I heard some powerful news a few days ago regarding the impact of loneliness on the health and well-being of people. It was reported that people who struggle with loneliness deal with increased stress hormones, inflammation, and a number of factors that lead to heart disease, type II diabetes, arthritis, and numerous other physical ailments. Loneliness is indeed awful for human beings.
It’s important to differentiate what I mean when I say “loneliness” because we often confuse it with something psychologists call social isolation. Social isolation is a condition in which someone has few social connections. Loneliness is a condition where the person may have many social connections but feels like they’re alone regardless of the number of friends they have. People who are socially isolated may not feel lonely. So, what I want to focus on in this discussion is those people who regardless of the number of their friends, feels like they’re alone. I want to share with you how I think the fear of connecting with others is the main culprit in this growing epidemic of loneliness.
In the past a number of psychological studies focused primarily on the elderly since it was assumed they were the ones struggling the most with loneliness. However, recent studies show the peak of the prevalence of loneliness occurs in adolescence and young adult hood. It then decreases through our middle ages only to emerge again for some in their twilight years. Loneliness is a pervasive and dangerous condition for some of our youngest people.
A difficult part of the loneliness problem is how to make sure people in our lives don’t “feel” lonely and know we’re there with them, for them, and a part of their lives. Just because we’re “with” someone doesn’t mean they feel it. Loneliness in many respects is a silent killer because we can never be totally sure that someone in the company of others feels like they’re loved. While loneliness is not an actual psychological problem, it is a negative condition caused by the fact those of us made to give and receive love feel like we cannot. We need to know we matter, people care for us, and we belong. Yet, we live in a world of “Disconnected Digital Existence.” Disconnected digital existence is what I call a state of being in which we develop most of our primary relationships through social media never really knowing the individuals we call “friends” at an intimate level. These are shallow relationships that tend to keep our real human need to connect with each other starved. I often say an overabundance of digital relationships is very much like having a diet of nothing more than junk food. Sure, it kills the hunger but it never provides the nutrition your body needs.
Many people believe taking technology away from people is the answer, but I’m not sure that makes things better. The same technology that’s creating a sense of isolation and loneliness among a world of connected people helps those who do have deep intimate relationships stay in touch. It’s not the technology that’s hurting us, its fear. We’re afraid of intimate relationships. We’re afraid if we share something about who we are with another person we’ll be criticized, made fun of, or mocked. Why do teenagers and young adults having a myriad of “friends” on both social media and in their many social activities feel lonely? Because they believe if they share something about who they are with someone else it will be used as a weapon against them. With our current technology that “weapon” can become nuclear in a matter of minutes by being shared on twitter. We can understand why this fear of intimacy has grown among adolescents and young adults because when they watch adults disagree or interact with someone different from them they see these individuals degrade and humiliate one another. Yes, intimacy and the friendships it develops can be scary.
We must become people who can trust one another again with our deepest concerns, ideas, and needs. While some of my readers are not much for religion, I can say my faith has given me the courage to be authentic in regards to who I am and to fearlessly share that with others. It also reminds me that I must first love someone and know them before I have earned the right to challenge them on what they believe. My faith has taught me challenging another person on their beliefs, behaviors, and ideas isn’t about “winning” its about loving, and loving isn’t necessarily about changing the individual, it’s about understanding the individual. By being in a loving relationship with someone, you allow for any change to occur naturally and in God’s time, and for God’s purposes. The Holy Spirit teaches me this: Love one another, care for each other, invest your lives into one another, then the two of you will be transformed. When one person enters into a relationship with another the individuals who walk away from that encounter are never the same people who entered that encounter because love has fused them together. Who could be lonely in this world when people begin to do exactly what they were created to do, love and be loved. That’s the answer to loneliness, to love and be loved authentically. To be loved for who you are and for what you can become. Why don’t you try doing that today and be the solution to an epidemic that’s easily cured. Invest your life in someone else.