According to psychologist Clark Moustakas, loneliness has become a widespread condition of modern society. An intrinsic experience of human existence, one which is leading health experts around the world to grow more and more concerned. But surprisingly, its causes and consequences are still poorly understood.
Let’s consider some questions you may have about loneliness.
What does loneliness mean?
Loneliness refers to both a need for social connections, and to the quality of those connections. In essence, it is a subjective experience: loneliness is felt. It is unpleasant, sometimes painful. For this article, we decided to have a look at its causes and consequences, and hopefully, give you tips on how to overcome it.
Where does loneliness come from?
Social isolation refers to an absence of social interactions, relationships, and contacts with friends and family, with coworkers or neighbours on an individual level, and with “society at large” on a broader level. There are many causes to social isolation, from health issues to reduced social mobility or unemployment, and more rarely, global pandemics (PSA: Don’t eat undercooked bats. Probably don’t eat bats at all).
In many cases, social isolation directly causes loneliness: being aware of your lack of relationships can make you feel lonely. But the absence of a social network is not the only explanation for loneliness. You can feel lonely with your friends. You can be lonely within a crowd. There is another aspect to loneliness, one that is often disregarded.
Many see in intimacy the essence of meaningful connections. It is a space, a moment for vulnerability and trust, where authenticity is achieved. Conversely, relationships which do not feel intimate feel distant.
Bringing these two ideas together, we can already have a clearer perspective on the lonely jobseeker. Achieving intimacy online is not impossible, but it is a challenge. Without face to face interactions, by exchanging through applications and emails, the experience of finding work can be impersonal. And in turn, loneliness can affect us in many ways, sometimes unexpectedly.
How does loneliness affect us?
“If you have ever struggled to find a job, you are not alone. Without well-connected friends or family it is hard to make it in any industry […]. Finding a job without having some personal connection to someone already employed at a firm is more the exception than the rule.”
— Matthew Jackson, in the book The Human Network
Across Europe, many of the unemployed rely on contacts – friends, relatives, trade unions – to find a job. In the U.K., this is estimated at 50% of job seekers; in Spain, that number rises to 84%. Even with the rise of social media platforms, this method has stayed relevant: many respondents from various surveys have said they still rely on connections to find a job (e.g. 66% of the unemployed in the U.S.).
But beyond its effect on economic outcomes, loneliness is first and foremost a public health issue. Decades of research have all pointed towards effects on both physical health and mental health. ‘‘Perhaps the most striking finding in this literature is the breadth of emotional and cognitive processes and outcomes that seem susceptible to the influence of loneliness’’ tell us leading experts Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo, in reviewing research.
How do I overcome loneliness?
Take a step back. There is an overwhelming element to loneliness, one that is always felt but sometimes misdiagnosed. You may feel like you’re tired, or lack motivation. Sometimes, these feelings are not fleeting, but part of a larger, deeper condition. So, take a step back. Reassess, without any external pressure. Find some quality time for yourself, where you can be honest with how you feel.
Find the right community. Not a community, the right community. As we discussed, being lonely is not as straightforward as being alone, and many people tackle the unpleasantness by surrounding themselves with whoever. Talking about intimacy, your community, whether they be friends, relatives, or strangers on the internet, need to accept you for who you are. The right community is an inclusive one.
Be authentic. Throughout your relationships, the most essential condition should be authenticity. It is the one condition for true connections, ones where you feel in contact with yourself. There are many ways to get closer to yourself (and they would probably require another article), but much has been said about the virtues of mindfulness. Through sports, passions, yoga or meditation, finding a moment to reconnect is vital.
Talk. There would be no connections without dialogue. So talk! Talk about your experience, talk about how you feel, talk to break the taboo around loneliness, and naturally people will talk back. The same intimacy, honesty and trust you allow yourself doesn’t work if you do not allow it to others.
And last but not least:
Join Revive. This may seem like a joke, but Revive was founded on the very observation that a young professional should not be lonely. We have built a community with intimacy in mind, and our mission is, and will always be to provide you with authentic connections as you progress in your career. So have a look, see for yourself, and above all, stay genuine.