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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology

Never have so many felt so alone

Mon, 18 Feb 2019 11:48:00 +0000 Published in Las Provincias and Diario Montañés

Often the newscasts inform us that a person has died alone and without anyone knowing it for some time. Is there anything more bitter than a lonely agony in anonymity, not in an uninhabited area, but in a community of neighbors? What did not used to happen in primitive peoples, is happening in those who now consider themselves developed and go as far as the idolatry of the social.

If we take a walk in a public park we almost always find a lonely person sitting on a bench. People usually pass by. It is very instructive to stop and sit down next to him. Conversation comes easily and on the initiative of the "loner", because he needs company and, above all, someone to listen to him.

A study from Brigham Young University in Utah (USA) has shown that loneliness can negatively affect our health. We can all be lonely at some point in life due to some painful event, such as, for example, parents' divorce or a breakup with our best friend, but it is not as problematic as chronic loneliness.

 

In children, persistent loneliness is the cause of many school dropouts. These children become polarized in their marginalized state and may develop delinquent and other forms of antisocial behavior, both immediate and long-term deadline.

Childhood experiences that promote undesirable loneliness often predict loneliness during adulthood. Lonely children may miss many opportunities to interact with peers and to learn useful social skills for later life.

Being alone is different from feeling alone. One can be alone without feeling lonely, because one loves solitude as status to reflect, contemplate and find oneself; this is a desired, active and fruitful solitude. A person can be physically alone for a long time but related to ideas and values that bring a feeling of communion and belonging with other people.

There are people who feel lonely even though they are surrounded by others (in the family, at school or at work). We feel lonely when we are not able to talk to ourselves or to listen to ourselves; we thus become strangers to ourselves, to the point that sometimes we do not recognize ourselves in what we say. The root of this problem is usually the fear of confronting ourselves, of finding something we don't like. For Mark Twain, the worst loneliness is not being comfortable with oneself. 

When loneliness is persistent, it can generate personality disorders that lead to violent behavior. One example is that of David Chapman, the young loner who murdered John Lennon. From prison he declared that at that time he "had such a big identity crisis that he needed to kill someone," preferably a famous person who had disappointed him. The idea of being world news in the newspapers relieved the suffering of being a nobody; he wanted to be somebody; he would have a new identity known to millions of people: that of being the one who murdered John Lennon.

Young people who feel lonely, in many cases had a lonely childhood, due to the habitual absence of the father and mother for reasons of work. This is the status of "key-children". Many children, every evening, open the door of their empty house with the key that their parents gave them in the morning. And "so that they don't feel alone" they provide them with a variety of digital gadgets.

 Gustav Thibon points out that in today's society there is an enclosure of individuals and a massive indifference towards others. He adds that there is a process of social erosion that Paul Valéry called "the multiplication of the lonely". This process often affects families as well: their members act more and more independently of each other: each to his or her own. In many cases they are affected by the ideology of the "new individualism," which now pervades society and is presented as a "new way of life".

Individualism can generate alienation (loss of identity). Some disenchanted individualists, after hitting rock bottom, try to break away from this attitude. A humorous cartoon by David Bomy puts it this way: "I have started a detoxification treatment of myself".