Loneliness Is A Scream

Loneliness Is A Scream

One of the scariest things for many people is not being with other people.

I don’t mean intentionally not being with others–taking time away from the hustle and bustle for yourself–but rather being left alone.

Think of the horrors of POWs kept in isolation, prisoners put in solitary, or just everyday kids icing out other children in school, adults marginalizing colleagues at work, and family members abandoning spouses and children at home.

Elizabeth Bernstein makes the distinction between being alone (a potential voluntary state) and loneliness (when you feel that you are forced into an isolated state) in the Wall Street Journal today.

It’s an awesome article that explains so much about loneliness:

– We all experience loneliness from “homesickness, bullying, empty-nesting, bereavement, and unrequited love.”

– Loneliness can occur when you are without anybody (“isolation”) or with the wrong somebody (“dissatisfaction”).

– It’s a survivalist function and evolutionary to feel scared when your alone, because when you are “too close to the perimeter of the group, [then you become] at risk of becoming prey.”

– Loneliness is also associated with memories or fears from childhood–when we were young and vulnerable–that someone wasn’t there or going to be there to take care of us.

– Too much loneliness is a “strong predictor of early death”–greater than alcoholism, 15 cigarettes a day, or obesity.

– Loneliness is on the rise, with “some 40% of Americans report being lonely, up from 20% in the 1980’s” and this is correlated with more people living alone, now 27% in 2012 versus 17% in 1970.

– Loneliness can be placated by “reminding yourself you’re not a [helpless] child anymore,” building emotional health and personal self-sufficiency, doing things you enjoy when alone, and reaching out to connect with others.

She jokes at the end of her article that when we aren’t feeling lonely, we are annoyed that people just don’t leave us alone.

This is a very real concern as well, especially with a multitude of family needs (significant others, young children, elderly parents), 24×7 work environments, and the reality of pervasive online communications and even invasive social media.

Not exclusive to introverts, too much people can make us feel put upon, crowded, and even worn out–and hence many people may even run from excessive social activity and crowds.

Yet without a healthy dose of others, people can literally go crazy from the quiet, void, boredom, as well as from the real or perceived feelings that they are in some way unworthy of love or affiliation.

So even though some people can be annoying, users, or try to take advantage of us, no man is an island, and growth, learning and personal serenity is through degrees of love and connection, for each according to their needs. 😉

(Source Photo: here)

People Needing People

Hug

My wife always tells me she needs a lot of personal space–she likes time and focus to do “her thing.”

No one nagging, yapping, coming around, asking for things…just some quiet time for herself.

I can appreciate that–we all need time to think, be creative, take care of personal things, and pursue our own interests.

At the same time, people need other people.

When we are done doing our things, we need human interaction, attention, conversation, sharing, touch.

I saw a few things this week that really brought this home:

1) The Netflix show “Orange Is The New Black” about a young woman put in jail and how she handles all the challenges of being incarcerated with literally a cast of characters. But in one scene in particular, she is thrown in the SHU (Solitary Housing Unit) and within about a day, she is hearing voices and talking to someone that isn’t there. Alone, she crawls up into a ball–like a baby–craving someone to come, anyone.

2) Visiting the nursing home today, I saw many old people screaming for help. It is a really nice nursing home as far as they go, and the people apparently weren’t screaming because of mistreatment, but rather for attention–a human being to be there interacting with them. Interestingly, even when the old people are sitting together, they are still yelling in a sort of helpless anguish being alone, only calming down when a family, friend, or caretaker comes over to them, touches their hand or hugs them, asks about their wellbeing, and shows genuine human caring. Yes, they have real physical needs they call out for help for too, but I think even many of those calls for help–too many and too often to all be for actual needs–are just for someone to come around and pay them attention and be there with them.

3) I remember years ago, seeing some parents put their child to sleep at night. But the child wanted their parent to sit with them and comfort them while they drifted off to sleep. But this parent strictly followed the Dr. Spock guidance that you just let them cry it out, and boy did this little girl cry and cry and cry. I said to my wife, this is not the right way–it can’t be. And I myself always fought that the children should be held and comforted when they cried, not forced at such a tender young age to be alone and “self-sufficient.”

While people need time and space for themselves, even the biggest introvert among us needs other people.

In solitary, people can literally lose their mind–alone, scared, desperate, but solitary doesn’t have to be a prison, it can be an emotional and mental condition where people are craving even just a hug from someone who gives a damn.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Clover 1)

Solitary Social Creatures

Solitary

We’ve all had the feeling of being alone, abandoned, and feeling down and out.

As social animals, we crave being with others–even the biggest introverts out there have got to have social interaction.

Sometimes, when young people live alone–before finding their significant others or old people live alone–after losing their significant others, there is a deep pain of being isolated in the world…almost as if there is no meaning itself in being alive.

Yet, others seem to adjust in a way to living alone, as long as they can reach out and get social interaction in other ways–family, friends, colleagues, classmates, at clubs, religious institutions, and more.

Either way–“No man is an island,” as John Donne wrote in 2003.

Being alone is torture.

No really.

The Wilson Quarterly (Spring 2012) in an article entitled “The Torture of Solitary,” by Stephanie E. Griest is about the purpose and effects of solitary confinement as rehabilitation and as a punishment.

Coming out of the Middle Ages, where physical torture was common–dungeons instead of jails, cages instead of cells, racks and rippers instead of rehabilitation and yard recess–the Philadelphia Quakers in the 18th century, had the idea that solitary confinement was humanitarian.

They believed that “what these prisoners needs…was a spiritual renovation. Give a man ample time and quiet space to reflect upon his misdeeds, and he will recover his bond with G-d.  He will grieve. He will repent. He will walk away a rehabilitated man.”

And so prisons (like the 1829 Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia) were built with entirely isolated cellblocks and prisoners were engulfed in silence and aloneness.

Any rejection of the mental torture of isolation through any form of communication–such as pipe clanging or shouting through flushing toilet pipes–could lead to yet again physical tortures–such as “strapped inmates into chairs for days at a stretch, until their legs ballooned” or even putting their tongues in “iron gags.”

The article concludes from the effects of solitary that “the physical pain of these tortures–common in many prisons at the time-paled beside the mental anguish of solitude.”

From the horror-mangled looks on the faces of the prisoners, Dickens wrote: “I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

I cannot imagine the pain and horror of these tortures by design–physical and mental. In all cases, the scars of the flesh and soul are probably indescribable and outright haunting to even the imagination.

Eventually the horrible effects of solitary and the high-cost of prison cells housing individual inmates, resulted in Eastern State Penitentiary being converted into a museum in 1971 with the “The crucible of good intention” finally shuttered.

From the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Miller, we read:

“A considerable number of prisoners fell, even after a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others, still committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”

“In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court nearlydeclared the punishment unconstitutional;” it is now used mostly for “short-term punishment for exceedingly bad behavior.”

Currently, there are more than 60 prisons across the country with solitary cells housing up to 25,000 prisoners.

This is a puzzle–what do you do with offenders that are too dangerous to be with others, but as human beings too fragile to be alone?

What is striking to me is how something as “simple” as putting someone by themselves and incommunicado can drive them literally nuts!

Almost like we cannot bear to be by ourselves–what is it about ourselves that we must turn away from, be distracted from, and causes such inner horror?

Our minds and bodies need to be active to be healthy, this includes being social–being alone and bored in solitary has been shown to cause people to hallucinate, go insane, and even kill themselves.

Yet still people recoil from other people–emotionally, they may be turned off or nauseated by them; physically, they may fight, separate, or divorce and end up for a time by themselves again–people make the decision that it is better to cut your familiar loses, then go down with a ship filled with corrosive and abusive others.

I imagine Buddhists meditating in the mountains or in an open field–alone and yet at peace–but this is self-imposed and temporary and more like a “time out” in life.

Then I see humans languishing in dungeons and in solitary confinement–physically and mentally tortured–they scream out in the void–and I see G-d reaching out to finally take them from their immense suffering to be reborn and try their lives again.

(Source Photo: herewith attribution to Deisel Demon)