When we think of someone as lonely, we almost always imagine the individual as literally alone, but many experience loneliness despite being around others, or even within the context of a committed relationship.
Clinical psychologist Ami Rokach says that loneliness is an experience we have when feeling not cared for, or not important to those around us. It’s something many experience but don’t disclose to others, despite how common it is. Two in five Americans report sometimes or always feeling that their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated.
While loneliness is tough for anyone to deal with, to feel lonely in a relationship is difficult in its own right, as Rokach states: “Loneliness within marriage is a very painful thing to experience. In Western culture marriage and serious intimate relationships are supposed to shield us from loneliness … so feeling alienated from our closest person, from the one who is supposed to be our lover and friend, is very painful and at times even frightening. When a couple cannot trust each other emotionally; when they are constantly afraid of being judged or ridiculed; when they cannot freely share with one another without being attacked, they feel lonely and that may give rise to anger, depression, and frustration.”
Rokach goes on to explain why loneliness happens in relationships, even if it seems unexpected: “Loneliness may occur in relationships due to several reasons. People may have entered the relationship initially because they were lonely. A relationship that stems from loneliness usually ends in loneliness. Another reason loneliness may occur is because one member, or both, feel that they are unable to share and safely discuss issues with their partner. This could result in anger and upsetness and these feelings can begin to accumulate if they are not resolved. Furthermore, a lack of trust may develop due to frequent criticism that the couple may level at each other. Finally, a major source of loneliness is taking each other for granted.”
Loneliness is often confused with depression, as they have similar characteristics, such as emotional pain and helplessness. The critical difference is that those who are lonely are often hopeful that their pain will subside once they form relationships with others. Still, depression and loneliness are linked, with lonely people more likely to experience depression. This is especially true for those with insecure attachment styles as they often have difficulties forming relationships, leaving them vulnerable to loneliness and depression.
In fact, loneliness is beginning to be viewed as broadly detrimental to physical and mental health. Studies have found links between loneliness and obesity, cardiovascular problems, higher stress, and immune dysfunction. Additionally, loneliness can cause not only day-to-day stress, but chronic stress as well.
Llewellyn Boggs, contributing writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report
Copyright Robert T. Muller.