Only the lonely, Know the way I feel tonight, Only the lonely, Know this feeling ain’t right – Roy Orbison
If you feel lonely, you’re not alone.
Loneliness is a subjective sense of isolation – a feeling of not being able to connect with other people, a sense of being apart. As humans, we feel the need to be with other people. We need to relate to others, to get involved in their lives, to work with them, and to express our emotions around other people. Our social needs are nearly as powerful as our other basic needs, like our needs for food, water, and shelter.
When we are deprived of our social needs, we can become fearful. Our sense of being alone might become amplified. It is common for a person in social isolation to magnify the thoughts that accompany loneliness – and then withdraw even further from others. When we choose to withdraw, we may end up feeling trapped in our isolation.
Given the importance of social connection, it is surprising that twenty percent of people feel sufficiently isolated that loneliness plays a major role in their lives. Over the past several decades our culture has changed to the point where loneliness has emerged as a major social and psychological problem. We are a culture that places a premium on individualism. We emphasize the importance of being able to do things on our own. Many people pride themselves on their ability to survive and experience success without having to depend on other people. The down side of this social norm, however, is that many of us feel lonely. We do need other people.
Research findings confirm that as a society we are moving toward more loneliness. Respondents to a social science survey in 2004 were three times more likely to report that they had nobody with whom to discuss important issues than respondents in 1985. During the past twenty years the size of the average household has declined ten percent to 2.5 persons. In 1990, more than one in five households was headed by a single parent – and today that figure is one in three. In 2000 more than twenty-seven million in the U.S. lived entirely alone, and the estimate for 2010 is twenty-nine million.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.