To me there's always seemed to be a bit of irony inherent to the experience of loneliness. One the one hand, loneliness is inextricably linked to the connections an individual has to other people. People feel lonely when they spend too much time by themselves and not enough time with others. On the other hand, there is a component of loneliness that seems to have no relationship at all to being alone versus being with other people. Thus, a person can spend significant amounts of time by himself and not feel the slightest bit lonely. A person can also be in a room overflowing with people and yet feel utterly and completely alone. And so I've come to realize that loneliness is a phenomenon more complex than at first it seems.
Loneliness is a virtually universal experience; almost everyone experiences it at least once in a lifetime. Almost all of us have an idea of what it means to be lonely, even if we can't exactly put it into words. If I say to someone, "I feel lonely," he understands what I mean; I don't have to explain it. Perhaps this is why the scientific community has only recently begun to develop a clear definition of loneliness. For practical purposes, there is no need for a concrete definition of loneliness. But in order to study a given phenomenon we must be clear about exactly what it is we are studying. And so the need to define loneliness grew out of an increasing interest among social scientists in better understanding the phenomenon and its effects.
So what exactly is loneliness? Researchers have identified three characteristics:
1. Loneliness stems from deficiencies in social relationships.
2. Loneliness is a subjective experience. (In other words, what causes one person to feel lonely does not necessarily cause someone else to feel lonely).
3. Loneliness is both unpleasant and distressing for the person experiencing it.
'(Perlman & Peplau)
Because loneliness is a subjective problem, there are many different ways to go about trying to resolve it. A person might simply lack good social skills and so find it difficult to make friends. Others might fear intimacy or have "trust issues." In such cases, loneliness is really a secondary problem that will most likely resolve itself once the primary concerns are addressed.
When's the last time you can remember feeling lonely? What caused it? Were you able to overcome it? If so, how?