The ‘L’ Word - Loneliness

February 13th 2018

The ‘L’ Word - Loneliness

The oh so ‘romantic’ holiday that is Valentine’s Day is famed as the day that reminds us to celebrate ‘love’ – but for the majority, contrary to a celebration, it is often a day many of us would rather avoid altogether.  Often this is because of the other ‘L’ word, the one we don’t talk about as much or so openly – the feeling of loneliness.

Loneliness, as a noun, is defined by the Oxford dictionary as: “sadness because one has no friends or company” - but we know that it is so much more than this.  Loneliness is not necessarily about being alone, instead, ‘it is the perception of being alone and isolated that matters most’.  Loneliness is regarded as “a state of mind”, a ‘difficulty to find meaning in one's life’, ‘feeling negative and unpleasant’, ‘a feeling of disconnectedness or isolation’.

Loneliness is quickly becoming recognised as an issue that is not exclusively faced by older people – with new data revealing that 18-24 year olds are the ‘loneliest’ generation of all. It is ironic, at a time when the world claims it has never been more ‘connected’ – that the prevalence of loneliness continues to increase.

I once read an interesting article by a psychologist named Danielle Grossman entitled “Valentine’s Day: Love and the Lonely Heart” and she broadened the lens through which we look at loneliness.  She talked about how:

- Loneliness does not mean that we are doing something wrong or that there is something wrong with us. Loneliness is not some sort of contagious disease that we can protect ourselves from by never being alone or by manically pursuing relationships.
- Despite what ‘V-day’ would have us believe, loneliness is certainly not reserved only for those who are single.  It is a part of every human’s experience, whether we are looking for a partner, in a long-term relationship, the life and soul of the party, or a certifiable hermit.
- One can experience loneliness in many ways.  There is the loneliness of having a secret we are afraid to tell, the loneliness of illness, and the loneliness of being misunderstood. There is the loneliness of having a face, body, or brain that looks or behaves differently from the people around us. There is the loneliness of looking around at our family, classmates or neighbours and feeling like we just don’t belong.
- There is the loneliness of feeling imprisoned in a box of other people’s expectations – whether it is our parents, our teachers or even our friends.
- There is the loneliness of having to keep on living without that someone who is suddenly, or not so suddenly, just not there anymore.
- There is the loneliness of not having our perspectives on politics, religion, or life in general shared by other people.
- There is the loneliness of trying so hard to have our gifts and work valued by others, and still feeling unrecognized, unappreciated, and unseen.
- There is the loneliness of feeling disconnected from our very own selves – from our own thoughts, feelings, and who we feel we are or should be — a loneliness that comes in the shape of feeling utterly lost.

Loneliness is a complex and unique experience to each individual. It has no single common cause, and the so-called type of ‘love’ that this hallmark holiday claims to celebrate is certainly no ‘cure’ for it.  One thing the research has agreed on is that the experience of loneliness frequently results in a decline in an individual’s well-being.

So, on this Feb 14th, and indeed every other day too – let’s move away from the cheesy playlists, the over-sized cards and over-priced flowers – and instead invest some time in the practice of looking after our own well-being.  Here in Jigsaw we talk a lot about our ‘5-a-day’ to support our mental health and well-being and I think an ‘occasion’ like V-day is no exception. 

Here’s a reminder of the 5-a-day guide for minding our mental health written by Dr Gillian O’Brien, Director of Clinical Governance at Jigsaw.

written by Michelle Lowry, Senior Clinical Support Worker, Jigsaw Offaly