Saturday, March 19, 2016

Loneliness And The Brain

This is definitely something I struggle with in my own life.  Loneliness is not easy to overcome and I've fought it as far back as I can remember.  There are several factors in my own life why loneliness is such an issue for me.

I wish I could remember the name of a film we watched in grade school many years ago.  I don't recall much of it now because I was so young at the time, but I really identified with the kid in the film.  For some reason, the thought I came away from it and remembered was that you could die if you were lonely.  Now, I'm not so sure that was the intent of the film, but it is what my mind remembers.

Growing up in my family, I was often thrown to the side for various reasons.  There is the time that my mom chose my dad over me when he had hepatitis in the hospital and for some reason I was in the hospital being taken care of by nurses.  Also, the times where I got locked in a closet by a babysitter so she didn't have to worry about me.  My brothers also stole the show and caused my parents to spend more time with them, leaving me to fend for myself and figure life out on my own.

The chaos of our house made it difficult to form relationships in the family because if you weren't getting abused, molested, or tortured, you were tip-toeing around on eggshells trying to not be noticed.  In addition, we moved so many times before I graduated from high school that I barely had a best friend for very long.  I was taught to not trust friends because then they might learn the family secrets.

All of these things made loneliness one of my best companions.  Yes, I had my dogs and cats, but they too were killed and removed from me by the monsters in my life.  I had my sheep and hogs in high school, but there would always be some reason that my parents would come up with to get rid of them.

To this day, I struggle with loneliness.  I have very few true friends and one of them that I had known almost the longest passed away from pneumonia.  I'm so afraid that everyone I know will either leave me, find an excuse to avoid me, or will end up dying and not be there for me.  I'm being brutally honest here because this is what I experience.

Reading the article from the work that John Cacioppo is doing on loneliness, was something refreshing for me to read.  I did not realize anyone was even looking at the topic. In his work at the University of Chicago, he looks at what happens to the brain when the social connections are missing.

One of the points that he makes is you can have too many social connections.  If you have too many, it can end up being that many of these connections are not motivated by the right things.  Sometimes fewer connections are better. 

I find it amazing that 25% of Americans according to his book have no confidant at all in their life.  While it is hard to determine how many confidants are ideal, one is better than zero and two is better than one.

Even being a client of a professional therapist is not enough.  It may provide a person that is someone you can confide in, but it is a one-way street.  It doesn't allow you to have that rich reciprocal bond.  It takes a two-way relationship for our connection to be strong and effective.

According to John Cacioppo's research, one in four people regularly feel lonely.  Chronic loneliness increases the odds of an early death by 20%.  Loneliness decreases the effectiveness of sleep.

In the article, Loneliness Is Like An Iceberg, just putting lonely people together does not work because it confuses the idea of loneliness with the fact of being alone.  Just focusing on social skills is not going to do too much because a lonely person is focused on self-preservation.  It is not the answer to just give lonely people support of the people around them because it takes reciprocal connections.

The one treatment that did seem to help was changing how lonely people think about other people.  Helping them to understand what happens when their brain goes into self-preservation mode is an effective way for helping give lonely people a chance at overcoming this struggle.

Too often in our world, we want to run over those that seem weaker or who are more outcast.  Instead of getting to know them and understand what makes them tick, we sentence them to a life of loneliness.  When you combine that with loss and trauma in the life of a lonely person, you're only casting them to the outer darkness of society.

I believe these are important conversations to have because if we want to survive as a species on this planet, we cannot go through life ignoring the people who are lonely.  We need to be a species that you don't house alone, but that you put together for the greater good of society and our planet.

As I stated in the beginning, I still struggle with the issue of loneliness and I feel all alone.

Blog Post And Images (c) 2016 by Don Shetterly

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