The Perils and Privileges Of Loneliness
One definition of loneliness is a negative and complex emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. It can be temporary or permanent and usually includes anxiety over a lack of connection or community.
Loneliness is so painful that it has been used as torture and punishment throughout history. Loneliness is more than just sad. It can also be very damaging. Lonely people eat, drink, and sleep less often. They are more likely to develop psychological problems like alcoholism and depression.
One definition of loneliness is “social pain.” As physical pain evolved to warn of injury and stop further damage, loneliness may have evolved to encourage us to form social bonds and signal social isolation. Humans are social creatures. They rely on each other for survival, protection, and identity meaning. To be alone, historically and today, is to be at mortal risk of losing oneself.
Infants are dependent on others, and loneliness can lead to fears of abandonment and neglect. Later in life, loneliness may be caused by death, divorce, or a breakup. Splitting can result at the end of one person or a significant part of their social circle. You may also feel lonely going through major events like moving, changing jobs, immigrating, or having children.
Industrial societies are particularly vulnerable to loneliness. McPherson M (2006), “Social isolation in America: Changes over the past two decades in core discussion networks” is a US study. American Sociological Review, 71(3), 353-75, found that between 1985 and 2004, nearly three times as many people reported not having a confidante. Respondents most often reported three close confidants in 1985. By 2004, that number had dropped to zero. Smaller households, higher migration, greater media consumption, and longer life expectancy could explain these shocking findings. Living in large conglomerations based on productivity and consuming at the expense of connection and contemplation can be profoundly alienating. Long commutes are not only a source of isolation but can also reduce community cohesion, making it harder for people to socialize and hurting their ability to compromise their time. The internet is a great comforter. It has everything: news, information, music, entertainment, and relationships. It can also create envy, longing, confusion, desensitization, violence, and suffering.
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Over the millennia, man has become one of the most social animals. He suddenly finds himself alone and alone, not in a desert or mountaintop but in a city full of men, reachable but distant. Despite our fear of loneliness, our society has become highly individualistic and materialistic. People are no longer called individuals but individuals. They are defined not according to their social roles, needs, or aspirations but rather to their economic or consumer status. The Latin doctor means ‘to educate’ or to make a right.’ Their patients (from Latin patera meaning ‘to suffer) are not patients, but clients, consumers, service users, or end users. Anybody interested in or involved in the relationship (sorry for the ambiguity) is a stakeholder. This includes creditors, commissioners and managers, investors, creditors, lenders, administrators, suppliers and collaborators, commentators, competitors, commentators, and others. They all learn leadership, communication, and negotiation skills, as well as conflict-handling skills. They also organize activities for team building, group bonding, and networking. They cannot find the time or humanity to listen to, think, feel, or exercise basic common sense. The then Chief Executive of the National Health Service (NHS) faced the Health Select Committee to defend himself over the deaths of Stafford Hospital patients in Staffordshire, England. He admitted to the Members of Parliament that patients weren’t the center of how the NHS operated then. Organizations should not continue to hire more inept management consultants. Instead, they should seek a moral philosopher to help them see the bigger picture and provide direction.
Some people choose to live in isolation from society or not actively seek out social interaction. These “loners” (a term often used to refer to abnormality or deviousness) can either enjoy their inner world or hate or distrust others. Although not all lonely people choose to live alone, many do. Timon of Athens was born around the same period as Plato. He began his life in wealth and lavished money on his flattering friends. However, he never expected anything in return for his noble concept of friendship. All his friends abandoned him when he reached his last drachma. This forced him to work in the fields. He found a pot of gold, and all his old friends returned to him as he worked the soil. He cursed them, drove them away with sticks, and covered them with earthen clods. He publicly declared his hatred for humanity and fled into the forest. People sought him out as a holy man, much to his dismay.
Timon felt lonely in the forest. He didn’t believe he had anything to be lonely in the woods. He no longer valued his friends and their companionship. This meant he couldn’t have desired or missed them even though he might have pined for a better man. Loneliness is not an objective state of affairs but a subjective one. It’s a function of the desired and achieved levels and types of social interaction. Even if surrounded by family and friends, lovers often feel alone when their loved one is absent. It is more common for jilted lovers to feel lonely than those who live apart from their loved ones. This indicates that loneliness isn’t just a matter of lack of interaction and the possibility or potential for interaction. It is not uncommon to feel lonely in a marriage. This is because the relationship is no longer validating and nurturing us but instead limiting and holding us back. Anton Chekov, the writer, warned that if you fear loneliness, don’t marry. This is because your relationship is no longer validating and nurturing you but also causing you to flee our constant loneliness and our inexplicable demons. Loneliness isn’t the feeling of being without but rather the experience that comes with living. It is part of our human condition, and it is only a matter of time before it returns, often with avenging consequences.
According to this view, loneliness results from a conflict between desire and lack of meaning. This is especially true in modern societies that have abandoned traditional religious and religious sources of meaning in favor of thinly sourced truth. This explains why people with a strong sense of purpose or meaning or who have a strong narrative (such as Nelson Mandela and St Anthony of the Desert) are protected from loneliness regardless of their circumstances. Because he believed that loneliness could help him find the answers and real value in life, St Anthony sought it out. After spending 15 years in a tomb and 20 in an abandoned desert fort, his devotees convinced him to leave the Solitude of the defense to organize and instruct them. The Greek monos is the Greek word for ‘alone.’ Anthony was not as sick and emaciated as expected but emerged from the fort healthy and radiant. He lived to the grand age of 105 in the 4th Century, which must have been considered a minor miracle.
St. Anthony didn’t live a lonely life but rather one of Solitude. Loneliness, which is the feeling of being alone, is harmful. Solitude, which is the joy of being by yourself, is empowering. To process and solve problems, our unconscious needs privacy. Our body enforces this on us every night through sleep. Some people can escape the oppression of others during the day by falling into a trance. Although this practice is more common in traditional societies, it can be observed in my patients. It allows us to be free from the constraints, distractions, and opinions of others and will enable us to connect with ourselves, generate ideas, and create meaning. Friedrich Nietzsche believed that men without Solitude are enslaved people with no choice but to live in parrot culture and society. However, anyone who is part of an unmasked society naturally seeks Solitude. This becomes the source and guarantee of higher values and ambitions. Nietzsche wrote The Dawn.
Solitude takes us out of daily life’s mundane, mindless grind and puts us in touch with our innermost humanity and the natural world. This allows us to connect with our soul and become our companion and muse. This separation will enable us to forget earthly worries and petty emotions and encourage problem-solving, creativity, and spirituality. Solitary allows us to adjust and regulate our perspective and find the strength and security to continue living in Solitude.
Although St Anthony’s life can give the impression of Solitude, attachment is not necessarily at odds. Rainer Maria Rilke said that lovers’ most significant task is to guard each other’s privacy. Anthony Storr, a psychiatrist, convincingly argues in Solitude—a Return to The Self.
Despite this, not everyone can be alone. For many, loneliness will only lead to bitter loneliness. It is more common for younger people to find Solitude easier than older people. This suggests that Solitude, or the joy of being alone, results from inner riches and maturity.