What makes someone feel all alone

Psychology: loneliness: when being alone hurts

Hermann Hesse compared loneliness with an isolating fog, Rainer Maria Rilke with the monotony of rain. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote: "Those who live alone rarely have reason to laugh." Perhaps that is not his deepest insight. But he's right. Loneliness is one of the most uncomfortable feelings that can really leave you deserted. But what is the cause of this feeling? "Mutual distrust and negative thoughts," claims John T. Cacioppo of the University of Chicago. People who feel lonely feel the world as threatening. They may not be aware of this, but they have negative thoughts about other people. And they would spread these thoughts through their facial expressions, gestures, body language, or comments. The stupid thing about it: Those who feel left out and unloved often retreat into the familiar snail shell as a reaction to this - and make their own situation worse.

The consequences are similar: those who are isolated often feel unloved, left alone, not understood or cut off from life. Loneliness can cause illness. We have known that for a good ten years. Various studies have shown that loneliness can be the cause of high blood pressure, heart disease, depression or sleep disorders. Because whoever feels this way suffers from chronic stress, with all its harmful consequences.

Loneliness: The effect is comparable to that of being overweight

In old age, lonely people lose mental agility faster than others. According to a large study by American psychologists, lonely people have a shorter life: "The effect is comparable to that of being overweight," says scientist Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University in Utah. So loneliness is like the new obesity. As a public health problem, however, it is not taken seriously.

But don't we all feel left alone at times? The question is: when does loneliness become dangerous? Then, if you suffer from it permanently for an extended period of time, the general formula is. But it is important to make the important difference. Between social isolation, which primarily describes how many or few people someone has contact with, and the subjective feeling of being abandoned into the world. This stale feeling can also be felt in the midst of a large family or group. Schoolchildren already experience this, and residents of shared apartments, nursing homes or old people's homes can feel it too.

Of course, age is also a risk factor for abandonment

The realization that loneliness can be as contagious as a cold is still relatively new. The isolation of individuals affects the entire environment, it is said. US scientist Cacioppo from the University of Chicago proved this in a large-scale study. It had a surprising result: when a person felt lonely, over half the time it happened that a family member or close friend also experienced feelings of loneliness over time. The "risk of contagion" was greatest in close relationships. But it had consequences even for the best friend's friends. It is only with third-degree friends that loneliness slowly loses its effectiveness.

Of course, age is also a risk factor for abandonment. The Munich medical professor Karl-Heinz Ladwig has researched it more closely together with colleagues. The scientists evaluated data from senior citizens from the Augsburg area in the so-called Kora Age study: Almost every fifth person over 65 feels lonely. There are no differences between men and women. It is noticeable that lonely men in particular are significantly more likely to become depressed than their socially well-connected peers. Depression is three times as common in lonely women.

But this study also shows: Not just living alone - especially after the death of your partner - is the main reason for loneliness. Because even with people over 85, the proportion of lonely people is not growing. The key is to have a social network, even if it is in the retirement home. Even a conversation at the garden fence or at the bakery can be a recipe against loneliness, they say.

There are plenty of ways out of solitude

The medicine professor Ladwig advises: "Everyone should counteract the loneliness of old age, and not only when they have the pension decision in hand." The scientist doesn't believe in calling for more senior programs. "There are already a very large number of offers for older people." If anything is needed at all, it is more motivation to accept these opportunities.

Because there are plenty of ways out of loneliness. For example, the author Eva Wlodarek ("Lonely - From courageously dealing with a painful feeling") advises first of all to take the initiative: "Make it clear to yourself: In the end it is up to you that you are lonely. But it is not easy for those affected to jump over their shadows: "The path out of fear leads through fear," advises Wlodarek: speak to people, ask questions, listen. Most, she says, would be happy about such unobtrusive interest from the other.

In this context, Wlodarek also warns not to overstate disappointments. You shouldn't get angry if you encounter rejection from time to time: "Not every new contact immediately creates a friendship." But that has above all to do with the expectations of others. Her colleague Doris Wolf ("Overcoming loneliness. Finding inner emptiness to yourself and others") is even more specific: "The first step out of loneliness is the step towards yourself," she writes. Healing loneliness means stopping rejecting yourself and instead accepting yourself.

Affected have to leave the snail shell

Of course, that sounds easier than it looks for lonely people: being open, friendly, curious - that's easy to say. But that is exactly what defines the problem. Many people think that it is easier to perish in a snail shell alone. But that is exactly why it is so important for those affected to leave the snail shell, say the experts.

Easy conversation partners can be found quickly: You can start with the neighbors, the hairdresser or the shop assistant. You don't have to look for in-depth dialogues: "Talk about everyday things: the weather, a newspaper article or the television program, according to advice. It is also recommended to make a list of your own interests and then see where you can find people with similar hobbies This could be a cooking class, a fishing seminar or back exercises for beginners.

Above all, the anti-loneliness guides advise not to be afraid of new things - whether cell phones or computers. "Too old shouldn't be an excuse," they say. In the opinion of the experts, it is best to set yourself a meaningful task. This could, for example, be a voluntary commitment. As a result, everyone feels needed and has contact with people. In this way, those affected could help themselves and other people at the same time.

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