Feeling left out and being isolated from others has a major impact on our health and well-being. Yet, though relationships can be painful they are also deeply enriching experiences that make us feel more whole.
It is not uncommon in present American culture to find more and more people living alone, feeling left out from the world around them. For many of us, we desire to be self-reliant and live our lives without needing others. In fact according to an article in the Washington Post we are at the height of people living by themselves.
The proportion of Americans who live alone has grown steadily since the 1920s, increasing from roughly 5 percent then to 27 percent in 2013, according to the latest Current Population Survey from the Census Bureau (“More Americans Living Alone,” 2014).
Social isolation is on the rise and it is increasingly a badge of honor. People take pride in the lack of relationships they need to support their lives. The discovery of a smart phone app that allows you to easily send a letter that you would have written to friends is a cause for celebration. Technology, social media and other service industries continue to take the place of what used to be other humans being there for us.
In an article in the New York Times the author points out the massive increase of social exclusion.
Social isolation is a growing epidemic — one that’s increasingly recognized as having dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. (“How Social Isolation,” 2016).
In a recent conversation I was speaking to a friend about the number of gadgets that parents use to maintain their children’s lives. I was wondering if this was necessary. He made the point that in the past, grandparents and other relatives were holding the children so the parent could manage their life. Consequently, he concluded that the gadgets were necessary because we call on our community for less support.
I see this in my practice all of the time. People, having felt the pain of relationships, want to reduce the people they have for emotional support. However it is becoming clear that this reduction is causing us ill health.
In their book, The Lonely American, Olds and Schwartz point out what happens as we become more cutoff from relationships, feeling left out from social interaction.
In a series of papers published over four years Twinge and Boumeester found the following about social exclusion:
- Makes people more aggressive
- Causes self-defeating behavior
- Reduces intelligent thought
- Leads to a state of mind that avoids meaningful thought, emotion and self-awareness and is characterized by lethargy and altered time flow.
- Leads people to quit sooner on frustrating tasks. (Olds and Schwartsz, 2009)
It is easy to see that our lack of communal connection is one of the challenges we have in taking care of ourselves.
Subsequently, we face a challenge immediately. As humans, we are wired for relationships. Our brains require stimulation from other people. We cannot get this stimulation from other sources. We can only get it from people. Feeling left out and alone hurts us.
However, for many of us we have felt the pain and discomfort of relating with people. Whether it was our family or friends we know the sting of being hurt in relationship. Therefore, in order to avoid this, we try and find ways to create less connection with the people in our lives.
I know in my own life I have a very strong desire to be self-reliant. I try not to “bother” others with my needs. For much of my life I tended to stay on my own keeping myself free from the messiness of relational situations.
I have begun to change that. With the help of my wife, I have started to see that the pain that comes with being close to people also comes with the incredible benefit of being held in a community of support. As I grow older, I reach out more and more to be with others and share space with them. It no longer needs to be a big event. Instead I look to be with friends who I can feel connected to.
If you struggle with feeling lonely and isolated consider reaching out to me so we can start to rebuild your community of support.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
Henderson, T. (2014, March 28). More Americans living alone census says. The Washington Post. Retrieved From Newspaper Homepage https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/more-americans-living-alone-census-says/2014/09/28/67e1d02e-473a-11e4-b72e-d60a9229cc10_story.html?utm_term=.223045f9d3b8
Khullar, Dhruv. (2106, December 22). How Social Isolation Is Killing Us. The New York Times. Retrieved From Newspaper Homepage https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/22/upshot/how-social-isolation-is-killing-us.html
Olds, Jacqueline, Schwartz, Richard S. (2009). The Lonely American: Drifting Apart In the Twentieth-first Century. Boston, MA, Beacon Press.