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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

The global evil of loneliness provokes eremophobias

Wed, 05 Feb 2020 10:27:00 +0000 Published in Las Provincias and Alto Aragón newspaper.

Loneliness phobia is a psychological disorder characterized by an irrational fear of being alone and, above all, of feeling alone. It is known as eremophobia. One of the theories about its origin argues that at some point in history loneliness was associated with a traumatic event and, subsequently, the fear experienced was generalized to all status related to loneliness. The initial phobia is usually fed back with the indignation produced by a fact: loneliness as social isolation of many people imposed by the system. Every year it continues to grow like an epidemic, especially in the slums of the peripheries. One example: one third of Americans over 65 live alone; and many of them suffer from depression linked to the lack of emotional ties.

It is a paradox that in the century of social networks many elderly people live alone in spite of themselves. It is not strange, therefore, that some of them also die alone. "It happens to me more and more, to come across corpses of elderly people who have been dead for many days, in an advanced state of decomposition. I don't know if social intervention or family ties are failing. But it indicates the subject society towards which we are heading". These are the words of the magistrate Joaquín Bosch Grau.

These sad events speak for themselves that we live in a society that is becoming dehumanized. Experts at topic already speak of the global evil of loneliness. It is quite significant that the former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced in January 2018 the creation of a Ministry of Loneliness.

But we must not forget that there is also the chosen solitude, full of possibilities for the development staff , among others to reflect, contemplate and get to know oneself better.

Francesc Torralba, author of 'The Art of Being Alone', states that in situations of voluntary solitude we leave a blank space to listen without interference to what we feel and need.

Unfortunately many people are reluctant to be alone with themselves because in that status, without masks, an unexpected real 'I' appears that can be disappointing. We can run into what Viktor Frankl called "existential emptiness".

In 1959 Frankl published 'Man's Search for Meaning', where he described his therapy model , logotherapy, which is based on the search for vital meaning in the face of existential emptiness; we can always give meaning to our lives, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. In addition, we always have a certain Degree of freedom, since we can decide, at least, what attitude we adopt in the face of adversity. Frankl confessed that he was able to survive in a Nazi concentration camp because he was sustained by his faith in God and his love for his family.

Many people try to make sense of their lives through activism and the frenetic pace of each day, but when the weekend, vacations or retirement arrive, feelings of existential emptiness often set in.

Being lonely is different from feeling lonely. Some people feel lonely despite living in company, while others do not feel lonely in their periods of loneliness. Feeling lonely denotes a problem staff that usually requires psychological financial aid . On the other hand, wanting to be temporarily alone expresses a vital and existential need of all human beings, since it is a stimulus to develop and grow.

Although it may sound paradoxical, having moments of solitude makes us more empathetic people. The better connection with our feelings is often projected onto others, and allows us to put ourselves in their shoes.

Times of chosen solitude make us more aware of our condition as free beings, thus becoming a joyful solitude. "Only when I am alone do I feel completely free. I find myself again, and I find that pleasant and refreshing. In a society that forces you to be extremely aware of the outside, the spaces of solitude represent the only possibility to get in touch with oneself again. It is a necessary movement of contraction to regain balance". (Mireia Darder).

After many hours a day hyperconnected to cell phones and social networks, we need some time alone to free ourselves from this dependence and to rest. The moments of chosen solitude have the added advantage of predisposing to innovation and creativity.

Susan Cain argues that solitude is the crucial ingredient of creativity, since it favors openness to one's own original thinking. It is very symptomatic that Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple computer while locked in his cubicle at Hewlett Packard. Unfortunately, society has privileged the active person much more than the reflective and contemplative one.