According to John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, loneliness is on the rise because we aren’t as closely bound the way we used to be. With the ever-changing ways the world is evolving on a geographic scale, we no longer live in the same village for many generations. The way we form connections and build relationships have become dependent on the social media platform. Today, dating apps, forums, and blogs provide us with networking opportunities that didn’t exist before. As a result, within the last 15 years, many of our face-to-face connections have been replaced with social networking.
Cacioppo discovered that if people use social networking as a way to promote face-to-face interactions, then it reduces the amount of loneliness they encounter. But if they use a destination as a replacement for those human interactions, then loneliness is increased. Loneliness is an epidemic widely recognized, but what holds us back from coping with it is the way it is understood and depicted by the general public. We hope to reduce the stigma surrounding it by exposing myths and educating you with truths that make the topic more approachable. Psych2Go shares with you 7 common misconceptions about loneliness:
1. The more friends you have, the merrier.
This isn’t always the case. There hasn’t been research done that reveals if you have x amount of friends, then you won’t be lonely. If it were that easy, we’d all be cured of it in no time. But, loneliness is a lot more complicated than that. It’s the grey area that exists and operates between our desired and achieved personal network of relationships. Cacioppo states that how you feel about the size of your circle of friends matters most.
Loneliness is a subjective experience. That’s why it means something different for everyone. On one hand, some people can’t stand the thought of being alone, but others may feel lonelier in a crowd of people. The way you perceive what an ideal social life looks like depends on many factors, such as your level of extroversion, the size of your family, social media, and your own self-acceptance. It’s important to recognize how much social interaction you want and work towards fulfilling it through social activities that fit your needs.
2. Introverts are generally lonelier than extroverts.
Both introverts and extroverts need time to be alone and recharge, but introverts often need it more because of their biological makeup. Whereas some extroverts prefer to meet new faces on a daily basis, introverts may be content with meaningful interactions with one or two close loved ones. Because an introvert’s circle of friends may be significantly smaller than an extrovert’s, it is often perceived that introverts are lonelier than extroverts. This ties in with the previous point mentioned.
However, extroverts may be at a higher risk of experiencing loneliness when they don’t receive the stimulation they seek in social settings. Since extroverts generally require more engagement with the rest of the world, when they are deprived of receiving that energy, it may take a large toll on their feelings of being connected. Overall, loneliness doesn’t target a specific personality group; it affects everyone.
3. Only strong ties matter.
Research shows that people who have social networks that comprise of both strong-tie and weak-tie relationships experience less loneliness than those who have only established strong-tie relationships. Examples of strong-tie connections are those with your significant other, your best friend, and a close family member. Weak-tie connections, on the other hand, consist of people like the neighbor you wave hello to and the barista who makes your coffee every day. Some may argue that weak-tie connections aren’t important if small talk is the only thing that brings two people together, but weak ties are crucial to bringing groups of strong ties together. In other words, they can act as bridges to help various network circles come in contact with one another.
But if one feels content already in their strong tie relationships, why bother venturing out and socializing with others? Let’s say you and your strong tie friends all have a love for mental health. Everyone has all the valuable knowledge about it because you all do a great job on communicating effectively and openly with one another. But, your network wouldn’t expand and you may miss out on other valuable information, such as taking care of your physical health. The weak ties you have may serve to bridge that knowledge gap and broaden your perspective with opportunities to explore new information.
4. Married couples don’t experience loneliness.
It’s often assumed that once you’re married, then you won’t experience loneliness. But a marriage with a lot of unresolved conflict can contribute to it. In fact, along with the rising divorce rates, research also shows that roughly one-third of married couples report feeling lonely. This goes to show that just because two people live together, doesn’t mean misunderstandings between them haven’t caused a disruption to their relationship. It’s important to understand that putting a ring on the finger doesn’t guarantee safety from feeling emotionally disconnected. In fact, if you find yourself in the wrong relationship, that can heighten your loneliness even further than being single. If you want to alleviate the loneliness you may be experiencing in your relationship, find ways to stay connected with your partner, such as having regular date nights or taking couples therapy into consideration.
5. Loneliness is caused by poor social skills.
Cacioppo states that it’s commonly misconceived that if you train someone with poor social skills, then their loneliness will be reduced. But, loneliness doesn’t solely target those who are more socially reserved. People who have adequate social skills still experience loneliness. The solution isn’t as simple as being able to communicate effectively. It can be a good starting point when building authentic connections with others, but it’s not enough to cure loneliness altogether. In order to cope with loneliness, it’s important to retrain the way we think about other people. Cacioppo states that it’s about understanding what loneliness is doing and learning to correct our behaviors that encourage it.
6. People die because of loneliness.
Loneliness doesn’t directly cause people to die. Instead, it’s linked to the increased risk of early mortality. People are often dying due to cardiovascular diseases, cancer, suicide, and diabetes. Genetics and environmental factors play a role on influencing them, but loneliness can encourage these conditions to occur earlier. Loneliness increases vascular resistance, which moves blood to your muscles and heart. This is helpful when you are experiencing a threat, but as you get older, this can increase your blood pressure. Loneliness can also increase your cortisol levels, which raises your stress. When you experience too much stress, it takes a toll both on your mental and physical health.
7. There is nothing good about loneliness.
Loneliness experienced frequently and intensely can put your health at risk, but loneliness in general is commonly experienced by all of us at some point in our lives. Similar to our stress system that warns us about potential danger for survival purposes, loneliness acts as a reminder to connect with others. Humans are not solitary creatures to begin with. Being lonely may not feel good, but it would be scarier to not be able to feel anything at all.
Join the movement and start talking about loneliness! How has loneliness affected your life? Psych2Go would love to hear your thoughts! Please be sure to leave a comment down below!
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Entis, L. (2016, June 22). Chronic Loneliness is a Modern-Day Epidemic. Fortune. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
Onderko, P. (2017, June 15). 4 Common Myths About Loneliness. Success. Retrieved December 6, 2017.