Feeling a certain sense of loneliness is a perfectly normal thing day by day. There are situations that make us feel isolated, such as preparing for oppositions or thinking about death. These are perfectly normal ways of expressing fully human feelings.
However, it’s one thing to feel lonely once in a while and another to turn loneliness into a way of life, either on purpose or unintentionally. The second can lead us into a pathological situation, dramatically increase stress levels, and increase the chances of dying relatively quickly.
These data are all the more worrying as much research points to a mass social phenomenon: in recent decades, and in particular the young people of the millennial generation, the feeling of loneliness spread in an incredible way.
According to data from the American Social Survey, the number of people who claim to have no close friends it has tripled in the last decades since the 1980s; in fact, the most common answer to the question of how many strong friendships one has is “zero”, to which about a quarter of respondents answered.
Likewise, the average number of people the average American claims to be able to talk about about important things has dropped from three to two.
This type of data, which is also found in many other Western countries, shows us how loneliness turns into a kind of psychological epidemic. But … why is this happening? Psychologist Caroline Beaton offers two explanations that complement each other.
The feeling of isolation is contagious
Beaton points out that loneliness is not something that only affects the person who experiences it in their own skin; it also leaves a mark on others. People who feel this they tend to adopt a defensive attitude and, on average, they act in a slightly more hostile or aloof manner than one might expect.
In fact, their isolation is often self-constructed; at the slightest sign that the relationship with a person has stagnated a bit or is not as intense as before, they abandon this relationship, abandoning it for lost. It can happen even in a few minutes, in a conversation; when the dialogue loses fluidity, the lonely person withdraws prematurely, even if they have already been very interested in exchanging ideas.
The result of this is that the person you feel alone with ends up having that feeling too, and learning that relationship style.
Once someone has experienced loneliness through the eyes of another, they adopt this perspective and tend to reproduce it in their daily lives. The cause is that, like those who feel lonely, they move on be wary of their judgment to recognize positive reactions others in social situation; as a sincere smile can be followed by a retreat, one is no longer sure when the dialogue is going well and when it is not.
The impact of the internet
The other major cause of the loneliness epidemic is, according to Beaton, the normalization of the use of the Internet as an environment that replaces face-to-face social relationships.
Feeling that you are connecting with others through the network of networks is very addicting, as it is something that can be done from your home, or anytime and anywhere, and it avoids many of the consequences of social failure. However, the internet is a substitute for social relationships, and its effects, while immediate, wear off as soon as we move away from the technological devices that allow us to be online.
While the bonds of friendship forged through face-to-face dialogue and physical contact leave a mark that is experienced even when the other person has not been seen in days, the links maintained on the Internet are much more superficial and less important, so you have to constantly feed yourself so as not to feel the feeling of loneliness again.
Thus, on the one hand, the Internet offers a replacement for friendships with immediate and inexpensive effects, and on the other hand the time spent on these connections prevents the creation of face-to-face friendships. In fact, something as simple as having a smartphone nearby makes a gathering of friends much less stimulating.
How to avoid overcrowded loneliness?
To reverse the effects of this generalization of loneliness, it seems essential to educate in the use of new technologies and social skills. This happens by setting certain rules regarding the use of tablets and smartphones, however also to prevent self-esteem from being damaged by interactions perceived as failure or a waste of time.