“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone”

~Robin Williams

The psychology of loneliness starts with the fact that from a very early age, human beings come to understand the essential need for attachment, but with that comes the understanding of loss.

A sensation that we evolved in order to protect our children, yet, we still continue to experience well into adulthood; also known as loneliness. The question that really perplexes people is how even when we have a beautiful marriage, friends, and a family —we still feel this evolutionary survival technique, called loneliness.

Neuroscience of Your Brain During Loneliness

Lead author and researcher at the prestigious University College London, Dr. Ryota Kanai, conducted a series of MRI scans on patients experiencing chronic loneliness. Dr. Kanai’s findings, which he published in the Journal of Current Biology, were quite surprising.

Typically, you would think that when humans feel lonely, a part of that experience stems from personal anxiety. Thus, the researchers at University College London were expecting to see abnormalities in brain systems that deal with emotion and anxiety.

What the bio-psychologists at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience found was slightly different from what we all expected.

When we experience loneliness, the parts of the brain that are actually affected are the areas that deal with social perception, not anxiety. In the MRI scans, Dr. Ryota Kanai noticed that there was a significant decrease in gray matter in the lobes dealing with social skills.

What this means is that it is not our doubts or fears that play into our sensation of loneliness. Instead, it is our ability to perceive social interactions.

Why Do We Feel Lonely Even with Our Loves?

So with the psychology of loneliness, we now know why and what areas of the brain are affected when we feel lonely, but where do our friends and loved ones come into play? This may surprise many of you, but even extroverts can feel lonely too. And it is because of our subjective perception of our relationships.

Meaning, it doesn’t matter how many friends you have or how much they actually love you. Because as long as you perceive those relationships in a certain way, you will always feel lonely.

Think about it, how many times have you felt lonely even when your loved one sat right next to you? At one point in every relationship, the talks about subjects that fascinate you and ignite you, turn into transactional conversations (e.g., “Did you remember to buy trash bags?” or “Don’t forget about picking your mom up from the airport”)

The interest in what you like and enjoy doing all of a sudden takes the back burner to what needs to be done around the house. This exchange and form of communication eventually start making you feel unimportant. As if no one really cares about you or is interested in what you have to say. This is the feeling of true loneliness.

How the Psychology of Loneliness Helps Us Overcome This Perception

Overcoming loneliness can be one of the most difficult issues to deal with in your life. As many of you must have heard by now of the tragic death of Robin Williams. A perfect example of what it means to “have it all” — the fame, success, a wonderful marriage, and even a child on the rise —yet, still be burdened by your perceptions.

It is that moment when you feel so low and so alone, that you need to stop and evaluate what you’re saying to yourself. Most of us aren’t used to paying attention to the way we think, even though our perception is constantly affected by our thoughts.

Once you’re aware of your thoughts, pay close attention to the shift in your emotions, no matter how small. When you notice yourself feeling lonely and unworthy of other people’s interests; ask yourself what your thoughts are saying.

Then put your foot down when those thoughts are not productive to your situation. They may not always stick out or feel illogical, but if they’re making you feel lonely, then they surely are.

Last but not least, don’t be so hard on yourself. Stop being the “victim,” emotions are infectious and no one wants to be around a person who constantly feels less than they are.

You are stronger than you realize and more significant to other people’s lives than your brain can accurately perceive. So take the initiative to spend time with others and find what makes them genuine and interesting. For when we find interest in others; they can’t help but see the glow emanating from our very selves.

To Learn More about the Psychology of Loneliness (References):

  1. Kanai, R. (August 2012) Brain Structure Links Loneliness to Social Perception. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23041193
  2. Hansen, B. (June 13, 2014) 10 More Ideas to Help With Loneliness. http://psychcentral.com
  3. Queen, T. (June 2014) Loneliness in a day: Activity engagement, time alone, and experienced emotions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24955998

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. ZacharyP

    I used to experience sudden loneliness a lot thought my elementary school from 1-4 grade I had no friends was picked on and even was ignored in a group or a crowed. What I said wasn’t noticed by anyone even if it was load. I would go home every day after school talking to myself to try and stay happy but that made it worse the biggest peck of having sudden loneliness was in my 4th grade year I moved to a new school in a new district because of family matters. The reason it got worse was because I didn’t know anyone. Yes I didn’t get noticed in my other school in 1-3 grade but I still knew people around me but they didn’t care for me. The reason my 4th grade life was worse was no one noticed me or even cared for me and the biggest problem was I didn’t even know them. Then one day when I moved to a different town after that half way in my 4th grade year a bigger problem occurred I was being subjected to bullying people hated me and the only ones that where nice to me at my biggest part of my life was 2 girls I didn’t know their names but they were nice to me one day. After I moved once again after 4th grade I final got to 5th grade I joined a school 2 weeks after classes already started. Then I meet my first friend in school I was able to open up slightly but a few years later started to find more friends that noticed me. I finally was able to gain a best friend who would hang out with me and would help brighten my day. I had a hard life. I strained myself to keep moving it’s hard not being noticed in school I mean yes it’s not like being noticed all the time what’s important but when no one cares about you is the worst thing ever. I’m happy to have escaped it I still at times feel that way in college but not as often and I tell you what I t feels amazing to know someone who cares about you as a friend and notices you.

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