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While doing research on loneliness in older adults, psychologist John Cacioppo and his colleagues identified three core dimensions of healthy relationships. These dimensions are applicable to people of all ages.
For anyone experiencing loneliness or a sense of isolation, knowing the three core dimensions could make relieving loneliness easier—steps taken can be made specific to one or all dimensions that might be lacking.
One core dimension is having someone(s) in our life whom, we feel, affirms or validates us. We are validated when others respect our thoughts and feelings, even if theirs are different. This lets us know we are worthy just as we are.
People with an ability to appreciate themselves are less dependent on the validation of others, but enjoy being esteemed when it comes their way. For individuals who are routinely self-critical or self-rejecting, the affirmation of others can be crucial to their well-being and feeling of connectedness.
Most of us need to experience at least one validating person in our life before we realize it is OK to validate ourselves. If there is no friend or family member that affirms your worth, a compassionate mentor, spiritual leader, or professional counselor can give you the healing experience of validation.
Another of the core dimensions is a sense of connectedness from enjoying face-to-face contacts that are mutually satisfying. These are the people we enjoy hanging out with. Although there may be occasional disagreements, certain acquaintances, fellow students, co-workers, friends, partners, or family add richness to our lives simply by being with us. Some people require more of this connection than others, but almost everyone will feel a dryness, or loneliness if they have too little.
We need people to laugh with, be bored with, tell our stories to, and to share our joys or sadness. We need those who get our sense of humor and know when something is wrong just by looking at us. We need others who share our interests or are at least curious about them.
One person cannot be everything to us so most of us need a few of these people in our life. To increase this relationship dimension we have put ourselves where others are (in person or on the Internet), show interest in them, and respond to their interest in us. If you have difficulty communicating with or trusting others, consider group or individual counseling.
Having connection to something beyond individual existence by being part of a collective is the third relationship dimension. Most people find life is more meaningful when involved in a group they contribute to. It enhances our sense of purpose whether we supply time, enthusiasm, caring, expertise, friendship, or money. Without this type of belonging, many people experience disconnection, boredom, or a lack of fulfillment.
These groups can be social, business oriented, pertaining to a cause or a belief, or held together by a common interest. They are for sharing something of ourselves to enrich the lives of others, and ourself. Although the Internet allows us to connect in ways barely dreamed of fifty years ago, most of us do well with a balance of digital and in-person group connections.
Research source: University of Chicago News
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