The word “loner” has negative connotations in society, and is often used to describe people who’ve just gone on an axe-wielding rampage. But the truth is loneliness is a state that can affect people who aren’t toxic, negative, or murderous for that matter. Not everyone is to blame for their loneliness.
A combination of reasons have caused me to experience bouts of loneliness throughout my life. I spent a chunk of my early adulthood with a severe mental illness that cost me friends, and prevented me from making new ones. As a person, I’m an introvert who struggles to make friends, and my career keeps me very busy. I’m as self-aware as the next person and I try to face the internal and external barriers with as much positivity as I can.
However, in a recent article, Annalisa Barbieri has said people are lonely because they’re not self-aware, and bring others down with their negativity. She writes that: “(Loneliness) could be for a variety of reasons and almost all, in some direct or indirect way, are probably your fault. If you think this is too abrasive, that’s the first reason, right there, you probably don’t have any friends: you can’t handle the truth and lack self-awareness”. Adding final insult to injury, she writes: “If you’re neither too young nor too old, and you don’t have any friends, you may simply be too critical or negative.”
The piece – which, ironically, is wholly negative itself – is spectacularly irresponsible. People suffering with loneliness are already more likely to suffer from low self-esteem. Loneliness and mental health are inextricably linked. Loneliness can cause depression, lower our wellbeing and increase the stress hormone cortisol. Those who feel lonely are seven times more likely to have low life satisfaction.
It is dangerous to perpetuate the myth that people with few or no friends are flawed, or any more imperfect than popular people. It’s a cruel world out there, one that’s not always conducive to making and maintaining friendships. Some people may suffer socially because of circumstances beyond their control, such as serious illness, social anxiety, working anti-social shifts or just being selective when it comes to friends.
Experts have highlighted cultural changes to partly explain our loneliness epidemic. According to the Office of National Statistics. A report in 2010 also found a link between our "individualistic society" and the increase in common mental health disorders in the last 50 years. Our sense of community has diminished and more of us our living alone, and we’re spending more time communicating on our phones and computers instead of talking to people face-to-face. Also, we live in an age where we think nothing of moving away from loved ones to go to university or peruse a career, and are spending more time working.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week – and with loneliness being such a big contributor to our mental health, we should never be made to feel like we’re to blame.
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