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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Loneliness is a feeling in which people experience a strong sense of emptiness and solitude. Loneliness is often compared to feeling empty, unwanted, and unimportant. Someone who is lonely may find it hard to form strong interpersonal relationships.

One of the first recorded uses of the word "lonely" was in William Shakespeare's Coriolanus, "Though I go alone, like a lonely dragon..." Act IV Scene 1.[citation needed]


Scientific views

Using data from more than 8,000 people in twin and sibling studies, in collaboration with the Netherlands Twin Register, John Cacioppo and colleagues found evidence that genetics account for approximately half of the measurable differences in loneliness among people in the study. The researchers claimed it showed helping lonely people was not simply a matter of changing their environment. Loneliness has been linked to heart disease as well as emotional problems, such as anxiety, problems with self-esteem and sociability. The researchers suggest that loneliness may have evolved during prehistoric times, where hunter-gatherers may have deliberately shut themselves away from others so they did not have to share food which would have been counter productive to society. But they added that the strategy had at the University of Chicago, argues loneliness is a social phenomenon within society and can spread through it like a disease.[1]

Read more: [2]

Distinction from solitude

Jean Jacques Henner - Solitude.jpg

Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Many people have times when they are alone through circumstances or choice. Being alone can be experienced as positive, pleasurable, and emotionally refreshing if it is under the individual's control. Solitude is the state of being alone and secluded from other people, and often implies having made a conscious choice to be alone. Loneliness is unwanted solitude. Loneliness does not require aloneness and is often experienced even in crowded places. It can be described as the absence of identification, understanding or compassion. Loneliness can be described as a feeling of isolation from society, regardless of whether one is physically isolated from others or not. It may also be described as a yearning for love or companionship, which is unfulfilled, but cannot seemingly be achieved, or may stem from the lack of love in one's life, and hence may lead to emotions such as rejection, despair and low self-esteem. Feelings of loneliness may be similar to feelings of the death or loss of a loved one.

In their growth as individuals, humans start a separation process at birth, which continues with growing independence towards adulthood. As such, feeling alone can be a healthy emotion and, indeed, choosing to be alone for a period of solitude can be enriching[citation needed]. To experience loneliness, however, can be to feel overwhelmed by an unbearable feeling of separateness at a profound level. This can manifest in feelings of abandonment, rejection, depression, insecurity, anxiety, hopelessness, unworthiness, meaninglessness, and resentment. If these feelings are prolonged they may become debilitating and prevent the affected individual from developing healthy relationships and lifestyles. If the individual is convinced he or she is unlovable, this will increase the experience of suffering and the likelihood of avoiding social contact. Low self-esteem will often trigger the social disconnection which can lead to loneliness.

In some people, temporary or prolonged loneliness can lead to notable artistic and creative expression, for example, as was the case with poet Emily Dickinson, and numerous popular musicians, such as Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Steven Wilson, Eric Clapton, and Lady Gaga. This is not to imply that loneliness itself ensures this creativity; rather, it may have an influence on the subject matter of the artist.

Common causes

People can experience loneliness for many reasons and many life events are associated with it. The lack of friendship relations during childhood and adolescence, or the physical absence of meaningful people around a person are causes for loneliness, depression, and involuntary celibacy. At the same time, loneliness may be a symptom of another social or psychological problem, such as chronic depression.

Many people experience loneliness for the first time when they are left alone as an infant. It is also a very common, though normally temporary, consequence of divorce or the breakup or loss of any important long-term relationship. In these cases, it may stem both from the loss of a specific person and from the withdrawal from social circles caused by the event or the associated sadness.

Loss of a significant person in one's life will typically initiate a grief response; here, one might feel lonely, even in the company of others. Loneliness may also occur after the birth of a child, after marriage or any socially disruptive event, such as moving from one's home town to a university campus. Loneliness can occur within marriages or similar close relationships where there is anger, resentment, or where the feeling of love cannot be given or received. It may represent a dysfunction of communication. Learning to cope with changes in life patterns is essential in overcoming loneliness.


Common types

Loneliness can be summarized as falling into these categories:

  • Situational / circumstantial - loss of a relationship, move to a new city
  • Developmental - a need for intimacy balanced by a need for individualism
  • Internal - often including feelings of low self-esteem and vulnerability

It can occur even as a combination of more than one category.

Common symptoms

Loneliness can evoke feelings that 'everyone else' has friends, and that one is socially inadequate and socially unskilled. A lonely person may become convinced there is something wrong with him or her, and that no one understands his or her situation. Such a person will lose confidence and will become reluctant to attempt to change or too scared to try new things for fear of further social rejection. In extreme cases, a person may feel a sense of emptiness, which may become a state of clinical depression.

In modern society

Loneliness frequently occurs in heavily populated cities; in these cities many people feel utterly alone and cut off, even when surrounded by millions of other people. They experience a loss of identifiable community in an anonymous crowd. It is unclear whether loneliness is a condition aggravated by high population density itself, or simply part of the human condition brought on by this social setting. Certainly, loneliness occurs even in societies with much smaller populations, but the sheer number of people that one comes into contact with daily in a city, even if only briefly, may raise barriers to actually interacting more deeply with them and increase the feeling of being cut off and alone. Quantity of contact does not translate into quality of contact.[2]

Loneliness appears to have become particularly prevalent in modern times. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century families were typically larger and more stable, divorce was rarer, and relatively few people lived alone. In the United States, only 5% of households were single-person households in 1900; by 1998 it was over a quarter. 24 million Americans lived alone in 1995; by 2010, it is estimated that number will have increased to around 31 million.[3]

A 2006 study in the American Sociological Review found that Americans on average had only two close friends to confide in, down from an average of three in 1985. The percentage of people who noted having no such confidant rose from 10% to almost 25%; and an additional 19% said they had only a single confidant (often their spouse), raising the risk of serious loneliness if the relationship ended.[4]

As human condition

The existentialist school of thought views loneliness as the essence of being human. Each human being comes into the world alone, travels through life as a separate person, and ultimately dies alone. Coping with this, accepting it, and learning how to direct our own lives with some degree of grace and satisfaction is the human condition.[5]. Some philosophers, such as Sartre, believe in an epistemic loneliness in which loneliness is a fundamental part of the human condition because of the paradox between the desire of man's consciousness to have meaning met with the isolation and nothingness of the universe. However, other existentialist thinkers argue the opposite. Human beings might be said to actively "engage" each other and the universe as they communicate and create, and loneliness is merely the feeling of being cut off from this process.


Chronic loneliness (as opposed to the normal loneliness everyone feels from time to time), is a serious, life-threatening condition. At least one study has empirically correlated it with an increased risk of cancer, especially for those who hide their loneliness from the outside world.[6] It is associated with increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.[3] People who are socially isolated also report poor sleep quality and thus have diminished restorative processes.[7] Loneliness is also linked with depression, a risk factor for suicide.[8] Émile Durkheim also described loneliness, specifically the inability or unwillingness to live for others (i.e. for friendships or altruistic ideas), as the main reason for what he called "egoistic" suicide.[9]

Loneliness can play a part in alcoholism. In children, a lack of social connections is directly linked to several forms of antisocial and self-destructive behavior, most notably hostile and delinquent behavior. In both children and adults, loneliness often has a negative impact on learning and memory. Its effect on sleep patterns, as well as the above-mentioned other effects can have a devastating effect on the ability to function in everyday life.[8]

Some other effects may not be symptomatic for years. In 2005, results from the U.S. Framingham Heart Study demonstrated that lonely men had raised levels of IL-6, a blood chemical linked to heart disease. A 2006 study conducted by the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago found loneliness can add 30 points to a blood pressure reading for adults over the age of 50. Another finding, from a survey conducted by John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, is that doctors say they provide better medical care to patients who have a strong network of family and friends than they do to patients who are alone.

Cacioppo's 2008 book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, outlines five distinct pathways through which social isolation contributes to increased illness and early death. He also offers an evolutionary rationale for why the subjective sense of social isolation—loneliness—is so profoundly disruptive to human physiology that it impairs cognition and willpower, alters DNA transcription in immune cells, and leads over time to high blood pressure.[10]

Enforced loneliness (solitary confinement) has been a punishment method throughout history.

Treatments and prevention

There are many different ways used to treat loneliness, social isolation or clinical depression. The first step that most doctors recommend to patients is therapy. Therapy is a common and effective way of treating loneliness and is often successful. Short term therapy, the most common form for lonely or depressed patients, typically occurs over a period of 10 to 20 weeks. During therapy, emphasis is put on understanding the cause of the problem; reversing the negative thoughts, feelings, and attitudes resulting from the problem; and exploring ways to help the patient feel connected. Some doctors also recommend group therapy as a means to connect with other sufferers and establish a support system.[11] Doctors also frequently prescribe anti-depressants to patients as a stand-alone treatment or in conjunction with therapy. It usually takes a few tries before a patient finds the correct anti-depressant medication. Some patients may also develop a resistance to a certain type of medication and need to switch periodically.[12]

Alternative approaches to treating depression are suggested by many doctors. These treatments may include exercise, dieting, hypnosis, electro-shock therapy, acupuncture, herbs, and many others. Many patients find that participating in these activities fully or partially alleviate symptoms related to depression.[13] Another treatment for both loneliness and depression is pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, as it is more formally known. Some studies and surveys, as well as anecdotal evidence provided by volunteer and community organizations, indicate that the presence of animal companions—dogs, cats, and even rabbits or guinea pigs—can ease feelings of depression and loneliness among some sufferers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are a number of health benefits associated with pet ownership. In addition to easing feelings of loneliness (because of the increased opportunities for socializing with other pet owners, beyond the companionship the animal provides), having a pet is associated with lowered blood pressure and decreased levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.[14]

Nostalgia has also been found to have a restorative effect, counteracting loneliness by increasing perceived social support.[15]

A 1989 study found that the social aspect of religion had a significant negative relationship to loneliness among elderly people; the effect was more consistent than the effect of social relationships with family and friends, and the subjective concept of religiosity had no significant effect on loneliness.[16]

See also


  1. ^,8599,1943748,00.html
  2. ^ Lonely Nation: Americans Try to Connect in a Country Where Isolation Is Common, Associated Press, 2006-08-06,, retrieved 2009-05-03 .
  3. ^ a b "Loneliness and Isolation: Modern Health Risks", The Pfizer Journal IV (4), 2000, .
  4. ^ McPherson, Miller; Smith-Lovin, Lynn; Brashears, Matthew E (2006), "Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades" (PDF), American Sociological Review 71 (3): 353–375, [1]).
  5. ^ An Existential View of Loneliness - Carter, Michele; excerpt from Abiding Loneliness: An Existential Perspective, Park Ridge Center, September 2000
  6. ^ Fighting cancerous feelings; warning: scientists haven't determined that repressed emotions are hazardous to your health - yet - Smith, Eleanor; Psychology Today, May 1988
  7. ^ Loneliness and pathways to disease (pdf) - Hawkley, Louise C. & Cacioppo, John T.; Institute for Mind and Biology, University of Chicago, Thursday 18 July 2002
  8. ^ a b The Dangers of Loneliness - Marano, Hara Estroff; Psychology Today Thursday 21 August 2003
  9. ^ Social Depression, Loneliness, and Depression (from the Online Social Networks website)
  10. ^ Cacioppo, John; Patrick, William, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2008. ISBN 978-0-393-06170-3. Science of
  11. ^ "Psychotherapy". Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  12. ^ "The Truth About Antidepressants". WebMD. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  13. ^ "Alternative treatments for depression". WebMD. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  14. ^ Health Benefits of Pets (from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 2007-11-14.)
  15. ^ Xinyue Zhou, Constantine Sedikides, Tim Wildschut, Ding-Guo Gao, "Counteracting Loneliness: On the Restorative Function of Nostalgia", Psychological Science, Vol. 19, No. 10, pp. 1023 - 1029, Nov. 4, 2008.
  16. ^ Doyle Paul Johnson, Larry C. Mullins, "Religiosity and Loneliness Among the Elderly ", Journal of Applied Gerontology, Vol. 8, No. 1, 110-131 (1989).

External links

An example of cyber loners' whereabouts


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Solitude. (Discuss)

Loneliness is an emotional state in which a person experiences a powerful feeling of emptiness and isolation, of being cut off, disconnected from, and alienated towards other people. The lonely person may find it difficult or even impossible to have any form of meaningful human contact. The first recorded use of the word "lonely" was in William Shakespeare's Coriolanus.


  • Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, cars, sidewalks, stores. Everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man.
  • Well I'm the only one here.
  • They're sharing a drink they call loneliness
    But it's better than drinking alone.
  • Loneliness / Got a mind of its own / The more people around / The more you feel alone
    • Bob Dylan, "Marchin' to the City", The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs
  • We suffer a lot in our society from loneliness. So much of our life is an attempt to not be lonely: 'Let's talk to each other; let's do things together so we won't be lonely.' And yet inevitably, we are really alone in these human forms. We can pretend; we can entertain each other; but that's about the best we can do. When it comes to the actual experience of life, we're very much alone; and to expect anyone else to take away our loneliness is asking too much.
  • It's not that I hate people, I just feel better when they're not around.
    • Henry Chinaski in Bar Fly
  • Loneliness is this world's worst kind of pain.
  • That is when I realized that in all of the world no one needed me. I was alone.
  • Can you understand? Not having a dream... not being needed by anyone... The pain of merely being alive.
  • Insults have broken my heart and left me weak, I looked for sympathy but there was none; I found no one to comfort me.
  • Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone.'
  • Who knows what true happiness is? Not the conventional word but the naked terror. To the lonely themselves, it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion.
  • He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent. He listened again: perfectly silent. He felt that he was alone.


  • Loneliness is a barrier that prevents one from uniting with the inner self.
  • Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.
  • Don't attach yourself to anyone who shows you the least bit of attention because you're lonely. Loneliness is the human condition. No one is ever going to fill that space.
    • White Oleander by Janet Fitch
  • At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one's lost self.
    • Brendan Francis
  • You are never so lonely as when you are in a crowd.
    • Unknown
  • We are always in our own company.
    • Proverb
  • When so many are lonely… as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.

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