The Biology of Loneliness

“What I recall about the apartment that night was its silence,” Joan Didion writes in The Year of Magical Thinking. This is her book about John Gregory Dunne’s sudden death after a myocardial injury. Didion described the “unending lack of communication” that followed the death of her husband: “I couldn’t count the number of times that something would arise during an average day that I had to tell him.” His death did not stop this impulse. The possibility of responding was what ended.

Loneliness can be described as a “sorrowing about aloneness.” (Mendelson Contemporary Psychoanalysis 1990). Weisel-Barth wrote of the “geography of profound protracted loneliness” (International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology 2009), in which God said, “It is not healthy for the man to live alone; I will make a helper for him.”

Grief from the death of a loved person, i.e., being alone for one person (Alberti. The Biography of Loneliness. 2019, p. 110). Emotional loneliness (Fakoya and al., BMC Public Health. 2020) can cause unbearable feelings. However, someone can also be “generally lonely” (Fakoya and al., BMC Public Health. 2020). This is described in Part 1. These people feel “on the social fringe.” (Cacioppo et al., Psychological Bulletin, 2014)

Humans are “meaning-making animals” because we can perceive social relationships even when there is no objective relationship, such as between readers and authors or characters on TV. (Hawkley and Cacioppo Annals of Behavioral Medicine 2010. Some would consider our need for social connections a “biological necessity” (Holt and Cacioppo, em>Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2010). Solitary confinement is considered torture if it lasts more than 15 days. (Ahalt et al, The BMJ, 2017)

Loneliness is often related to relationship quality rather than quantity. This means that loneliness can be experienced in a group, a marriage, or a large social group. (Xia & Li, 2018).