15 Jul Genetic Link to Loneliness
There is a grossly unfair stigma attached to people who are lonely. They are mistakenly viewed as having a flaw in their personality, whereas they are simply genetically predisposed to loneliness.
No noticeable differences
In fact, their social skills are just as good, they dress as well, and they are just as pleasant to be around as non-lonely people. Neither do they differ in personality traits compared to the non-lonely. What may be different is a childhood of frequent moves or parental divorce; the younger the child when divorce happens, the greater the likelihood of adult loneliness. So family context may influence loneliness.
How it feels
It is thought that their sense of isolation and feeling of not fitting in may be due to having higher needs, or that they need more from others to feel truly connected and satisfied. A genetic predisposition may mean that they feel lonely more quickly, and feel lonely in more diverse circumstances. Lonely people carry a mental vision of themselves as alone in the world, even if they have numerous social ties.
Social and emotional loneliness
We humans, as social beings, need both a social circle (to give us a sense of self worth and confidence) and an intimate attachment (for emotional closeness and support). Lonely people are judged less harshly if they are socially lonely, i.e. lacking community relationships and not participating in social activities.
If someone is viewed as lacking an intimate attachment, such as not having a family or close partner, there is a wrong-headed tendency for others to think that they are somehow flawed. Even within a family, a person may feel lonely if emotions are internalized or if family members keep to themselves.
In today’s world with often two adults in a family working, there is less time for person-to-person connections. As well, workplaces may be the focus of social and even emotional ties, so it is particularly devastating when jobs are cut. More people are living alone today, so that they may lack the quiet form of support from just having other people around.
Is it any wonder, then, that loneliness is increasing, not just in the elderly but throughout the life span.
Unfortunately, loneliness triggers withdrawal, sensitivity to criticism, and unease around others. No, these do not cause loneliness; rather they arise from loneliness. The more lonely people become, the more likely they are, paradoxically, to withdraw.
More disturbingly, chronic loneliness throughout life is linked to dementia, early death, physical illness, and behavioural changes. Researchers in Holland found that “lonely people are three times more likely than the non-lonely to develop symptoms debilitating enough to leave them housebound.”
Loneliness is a public health issue and is finally gaining some recognition. We need to make loneliness political instead of personal.
Reference: Emily White. 2010. Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude. McClelland and Stewart, 258 pp.