Why are so many people lonely?
I’m worried. Loneliness has become a massive public health problem. Disconnection from others leads to both physical and mental illness, and puts people at risk of depression. Loneliness also increases the risk of substance abuse, aggressive behavior, and suicide.
So many people have experienced traumatic events in their lives. To remain resilient or to heal from painful experiences, people need each other. We heal in relationships, not alone.
Widespread alienation and loneliness also make societies more susceptible to totalitarianism and decline.
Ten years ago, I read Bowling Alone, the now classic by sociologist Robert Putnam. Long story short: there are many reasons so many people are lonely, and no one totally agrees. But many signs point to technology. For example: TV. As TV ownership went up starting in the 1960s, time spent connecting daily with others, whether neighbors or friends on the bowling league, decreased.
Now, with the internet, social media, and Covid-19, we have warp speeded into a dystopian future where we spend more time with screens than with others.
Other contributors to widespread loneliness include increased time spent working, economic inequality, and an epidemic of various addictions.
We spend more time with screens than people.
Since experts seem to agree that screens are one major player pulling us away from each other, let’s talk more about why. Who can blame anyone for avoiding relationships by turning to television or Facebook? Relationships require vulnerability. They require risk. They require wading through messy and uncomfortable territory. If we get beyond superficial “Hi, how are yous?” with someone, we open ourselves up to dealing with conflict, disappointment, hurt feelings, or embarrassment.
But relationships are so vital for our well-being, and the well-being of society. When you feel connected to others, you feel truly alive. Belonging to a diverse community means you learn from new things and grow from exposure to others with different life experiences and views. When difficult times occur, you have more social support. And connecting with others also brings more fun and joy to your life.
We would all benefit from investing more in our relationships, and dis-investing in comforts that take us away from real-life connections.
Therapy Can Help you Develop Better Relationships
Therapy can be a place to exercise your relationship and vulnerability muscles so that you have the skills to manage conflict or challenging moments. You can learn a lot about yourself, and about others, through talking.
Group therapy is an especially helpful way to work on your relational skills. You can get support from other group members while also managing the conflict that inevitably arises between people in the group. Group therapy is like a microcosm of the world, allowing you to observe your thoughts, feelings, and reactions to others in a safe space.
When you’ve been hurt in relationships, whether by a religious leader or narcissistic parents or oppressive systems, you might feel extra afraid of getting close to others. But those painful experiences don’t have to hold you back forever. You can thrive.
This is important.
The more intentional we all become about investing in relationships, the more welcoming and less-lonely society we can create together. I want to live in a world where everyone feels this to be true: they matter, and they belong.
As we roll into a future of climate uncertainty, increased political instability and economic inequality, we will need each other more than ever. Actually, if we work together, perhaps we will find the energy and inspiration to change the world.
If you’re lonely, disconnected, or want more intimacy in your relationships, feel free to reach out about working together. I would love to get to know you.