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Loneliness is a physical pain.
The reason I'm checking this out is because of all the stories I see at this time of year that talk about so many lonely people over the holidays. In fact we had one just yesterday that talked about how some people dread the holidays. So I wanted to know just what loneliness is and thought perhaps you did too.
First a definition of loneliness:
Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant feeling in which a person feels a strong sense of emptiness and solitude. The causes of loneliness are varied, but it can be affected by social, mental, emotional and spiritual factors. It's a natural phenomenon, since humans are social creatures by nature. Loneliness has also been described as social pain, a psychological mechanism meant to alert an individual of isolation and motivate him or her to seek social connection.
Reading that, it doesn't appear to be physical pain so far.
About.com Psychology says the common definitions of loneliness describe it as a state of solitude or being alone. It cause people to feel empty, alone and unwanted. They also say loneliness can be attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem. People who lack confidence in themselves often believe they're unworthy of the attention or regard of other people.
So far it's looking like it's going to turn out to be fiction.
This is no small problem by the way. I also found an article in USA Today that said almost a quarter of people complain about frequently feeling lonely. But as Baby Boomers age, that number is expected to increase. Longer lifespans andd more years in widowhood will lead to that. Not only that, but single person households have been rising for years.
Social neuroscientist Doctor John Cacioppo says in the United States, loneliness is less of a risk because Americans are an individualistic culture. However, he says Americans get lonely at key times such as the holidays. And here's an interesting thought from Doctor Cacioppo. If you're depressed you don't necessarily get lonely, but if you're lonely you can certainly become depressed.
This ia also something important to realize. Doctor Cacioppo says when it comes to friendships, it comes down to quality not quantity. And he says as long as you're not feeling lonely in your marriage, having a spouse is certainly beneficial.
Researchers at the University of Californa asked volunteers to play a computer game that simulated a simple game of catch with two other players. What they didn't know was that the other "players" were just the computer and it was designed to leave them out after a few minutes of play, resulting in feelings of loneliness and rejection. They found that the feeling of loneliness is actucally processed in the same part of your brain as physical pain, called the anterior cingulate cortex. This explains the human desire to fit in, to seek out companionship and helps to understand the power of peer pressure. Scientists are also hoping to use this information to help explain and treat some forms of depression.
That part of the brain, by the way, also appears to play a role in a wide variety of autonomic functions like controlling blood pressure and heart rate, not to mention the reward anticipation, decision making, empthy and emotion.
So now I'm back to fact not fiction because if the change is physiological in nature..that change in the brain...that's causing all this, then certainly loneliness is a physical pain.
Every report I've read says all of us have feelings of loneliness from time to time. Doctor Cacioppo says we should recognize loneliness as a sign that something needs to change. Looking at life as the glass half full would be a good start.
If you or someone you know is lonely, I found a resource website. It's called
webofloneliness.com. That's Web Of Loneliness Dot Com.