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All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? All the lonely people. Where do they all belong? - Eleanor Rigby
What causes some people to be chronically lonely? And why do lonely people often have difficulty in social situations?
The need to belong is a fundamental need for all human beings and feeling connected can be an important predictor of emotional health. Loneliness, on the other hand, stems from the perceived difference between the social lives we actually have and the kind of social life we often feel we should have. More often than not, we feel especially lonely when we compared our current lives against some ideal that we've set for ourselves. This ideal can involve comparing ourselves to people we know or to the kind of social ideal that can come from the fictional people we see in movies or television. We all feel lonely at some point in our lives though the feelings are usually temporary.
Not surprisingly, chronic loneliness can be linked to a wide range of emotional problems such as low self-esteem, depression, and an increased risk for suicide. For people who have a long history of loneliness and who don't have the sort of social support that comes from the friends and family accumulated over a lifetime, the long-term consequences can be even more severe. Survival studies even suggest that chronic loneliness can lead to increased risk of all-cause mortality.
All of which leads to the fundamental question of why loneliness can persist over time in some individuals.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.
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