An article written by
Andrea F. Polard:
Loneliness is a killer. It not only hurts emotionally, but triggers the secretion of stress hormones that damage our organs over time.1 In fact, ongoing loneliness is rated as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. While most people acknowledge the primal need for love and support in the young, there is much reluctance to acknowledge the need in mature adults. We receive ways to overcome the “want of intimacy”—as psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichmann defined loneliness—to no avail. But the need for others is like the need for food. Deny it and you will suffer. Nature has hardwired us to seek connectedness, rewarding those who have it with happiness and longevity while depressing the psyches and immune systems of those who don’t.
Unfortunately, we increasingly isolate: 35% of a representative sample of 3,012 people age 45 or older reported loneliness in a survey the AARP commissioned in 2010.2 And the problem is likely much greater than numbers suggest. Because American culture touts independence, there is shame associated with revealing the primitive need to be seen and understood. Some pretend to be well connected: “I am all booked out,” says the adolescent who posts selfies incessantly. Many adults pretend to have transcended this primitive stage, making the rest of us feel defective or unexcelled.
Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D. is the author of A Unified Theory of Happiness: An East-Meets-West Approach to Fully Loving Your Life. Her background is rooted in the sciences as well as in humanistic, system-oriented, and cognitive-behavioral psychology, Zen Buddhism, mindfulness, and spirituality. Dr. Polard has studied at the Freie University Berlin, Germany, researching creativity as well as non-verbal expressions, especially the smile, utilizing the “Facial Action Coding System”.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
There are other ways to escape the painful, shameful truth of loneliness—to medicate it away, either with prescription and illegal drugs or with various forms of distractions, such as mindless consumption, porn, incessant work, or getting lost in endless entertainment. Take the latter: Many claim to be perplexed about the recent political success of Donald Trump. Thousands of voters, it seems, not only overlook the insults on the campaign trail and the apparent impulsive behavior, they love it. The entire political spectrum has become more entertaining, with media helping, of course. Politics has become an amusing, a non-stop reality show with the highest stakes in which we get to play a key role.
The other day I listened to a radio show about how video games are going to become an all-engrossing 360-degree experience. In a very sad voice the radio host concluded, “Who needs reality?”