Amy Kay Cole, PhD
Loneliness and Health
Without question, loneliness is a health issue. The attached article suggests it is “deadlier than obesity”. Psychologists identify several types of loneliness. Social loneliness occurs when we don’t have enough friends for social contact. That type of loneliness is expected when we move to a new town, but it can feel shameful and demoralizing when we are established in a community and struggle to find friends for social outings. Social loneliness can be common when people don’t work. Many adults get their social needs met through co-workers. With busy family lives, people sometimes don’t have room for additional social contact outside work. That can leave people who don’t have friends at work without a wide social network.
Emotional loneliness occurs when people don’t feel emotionally connected to others. Emotional loneliness relates less to how many friends you have, and more to the quality of your friendships. A person can have extensive social contact but still feel disconnected from others. This can occur for a number of reasons. Shyness and shame can lead us to be less authentic versions of ourselves when around others. People sometimes say what they think others want to hear rather than what they truly believe. That can lead to a superficial friendship rather that an emotionally connected one. If someone likes us for our surface self rather than our real self, it won’t help us feel emotionally connected. Some people pursue counseling to address loneliness and end up focusing on authenticity in relationships. Social confidence and social skill can be acquired through observation, practice, and/or counseling.
Of course different people have different social needs. Young adults tend to place greater importance on the quantity of friendships while older adults prioritize the quality of their friendships. Extroverts require a great deal of social contact whereas introverts wisely keep their social outings less frequent. Psychologists do not offer advice regarding a healthy number of friends or social outings. Everyone needs to examine their social needs and nurture relationships which make them feel connected and understood.
At EPR, we often see people during life transitions. With job transitions, geographic transitions, and lifestyle transitions, there comes a social shift. Although clients don’t always approach therapy and counseling for social needs per se, the topic often comes up in the context of relationship discussions. Addressing loneliness is an important part of our emotional and physiological lives. The attached article addresses research on loneliness which was presented at the American Psychological Association. Consider taking the time to read it with your own social needs in mind. Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash