Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Anatomy of Loneliness

I often try to analyze human behavior and its underlying causes. Had things turned out differently I would have been a psychology professional. Since I am not, I try to train my amateur psychologist brain in other ways. My recent readings include studies on Loneliness. Research from University of Cornell (on a side note if you see their way of putting it, you would be mistaken for assuming psychology is all math) and Chicago finds that homo sapiens, in spite of our claims to be rugged individualists, have evolved so as to be successful in social setups. Our brains have developed to meet the demands of social living – language, relationships, coordination, and social hierarchies. Our defenses – teeth, claws (or lack of them) are insufficient against most predators. 

In this context loneliness – previously described using terms such as depression, shyness or low social skills - is concluded to be ‘perceived’ or subjective (versus objective) social isolation. For example, one possible reason can be when an early childhood attachment disappears. Even though you may still have other friends, the perceived loss is hard to fill. Another possible scenario could be the feeling that you won’t fit in a group of people at a party or social event. Even worse is threat that you won’t fit in your community or family because you don’t abide by the norm. Human brain is wired to integrate with society and actual or perceived threats to that integration cause it to be stressed.

In fact the study claims that loneliness (or perceived social isolation) drives behaviors and feelings such as low social support, shyness, poor social skills, anger, anxiety, lower self esteem and bad mood.

What I like about psychology (and research such as this) is that it helps us understand our feelings and behaviors. Knowing this if you (or I) are feeling ‘subjective social isolation’ – I mean feeling lonely or a misfit – the solution is not to press the panic button or shut out the world, but to seek social support. After all, only fifty percent of loneliness is hereditary in nature, so the other fifty percent (which I count as significant) is in your control. You might also want to reconsider how important it is for you to fit in.