Danger Ahead: Extreme Responses to Loneliness

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Everyone endures bouts of loneliness from time to time. They are usually short-lived because the causes are either social (broke up with their girl/boyfriend, got a divorce, had a fight with their best friend, etc.), or geographical (moved to another job, town, school, etc.). Mentally healthy people adapt quickly to new situations and are able to establish constructive relationships. Sometimes, however, loneliness can trigger either one of two extreme reactions: isolation or obsession.

ISOLATION: Some lonely people will cut themselves off from the rest of the world. They lose all motivation to get involved with anything; even things that once fascinated them. They sit in corners, hide behind books, or sit alone in the lunchroom with their back to the crowd.  You can almost hear them singing, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms.” If they do develop a relationship it doesn’t take them long to sabotage it so they can prove to themselves their own worthlessness. To ease the pain of their solitude they will often anesthetize themselves with food, alcohol, drugs, etc.

OBSESSION: Others deal with loneliness by getting overly involved with an individual or an activity. More than one recently-divorced individual has become compulsively obsessed with a new person (lover), probably to numb the pain of their separation. They jump body and soul into a new relationship only to discover they have made some very serious mistakes (remember Fatal Attraction?).  Others get over involved with some cause or activity that keeps them so busy they forget about their loneliness until night comes and they are alone. I know one lady who was ignominiously dumped by her husband so she went out and purchased an expensive SUV to prove to him she could make it on her own. It felt good until she couldn’t keep up with the payments and the bank re-possessed it. Oftentimes obsession with an individual or an activity will result in unforeseen negative consequences.

Chronic loneliness, whether manifesting itself as isolation or obsession, can be dangerous to mental and physical health and can result in life-threatening conditions. Heart disease, hypertension, stroke, high blood pressure, etc., have been linked to chronic loneliness.

In 2005 the U.S. Framingham Heart Study demonstrated that lonely men had raised levels of interleuken-6 (IL-6), a blood chemical linked to heart disease. Dr. Eric Loucks of the Harvard School of Public Health said in his report on the study, “Typically, socially isolated men have an over two-fold higher risk of mortality compared to socially connected men.” You might be interested to know that the same was not found to be true in women.

Depression often accompanies loneliness. Some of the symptoms of depression (withdrawal, anxiety, lack of motivation, sadness, etc.) are similar to the symptoms of loneliness. People being treated for depression need to give consideration to the possibility that loneliness may be contributing to their condition. Other consequences of loneliness are sleep disorders, chemical abuse, anti-social behavior, and self-destructive behavior. Extreme irrational responses to loneliness can threaten health, inhibit the ability to respond appropriately in social situations, and interfere with the ability to make good decisions.

It’s simple: for good mental and physical health you need friends.

For more on Loneliness or to contact Dr. Ross, visit www.RonRossToday.com.

© 2014 Ronald D. Ross All Rights Reserved

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