Loneliness: The Constant Heartache

Introduction to the Series

“Alone: The Saddest Word in the Dictionary,” “We Watched ‘Friends’ But We didn’t Make Any,” and “Extreme Responses to Loneliness” are all titles of forthcoming columns on the subject of Loneliness: The Constant Heartache. Don’t worry, it won’t be all gloom and doom, there will be several columns with helpful information such as the one titled “The Quickest Cure for Loneliness.” I wrote a similar series of columns a half-decade ago, many will be re-written and updated for this series.

Let me ask you a question: Do you suppose people are more or less lonely today than back then? You’ve probably guessed the right answer: we are lonelier today than we were 10 years ago, despite the explosion of social networking. Back in May, 2012 the Atlantic Monthly carried a lengthy and comprehensive discussion of loneliness titled, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” I’ll save you the pain of reading the 2,000 word treatise. The answer is, “Yes, it is.”

Most people live in a world of strangers and have few personal, meaningful relationships. Of course, you might say “hello” to the UPS delivery person or talk about the weather to the barista while ordering your coffee at Starbucks, but in reality you are not likely to change your stranger status with either of them and certainly not with the general public.

You might think, “Sure, I could use a couple of friends, but I’m doing pretty good.” And I say: Do not underestimate the negative impact a life lived in the midst of strangers can have on you. Daily exposure to people who have no desire to interact with other people, who whiz past each other like gnats on a hot summer night, can be overwhelming and debilitating.

Of course, people are supposed to have their own group of friends, family and associates who meet their social and psychological need for human interaction, but it doesn’t work like that anymore. A recent study revealed that over one-third of Americans suffer from chronic loneliness. That means they are not lonely once in a while like most people, but constantly lonely*.

Why are we so lonely? How does loneliness impact our health? What are we supposed to do about it? Is there any help? Those are the kinds of questions I will answer over the course of the next 13 weeks or so.

Your participation could be helpful. If you suffer from loneliness, or if you’ve found your way out of loneliness, or if you would just like to tell me about your situation, I would like to hear from you. You can send me an email: Dr.Ross@RonRossToday.com, and tell me your story.  Not only that, once this series is complete, I’ll send you a compilation of all the columns as my gift to you.



Replacement Confidants


In that article about loneliness I found in the Atlantic Monthly about a year ago the author talked about what he referred to as REPLACEMENT CONFIDANTS.

Let me read you c couple of paragraphs:

“In the face of this social disintegration, we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional carers. As Ronald Dworkin pointed out in a 2010 paper for the Hoover Institution, in the late ’40s, the United States was home to 2,500 clinical psychologists, 30,000 social workers, and fewer than 500 marriage and family therapists. As of 2010, the country had 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 400,000 nonclinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counselors, 220,000 substance-abuse counselors, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches. The majority of patients in therapy do not warrant a psychiatric diagnosis. This raft of psychic servants is helping us through what used to be called regular problems. We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.”

So why this need for all these professional carers?

And who is to say that someone paid to care for you really can care for you as well as someone who really does care for you?

Recently my wife had a stroke and really scared all the members of our family. It happened on an early Sunday morning and I drove her to the hospital. She was soon taken out of the room on one of those really fancy rolling beds to have a cat scan and I was left sitting on an uncomfortable chair alone in the cold emergency room cubicle.

Do you know what I needed? I didn’t need a professional social worker or a trained psychologist, or some kind of a public health official. I needed a friend – and preferably a family member to talk to, to pray with, to hold on to. They were available, and they soon arrived, but at that time, I knew what I wanted. I knew what I needed, and it wasn’t someone paid to care but someone who really cared.

Many of you have had that experience. You know what I’m talking about.

The experts (whoever they are) say we need these professional carers more than ever before because of the breakdown of the family, divorce, and the fragmentation of families.

And golly, sitting there alone in that emergency room cubicle, I could have used the presence of my daughter – but she lives in New Mexico, and my youngest son, but he was in Florida, or one of my two best friends, but one of them lives in Iowa and the other lives in Castle Rock – over an hour’s drive from Loveland.

And my oldest son and his wife, why they were in the area, but they were in church and both had their phones off so even my texting got no response.

But the very last thing I needed was 37 Likes on a Facebook posting where I might have said something like, “Sitting in E-room waiting for Amy’s cat scan.”

Heck, 300 likes for such a posting would have been close to meaningless at that time.

My loneliness didn’t last long – catscans go pretty fast these days, but it made me acutely aware of how many close friends I don’t really have.

Acquaintences? Yup! I’ve got lot of them. Clients? Sure do. Some of the nicest people in Greeley, Centerra, and Loveland are clients of Tidbits and Tidbits Radio. I even have some basketball buddies I play hoops with twice a week, but most of them, I don’t even know their last names nor do I have their phone numbers.

Now, I know my little episode of loneliness doesn’t compare the constant loneliness of an aging widow, or the isolation of a teenager who is a little different than the other kids, or the sense of abandonment of a divorcee, but it taught me one thing – make more friends.

Someone once said, “True friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils. Strive to have friends, for life without friends is like life on a desert island… to find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing.”

OK, enough anguish. I’ve decided. I’m going to re-write and update those columns on loneliness because all of us, no matter how busy we are, no matter how much we are surrounded by other people, are often, too often lonely.

Stay tuned for next segment where I’m going to share with you four ways you can involve your family in preserving family history.

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