The Impact of Loneliness

This season, when your expectations for the perfect family, the best friends and the idolized romance that you crave don't seem to match your current experience, your temptation may be to beat yourself up, isolate yourself or go into hibernation mode. Loneliness is Normal! Since there is such a stigma with loneliness, let me just say that there are justifiable and perfectly good reasons for this common state of being. While some may certainly have a chronic issue that needs to be addressed, the truth is that the rest of us will still experience an average of 48 days of loneliness each year!* And my guess is that December holds a good share of those days for many!

Not all of us will be with family this month, or maybe we will but it will be painful. Many of us have lost loved ones that we'll miss this time of year in profound ways. This season is especially hard after any big changes you've survived in the last year whether it be divorce, a big move to a new place or a job change that affects your finances or time. Perhaps you hoped to have a baby this Christmas and don't yet or perhaps your last child just moved out leaving your house feeling quite empty. There are hundreds of reason and you admitting to loneliness is completely normal. Healthy. And it doesn't mean you're not like-able!

It simply means we want to call it what it is. Recognize it's impact in our lives. And ensure that we're moving in the right direction to increase our sense of belonging, acceptance and community.

Research Findings on Impact of Loneliness According to U.S. News & World Report yesterday, research published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology* suggests, among other things, that women are more susceptible to loneliness than men.

Writing this blog for a largely female audience, I'd venture to guess that all of us know what it means to feel lonely. But did you know that when we're lonely, we tend to treat people in "less affirming ways?" And not just that we are less affirming, but that we're contagious? When we de-value someone else, they have a tendency to turn to others and carry on the behavior.

"Loneliness can spread from person to person to person--up to three degrees of separation," said James H. Fowler, co-author of the study.

So, carry with you that truth this holiday season. Ask yourself if you're treating people in ways that leave them feeling better about who they are. Take responsibility for stepping into your loneliness in ways that invite your healing and those around you.

And, on the flip side, if you have lonely family members, colleagues or friends in your life, be intentional to keep engaging, not allowing their experience to dictate yours.

And above all, my dear friends, I invite you to affirm yourself for what you are creating and fostering in your life. You have already taken the step to join a community of women, opening yourself to meaningful friendship. And that is a risk and an investment that not everyone is willing to make. You have proven to yourself that you value friendships and intend to do something about it. Hold that with you through this season. You are moving into more meaningful community!

* The study referenced is co-authored by James H. Fowler, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, with John T. Cacioppo, professor at the University of Chicago, and Nicholas A. Christakis, professor at Harvard University. The research was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging.