We have all felt its wallop. It has left us painfully miserable. And it’s more prevalent than ever.
Loneliness is defined as an unpleasant, emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. It is the lack of connectedness. It also wanting more quality social interaction than what is currently available.
Loneliness is a greater health risk than obesity, alcoholism, air pollution.
There is a difference between lonely and being alone. One can be in a crowded place and still be lonely. And most of us need to be alone, to have our own quiet time.
There are two types of loneliness – transient (state) and chronic (trait).
Transient (state) loneliness is temporary in nature – i.e. a person is isolated due to sickness and cannot socialize. He/she gets better and now can socialize.
A person suffering from chronic (trait) is lonely no matter what the situation.
60 million people suffer from loneliness in the United States. It affects people in marriage, even successful people. The largest group is seniors. As they grow older, they lose many of their freedoms.
The average American has 2 close friends to confide in, down from 3.
Chronic loneliness leads to strokes, heart disease, risks to cancer.
The internet helps and hurt loneliness. Some findings show internet users lonelier. Other studies show lonely people use the internet to keep in touch with loved ones and, therefore, not as lonely. Those trying to make friends online become lonelier.
Studies find social aspect of religion doesn’t help especially among seniors. Sadly, most parishioners are seniors.
There are a variety of treatments. Common therapy is where the therapist finds cause, reverse negative thoughts, feelings, attitudes.
There is group therapy where members establish a support system.
There is pet therapy where the lonely have pets as companions. They tend to be less lonely. Pet owners tend to be healthier.
Oprah Winfrey has started a project called “Just Say Hello” where people approach strangers and say hello or where people contact those that they haven’t seen in a long while.
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For many of us, when we think about the lonely, we think about those who are so wrapped up in themselves, being so selfish.
And we think that if only they were concerned with the welfare of others, the lonely wouldn’t be so lonely.
Yes, there are some who are “authors of their own misery.”
But the causes of loneliness are so complicated. It’s not all black or white. There are so many factors.
I do not believe we know how to relate to one another. It’s a skill in itself.
As urban centres become more crowded, we become more isolated.
And all these electronic gadgets haven’t helped the situation, as we are buried in our laptops, cell phones, etc.
And places like our houses of worship should provide community, to break the loneliness. But are not. If they were, many churches wouldn’t be closing down.
We are constantly being told, at least, subconsciously that we are not good enough. We are, on a regular basis, being bombarded with ads and “infomercials” about how to make ourselves more physically beautiful, more thinner.
We are trained to think about beauty comes from the outside when, in fact, beauty comes from within.
To beat loneliness, we must feel good in our own skin. And many of us are not. It’s more than just loving ourselves; it’s about accepting ourselves. And most of us have trouble with such a concept.
According to psychologist Dr. Pauline Clance in her book “The Imposter Phenomenon, When Success Makes You Feel Like A Fake,” suggests that 70 percent of successful people suffer from the Imposter Phenomenon – a constant worry that, although admired and respected, they will, some day, be “found out.” They feel that they are failures masquerading as successes.
Dr. Clance believes that more than half the population suffers from it – at least, from time to time. Boiled down in its simplest form, it says “I don’t like myself. I’m not what I should be – and I doubt if I ever will be.”
Then, how do we learn to accept ourselves?
We must realize that most people do not have it together. Canadian religion author Tom Harpur claims that we are all weak and the fact by being human we are all vulnerable. And he suggests that the way in which we conquer our weaknesses is to confront them directly. This is the first step in spiritual and moral growth.
We sometimes feel that we don’t measure up to God’s standards. But religion should liberate us. It’s man’s distortion of faith that has hurt us.
In Judaism, a person is created in the image of God. Therefore, man is not sinful in nature but good. And religion does not demand of us to be perfect. It allows us to be human. In the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes 7:15 – 17, we read that we should be neither too good nor wicked.
And according to the Talmud, a book of wisdom which is part of the Jewish faith states: “At Judgment Day, every man will have to give account for everything which he might have enjoyed and did not.” The problem arises when these good things are taken to extreme, becoming addictive. But that is our fault, not God’s.
Even in the Christian faith, we are accepted. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8: 38 – 39)
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There are other things we need to learn to accept ourselves. We must stop comparing ourselves to others.
We are all weak in our own way with our crosses to bear. No life is to be envied. If it is, it is an illusion.
Those that appear to have it together may have “sold their souls” to get where they are. They had made sacrifices that we wish not to copy.
We all have our heartaches, setbacks, struggles. Nobody gets all that he wants. Thomas a Kempis writing in “The Imitation of Christ” said: “Is there anyone who enjoys everything as he wishes? Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else on earth. There is no one in the world without trouble or anxiety, be he king or Pope.”
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To accept ourselves is no easy task. There will be those who will try to change us, to conform to their values. But I have to believe that they are more threatened by their own insecurities.
The most difficult job we will perform is to be ourselves. It is our greatest accomplishment.
Wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay “Self Reliance”: “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.”
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To overcome loneliness, we would be wise to develop a passion. Live for a cause, a purpose. It’s been said that life kills us unless we make something of our own.
There is something in us that calls us to be unique. We are called to make a difference. And the wisdom from the ages teaches us that. It can also relieve our loneliness.
“Seek Ye the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well” states the Bible. (Matt 6:33)
And the parable of the talents is those who use their talents, more will be given; those that don’t use them will be deprived of them of what he has. (Matt 25: 14 – 30)
True happiness, according to Helen Keller “is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
And hiding our talents or not using them is a sin against God/nature. We wouldn’t walk away from someone who is hurting. We do the same when we don’t exercise our talents. They are meant to help humanity.
But what if we cannot find our purpose, our mission?
Mother Theresa asked her confessor how she would know that she was on the right path for her vocation. He said that “she would know by her happiness. If you are happy with the idea that God calls you to serve Him and your neighbour, this will be proof of your vocation. One has to follow it, even though one enters into a way full of difficulties.”
Often finding our path is by trial and error. “How can we learn to know ourselves” asked Goethe. “Never by reflection but by action.” We must realize our life`s journey is constantly under construction.
Other religions advocate to follow your heart.
“Do all that is in thine heart for the Lord is with thee” says the Jewish Torah.
The Talmud adds: “It is not upon thee to finish the work, neither art thou free to abstain from it.”Each of us has a unique role to play in the work.
Islam teaches that we will never attain righteousness until we give freely of what we love.
Since our work occupies a great deal of our waking attention, Buddhism considers it impossible to progress spiritually if our occupation pulls us in the opposite direction.
In Hinduism, the goal is to transcend the smallness of the finite self and this is done when a person works with love, without thought for personal gain and in devotion to God.
Confucianism advocates that we make use of our greatest talents and work in a manner which expresses what is highest in our nature. Mencius, a discipline of Confucianism wrote “those who follow that part of themselves which is great are great men; those who follow that part which is little are little men.”
Seneca wrote “A happy life is one which is in accordance with its own nature. “ And Erich Fromm said “there is no meaning to life except the meaning that man gives his life by unfolding of his powers.”