‘You are not alone’: The truth behind the myth of loneliness
A new study claims to have uncovered the truth behind one of the most common stereotypes of the lonely.
“You are the only one in your room,” is one of many such stereotypes perpetuated by a recent study of more than 7,000 people by the University of British Columbia.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that people with low self-esteem were far less likely to seek help from social networks, compared with people with high self-confidence.
“We found that the more self-acceptance we have, the less likely we are to seek social support,” says lead researcher Jennifer Tishkoff.
“This could be because of the social stigma we face in our lives.”
Self-acceptances can be especially difficult for people who have struggled with anxiety and depression.
But TishKoff said she was concerned that the study did not look at a broader context of how self-worth was associated with loneliness.
“Loneliness is a complex topic, with some people reporting it is a major problem, while others claim it is the reason why they have problems with social relationships,” she says.
“In this study, we wanted to understand the reasons behind this discrepancy.”
The study also found that loneliness was linked to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Lonely people may feel like they are not accepted by their friends and family, and that they do not have the support of a social network,” says Tishko.
“They may feel as though they can’t even afford to have a social life because they are too scared to have friends.”
But in reality, Tishkowski says, “the vast majority of people are happy with their social networks and that people often have an open and nonjudgmental relationship with their friends.”
“Our study suggests that loneliness is a condition that is common among adults and people of all ages,” she adds.
“People with low levels of self-respect are more likely to be lonely and depressed than those with high levels of confidence.”
But, as with any social issue, it is not just about loneliness.
It’s also about a number of other factors.
“When you’re depressed, you may feel that you don’t have enough friends to hang out with, or that you’re not really a good fit,” says Professor John Bevan, director of the Centre for Applied Social Research at the University in Western Australia.
“It could be something to do with the social networks we have that we’ve built up over the years, or perhaps it’s the loneliness we experience,” he adds.
Tishkos findings also showed that loneliness affects men differently than women.
While women with high confidence reported feeling less lonely than their lower confidence peers, men with low confidence reported being lonely the most.
“Men with low social capital, or low self esteem, are at increased risk of being lonely, and in fact it’s a much greater risk of loneliness for men than women,” she explains.
“If you have high levels in the confidence scale, your loneliness may be a reflection of that.”
Tishkovs findings suggest that loneliness may actually be good for you, as well as your relationships.
“One of the main things that we learn from this study is that loneliness makes us less satisfied and less empathic,” says Bevan.
“The feeling of not being liked by others, whether it’s your peers or people you know, makes us feel insecure and self-conscious.
It makes us avoid people we feel like we can trust.”
Tishes study also suggested that people who were lonely felt that their self-disclosure could actually make them feel better about themselves.
“There was a link between how much of your social network you knew and how much happiness you felt,” she notes.
“So, we think that this link could be useful in reducing the loneliness that people may be experiencing.”
Tischkoff agrees that loneliness could be a way of life, but only if it’s taken seriously.
“I’m not suggesting that we should all live in our own little worlds.
But, for some people, loneliness may become a significant part of their lives,” she stresses.
“That’s not to say that loneliness can’t be useful, but it needs to be taken seriously and we need to work on making our relationships with friends and families better.”
The next steps for the research, Tischkovs team says, are to continue to investigate the relationship between loneliness and mental health and to look at how loneliness affects relationships.
But it’s clear that for the average person, loneliness can be a significant problem.
And as a society, we need more research on the topic, to get a better understanding of the mechanisms that lead to loneliness.
Topics: loneliness, psychology, health, culture, australia