The question of loneliness

Somebody asked: “What about loneliness? It is such a huge problem … Loneliness comes slowly, it penetrates you little by little, through your staggering feet, then it rises and tightens your stomach, starts flowing in your veins up to your hands and your neck, until it reaches your eyes, ready to be poured in the form of hot, salty fluid that is running up your mouth and your nose, with paralysing speed…. It surrounds you, it terrorizes you and brings you down… You can see it in the songs, the movies, and late at night in the darkness, inside your empty room. It comes at times, although fleeting and unpredictable, yet painful and incomprehensible, like the time you find out that you must part with what you love … It feels like the permanent sense of emigration …with no second chance to return .. Your house is this loneliness, this instability and chaos …. Uncertainty about everything …. Work, love, friends …. This emptiness, this faceless apartment, where you do not expect anyone to open the door and enter …. ”

Defining loneliness … Is it a feeling -which we may cause ourselves-? Is it a disease? A symptom of depression? What is certain is that it troubles many. Related research, which was published in the scientific journal ‘Journal of Clinical Nursery’, suggests that one in three people feel lonely. In Greek data, if these findings are valid, we have presently 3.5 million people who feel lonely. In essence, we are all alone at the ordinary as well as the important moments of our lives, but also at the end of every day, as no one can feel and understand exactly what we think and feel. But are there any objective criteria to define loneliness? It certainly is a universal experience that has many meanings and forms. Undoubtedly, man is by nature a social being and therefore it is considered healthy and normal to long for contact and connect with those around them. Of the same importance is considered for man to be able to enjoy the company of themselves and feel good when they are alone, and here we must emphasize the distinction between loneliness and solitude. There are people who feel lonely while surrounded by a crowd and others, who although on their own, they feel complete.

So what is the source of the feeling of loneliness?
Western thought invented loneliness, just as it founded organized societies under a social contract between individuals, collectives and institutions, so as an outlet … modern man finds a deadlock. Closed in apartments, in offices, to themselves, considering fleeing a solution. Man invented individualism and led the way to loneliness, as sociability is shaped by labels and privacy by individualism. Words have been replaced by a stereotypical structure that perpetuates the simplistic “subject-verb-object” and the adjectives have not been able to give properties; only labels..
To better understand loneliness we must divide it into the intra-personal, interpersonal, social and existential loneliness.

The intra-personal loneliness is expressed by the bad relationship we have with ourselves and it is the most difficult and dangerous condition that can be experienced by man. It is the alienation of the individual from their own self, ignoring the positive emotions they experience in life, focusing only on the negative which they constantly feed, exacerbating the fragmentation of their personality, following a suicidal course, that while being a conscious observer of it, they remain idle instead of dealing with it creatively.

Interpersonal Loneliness is determined by the lack of a partner or sometimes the lack of very close friends. Also, it may be often detected in cases where the person is in a close relationship and in close friendly company and then it is expressed as “lack of communication” or as “a meaningless relationship”.

Social loneliness is determined by the lack of socialization and companionship in the social context. It can originate from personality problems, or the lack of social skills and the competence to approach other people, or some mental disorder. Also, it can be the result of a phase of loss such as bereavement, unemployment, divorce, immigration, retirement. A person experiences social loneliness even when they are engaged in a crowded environment, but their presence is “superficial” in the social processes.

Existential loneliness is the loneliness from which we can not escape. It is independent from what is happening in our daily lives. Irvin Yalom leads us to understand it step by step and he comments characteristically: “… the thought, the emotion and the behaviour of individuals are born from conflicting forces inside them. Furthermore – and this is a crucial point- these conflicting forces are at various levels of consciousness, some of them are even completely unconscious…” So, inevitably we confront the “facts”of existence, and what are these” facts” of existence? Yalom continues: “… if we allow ourselves to put aside or in brackets the daily cares of our lives and reflect deeper on our place in the universe, then inevitably we touch the deep structures of existence, which is death, loneliness, the need for meaning in our lives, and freedom.”
Existential loneliness then, is the fact that no one else will live our lives for us or instead of us, for the same reason that no one will die with us. It is the realization that our personal fulfillment, inevitably cuts us off from the others. It is the awareness of the enormous responsibility we have for choosing our path, without the certainty that we are making the right choice regarding our decisions, knowing that every choice precludes other possibilities. It is also the realization that the thread of time diminishes without always allowing us to revise and correct, as we go on experiencing our mortality.

Fighting Loneliness

What traps us is the illusion of separation. In his philosophy, Rumi describes that the first steps in order to get out of loneliness are formulated in the expression: “Do not feel lonely… The whole universe is within you.” The truth is that separation is felt pretty intensely, when we do not feel “in unity” with ourselves, when we experience a lack of self-esteem, when we do not process our negative thoughts which circumvent the beauty that exists in our present, when we do not deal with the traumatic experiences of the past so that they will trouble us in the present, when we do not love ourselves totally. This means that even if we find someone else, we will still feel lonely, because the resentment we feel is deeply rooted in us and it will devour the completion of this relationship. Introspection, whether done by ourselves or with the more specialized help from experts, is the only possible treatment that guides us to a complete connection with ourselves, leads us to find our connection paths with the others and makes us feel happy citizens of an undivided universe.

In a study titled ‘Study of Adult Development’, scientists at the University of Harvard studied the recipe of happiness by observing the daily lives of 724 people for 75 years. Their conclusion, after the completion of the study in late 2015, is that neither riches nor glory are enough to make someone happy. Instead, the quality of relationships guarantees happiness, health and … memory!

The painting in this post is by Gounaropoulos, who was talking characteristically about his artistic technique and: “…the three dimensions of light which are merged in a catalytic sense of transparency in the eyes of the beholder, leading to connotations beyond time!”. I feel that it is the most successful visual display that can be for the process of introspection, through the intuitive gaze of the artist who has managed to overcome the “typically visible”!

Anastasia Varsamopoulou, Psychologist Msc