our childhood. That is, after all, our first contact with other human beings. If our parents didn't give us enough attention / we didn't have a good relationship with them / we had any family problems, chances are that we'd start to perceive the world as an unsafe and a scary place. A logical consequence is that we try to protect ourselves from getting hurt, and as a result, we build a wall around us and try to stop everyone from getting close to us. And voila! We're lonely and we don't know how to connect to others, because at the very beginning of our lives we didn't have the intimacy and closeness we so desperately needed. So we didn't learn how to form deep connections nor how to maintain them.

We take our patterns of behavior and what we think it's normal from our immediate family; if you grew up in an environment where you could express your feelings freely and communicate openly and without judgement, it's very likely that you'll continue to build healthy relationships throughout your life (sadly, the opposite is true as well).

The third factor is the time we live in and its products. I'm not the one who'll complain about the decadence of today's world and our generation (in my humble opinion, people were always the same, we just showed our flaws and dark sides differently, depending on a socio-historical situation). Despite that, I must admit we live way faster and that the fact that Internet is so widely available, and therefore information about the rest of the world, imposed some high standards. That is especially true in the world of social media, where everything's great and everyone's happy. Impossibly high standards often have negative effect on us, sensitive little flowers that just want to be love and accepted, and on our mental health.

If you don't know how to use social media properly - and to be completely honest, most of us don't - it's easy to become Alice in the Land of Likes. The main problem is that we mix the validation we get with likes/comments/shares & co. with the number of people who really love and appreciate us. And not only our likes: we often spontaneously assume that people who get a lot of likes and are popular on social media, are also popular and loved in real life. 

Maybe they are, maybe they aren't - we'll never know unless we get to know them personally. And probably not even then.

In the race to document every special moment instead of living them (do I sound like a life coach? I'm sorry haha), constantly seeing numbers that lift or ruin our mood and comparing ourselves to others, we often forget about real connection. Inevitable aftermath: we feel empty.

After all - why do we love so much books and songs that describe exactly how we feel? Why do we feel better (even if it's sometimes hard to admit) when we find out that someone else struggles with the same thing as us? Why it's more comforting to know that, at the end of the day, you have at least one friendly shoulder to cry on than to own any luxurious item material opulence can give you? Why is solitary confinement considered the most cruel punishment, given to the most cruel criminals?

Because a human being is not made to be alone, and no matter how much someone says they not need anyone - they want to feel heard, understood, accepted and loved. Simple.

P.S. Photos in this text are the paintings that belong to Picasso's Blue Period. It started in 1901, after the suicide of his close friend, Catalan poet Carles Casagemas. That wasn't the only time he had to deal with the death of a loved one in his (at the time) 19 years of life. His younger sister also died, as well as one other friend.
Pain and loneliness became blue, green and grey brush strokes; he stopped being around people like he used to and he just painted, painted and painted canvases that no one wanted to buy. They were too depressing to be on someone's wall, especially because he painted people on the margins of society - estranged, poor and desperate.

I hope no one who's reading this ever felt this way. I just don't know any photo or painting that would fit in more. 

More from the Psychology series: Big, bad FOMO and how to overcome itMaslow's hierarchy of needs

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