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Just me? But if I am surrounded by a thousand companions

Many do not understand that it is loneliness nor do they know that they suffer from it, says psychologist Miguel de Zubiría, director of the International Foundation for Affective Psychology. The expert says that there could be at least six types of loneliness and to know if you suffer from them you only need to ask yourself six questions.

Are you alone? It is not easy to answer this simple question. First you should review loneliness, its types, causes and consequences. Recent studies say that adults may suffer not from loneliness, but from at least six different types of loneliness: love, work, projective, friends and groups, hobbies and free time, and intellectual loneliness. Another recent BBC study in several countries revealed that about 40% of respondents aged 16-24 said they experience loneliness often or very often, compared to only 29% of those aged 65-74. Nearly half of young people! That’s a frightening statistic.

Is it really possible to be alone even if you have 1000 classmates? I will answer a question with this story. A couple of years ago I was referred by a thirteen year old boy. Adalberto, I’ll call him that. He was isolated, apathetic, de-motivated in school, with plummeting academic performance for the last two years. The school psychologist was worried that he might miss the year, being a bright young man and a good student. In fact, the questionnaires showed a high presence of loneliness, particularly in school and in the family. Only son, his mother without a partner or relatives. In giving him the report, his mother was very emphatic: “Doctor, how can you affirm that my son is alone in a school of 1,000 students? It is impossible!

I couldn’t convince her. However, it is common to feel alone surrounded by tens or hundreds of people. The least of all is how many people surround you as a scenery. Loneliness is feeling disconnected, disconnected, without communication or support from others. Worse yet, it is possible to feel lonely with oneself, or to know oneself disconnected, disconnected, without communication or personal support from the most important person of all: you. Can you be alone with yourself? Yes, it happens to apathetic young people or those who devalue themselves or perceive themselves as fragile or of little value. Such self-disconnection turns out to be one of the most painful forms of loneliness. Interestingly, the sufferer may not know why he or she is alone or which of the lonelinesses suffers.

Another frequently asked question: Is there evidence that loneliness kills? Yes, we have a great 75-year study from Harvard University that points to the question of what it means to lead a happy and healthy life. The results were presented by its current director Robert Waldinger in a TED conversation… In this talk the expert says that “good relationships make us happier and healthier. And loneliness kills. Experiencing loneliness is toxic, produces unhappiness and health relapses in middle age, brain functions decay rapidly and live less,” he says in his talk. The effects of loneliness are terrifying. His advice couldn’t be clearer. “The definitive thing is the quality of the close relations, to count on another one before the adversities, to spend more time with people than with screens”.

Current neuropsychology proposes an interesting possible explanation of how good bonds bring eight gains. If Adalberto decided to invite his companion Luis to climb, which he does not do, his mind would create a pleasant positive expectation, soon there would come several interactions with him, personal and virtual; each step towards the goal would create pleasure and materialize his plan would cause him pleasant self-satisfaction. Adalberto could receive many benefits, only that his loneliness blocks this circuit, because he lives sheltered in the loneliness of his home.

Parents and teachers have to worry about children and young people who do not have good companions or friends. They lose a lot of well-being and in the medium term could present various medical complications. Besides, in my opinion, the worst thing is that they stop exercising their interpersonal and intimate qualities, which will be definitive in their adult life, not to mention in their long old age. Loneliness creates a dangerous vicious circle from which many times it is impossible to escape, if it is not recognized in time, which almost never happens.

Now, what is loneliness? First of all, I will say that solitude has two opposites: the happiness to link and the suffering of the other. The vincular happiness, or anti solitude is the set of pleasant and close interactions with people and with our partner: the total of expectations, pleasant encounters, pleasures, satisfactions. These delicious interactions make us happy and healthy. They are the primary source of human happiness, according to many studies over the last 30 years. Happiness link of which Adalberto is lost, which is a serious loss of happiness, because it damages his heart and body in various and disturbing ways. It kills him slowly.

The opposite extreme of vincular happiness is vincular suffering. To understand it I will use the example of Adalberto whose loneliness avoids him and saves tensions, conflicts, displacements, frictions, misunderstandings and years ahead jealousy, disappointments, cruel and painful infidelities. Like any art, interacting is difficult and complex, requiring thousands of hours of training and teachings that no one teaches today, which is why popular wisdom affirms, backed by the neuropsychology of suffering, that “it is better to be alone than in bad company. Only that he forgets the other face, the positive face of human relations and it is much better to be well accompanied than alone.

The essence of solitude is not to be but to feel disconnected from others. Like when the light goes out, they stop operating the devices that do us so much good, leaving us in the dark, without television, internet, lamps, music… This disconnection can be acute, for periods of time, or chronic, very serious. In the latter case, the person loses hope of reconnecting, lacks the interpersonal and intimate qualities to achieve it and knows it after hundreds of tensions, conflicts, displacements, frictions, and misunderstandings. The flaw is in him, or better still in his parents and teachers who did not teach him the delicate art of connecting with others, art in danger of extinction, which today almost nobody dominates him, because people live hidden behind their self-protective screens, the same ones that protect them from others. It happened to Adalberto in his last two years, he said at the beginning of his adolescence: no one taught him the art of interacting with friends or with groups.

This means that the physical presence of others solves nothing. The solution is the connection, knowing how to connect pleasantly with others. How? Psychology knows little about this recent topic, only that it requires motivations and apprehended qualities. Where are they apprehended? At home and at school, only today’s homes prioritize academic studies and schools much more. In this way no one deals with antidotes to loneliness. Finally, England creates the first ministry against loneliness; it is the first country to do so.

Perhaps most important of all is that six main forms of loneliness seem to occur in adulthood: loving, working, projective, friends, leisure and intellectual loneliness. Do you suffer from any of them? The first thing to say is that we can measure loneliness. To find out, you need to make an affectogram of loneliness, which is an exam with a series of questions. These are six of them.

1- Loving solitude. Do you have who loves you -truly- Do you have who to love?

2- Work loneliness: Do you appreciate your work, your bosses, colleagues, subordinates? And do you know you are appreciated by them?

3- Projective solitude: Do you work on satisfactory projects, personal or with others, with your partners?

4- Lonely friends and groups. Do you have good and close friends? Do you allocate time to them?

5- Solitude of free time. Do you practice at least one exciting hobby?

6- Intellectual solitude: Do you have someone to share your readings, thoughts, reflections and theirs with?

If you respond to one of them that you don’t, you should ask for help because loneliness is a very serious issue that requires all of us to know it and face it. If that’s done, it could be the second possible experimental suicide vaccine.

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