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Friday, July 15, 2011

Loneliness and Risk

“The strength of social isolation as a risk factor is comparable 
to obesity, sedentary lifestyles and possibly even smoking."
-John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished 
Service Professor in Psychology 

John Cacioppo is director of an interdisciplinary team of investigators studying loneliness as part of the Mind-Body Network of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He reported his findings in a paper titled “Biological Costs of Social Stress in the Elderly” at the August, 2000 meeting of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C.

The findings about loneliness are significant because lifestyle changes have altered the structure of the family, the traditional source of emotional support. U.S. Census Bureau projections in 2000 showed that by 2010, 31 million Americans would be living alone, a 40 percent increase from 1980.

Being alone is not the only cause of loneliness, however.Cacioppo explains that loneliness is characterized by three conditions: isolation (such as absence or distance from a romantic partner), feelings of being disconnected (not having close friends) and feelings of not belonging (not identifying with or not being accepted by valued social groups). (Bill Harms, "New Research Reveals How Loneliness Can Undermine Health," The University of Chicago Chronicle, August 17, 2000)


It has been estimated that approximately 60 million people in the United States, or 20% of the total population, feel lonely. (John Cacioppo and William Patrick, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, 2008). Another study found that 12% of Americans have no one with whom to spend free time or to discuss important matters. (N.A. Christakis, N.A. and J.H. Fowler, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, 2009)

What is the difference between "aloneness" and "loneliness"? The answer is very simplistic. A person who is alone is by himself. The person may or may not feel lonely when alone, but the only important condition for being alone is that no one else is around. To be lonely is to suffer the feelings of loneliness, to want people, social contact, and yet be unable to get any.

So, it is quite possible for a person to feel lonely in solitude or while in the middle of a crowd.. Loneliness is, therefore, a subjective experience: if a person thinks he is lonely, then he is lonely.

Types of Loneliness

1. State Loneliness

State loneliness is generated more by the environment than by the person. For example, a person may experience state loneliness when it's a long rainy day and he has nothing to do or when he goes on vacation and he is missing his friends at home. A person who rarely experiences loneliness suffers state loneliness, and it usually doesn't last very long. This so-called "state" of loneliness is based on the state or situation the person is physically in.

2. Trait Loneliness

Someone who experiences loneliness most of the time is said to exhibit trait loneliness. This loneliness is generated from the person, although particular circumstances might aggravate the experience. It occurs irrespective of the kind of situation that the person is in. The inherent traits of the person make him feel lonely..

Some trait lonely people seem to have given up on trying to solve their loneliness, and they withdraw from painful situations of loneliness. Other trait lonely people appear to be lonely while trying to find that special someone for themselves: they show “separation distress without an object” while looking for a caregiver. (Shawn Seepersad, "Loneliness: What Is It and How To Get Rid of It,"

 3. State-Trait Loneliness

When both trait and state loneliness come together, they mutually affect each other. They both get intertwined in such a way that one becomes the cause of the other and one enhances the severity of the other. This whole condition gives rise to a new highly complicated condition, which means more and more trouble for the individual. This new condition can be termed as state-trait loneliness.

According to blogger Saif Farooqui, PhD, "In a way, it can be said that trait loneliness prolongs the time period of state loneliness. The same state loneliness that gets over within a few days or weeks for others is prolonged almost indefinitely for a person with trait loneliness."

Since state loneliness is prolonged, it increases the troubles for the individual. This further has a negative affect on trait loneliness. The characteristics related to trait loneliness, like melancholy, shyness, being socially anxious, depression, etc. get intensified. Trait loneliness becomes more and more exacerbated.

Farooqui states,"This whole condition causes the person to lose complete interest in all activities, both personally as well as socially. The individual begins to suffer from state anhedonia. Anhedonia is the total loss of interest in activities and an inability to experience pleasure, even from normal pleasurable activities." ("When Trait and State Loneliness Come Together,", November 4 2009)

Overcoming Loneliness

Cacioppo says that a lifetime of loneliness leads to diminished health, as people experience continued high blood pressure and chronic sleep deprivation. But, these people can improve their health by learning to overcome loneliness -- they can become contributing members to school, neighborhood, church or community groups. By reaching out to make friends and helping others, people can increase their connections with others.

Of course, some severely lonely people should seek professional care.

Here are some practical suggestions for the lonely from Grantley Morris. (Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2004, 2008 Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site: Freely you have received, freely give.) Click on the link and check out Grantley's site "Overcoming Loneliness" for complete information on these suggestions.

1. Know that loneliness is a state of mind, not a life sentence.
2. Learn how to like yourself.
3. Avoid dependency on another human being for your own happiness.
4. Exercise.
5. Discover smile power.
6. Avoid the "poor me" syndrome.
7. Focus on giving, not receiving.

by Maya Angelou 

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone. 
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