Monday, February 18, 2013

Can loneliness become a self-fulfilling prophesy?

Stress for Success

For February 19, 2013

Can believing something like, “No one likes me,” become a self-fulfilling prophesy and ultimately cause loneliness?

Researchers in 1981, Jones, Freemon and Goswick, found that lonely people often think about themselves with distorted logic, such as: “I’m alone. No one wants to be with me and no one is willing to help me escape my loneliness, so I will reject others, too.”

In fact, they found that lonely people are more rejecting of others than others are of them. They tend to chase away what they need the most to heal their loneliness - other people. Lonely people also tend to be more critical and therefore rejecting of others. So, they remain isolated without understanding that they are in large part responsible for their lonely state.

Lonesome people may also lack the social skills necessary for connecting with others. They tend to be more introverted and self-conscious about approaching others due to excessive fear of being rejected. They often set themselves up for disappointments through unrealistic expectations about relationships by assuming:
• They should always have dates or be popular, beautiful or successful;
• Friends should always be available;

These unrealistic expectations create major disappointments and lead to chronic, negative emotional states, even depression.

Finally, even though lonesome people may be perfectly good problem solvers in many aspects of their lives, they tend to be unsuccessful in solving interpersonal issues. In 1982 research, Horowitz, French and Anderson gave a test that measured loneliness. They found that, unlike those participants who felt well connected to others, lonely people were unable to generate enough quality alternative problem-solving options to resolve their interpersonal dilemmas. When faced with conflicts they continued with their flawed assumptions about themselves and others and stewed in their own stressful thinking.

Challenging flawed thinking is the first step to overcoming loneliness. Moving beyond faulty lonely assumptions can then improve your problem solving in dealing with isolation. You must first become aware that you are thinking lonely thoughts and be willing to challenge them. For example:
“I feel alone but that doesn’t mean I have to be alone. Why should I expect other people to help me out of this feeling when it’s my responsibility to do something about it? I need to figure out my options to develop more and better relationships.”

Challenging your own thoughts must happen over and over again, day after day after day. To help you become more skilled with this, write down your lonely thoughts on the left side of a page. After, challenge them on the right side of the page. Doing this fifteen or so minutes a day will gradually help you see other ways of thinking, leading to a greater number of problem solving options.

Feeling lonely can be very intense. The accompanying cognitive distortions can and do lead to persistent hopelessness. Even though it’s not a diagnosable psychological condition, it can still be treated by good counselors. If you feel significant stress from being lonely, consider seeking professional help. A therapist could help you with your thinking distortions more quickly than doing it on your own and teach you better problem solving. The alternative is to continue to drown in your lonely ruminations.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Loneliness is a stressful state of mind
Stress for Success

For February 5, 2013

When you spend time alone do you feel lonely or do you consider it a luxury? If lonely, do you often feel alone even when you’re with others?

Loneliness is a near universal experience, at least at times, and is very different from being alone. A sense of isolation can be experienced by the stay-at-home mother who craves adult companionship or the elderly man who has been widowed.

How you experience loneliness, the causes of it, and how to best respond to it are all very unique to you. The lonely mother seeking adult companionship will have very different needs than the person who has lost his spouse.

Kendra Cherry, who writes for Guide, describes loneliness “as a state of mind versus a state of solitude.” She goes to say, “Loneliness makes you feel empty, alone and unwanted. People who are lonely often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it difficult to connect with other people.”

Aloneness is the perception of feeling isolated. For example, the new widower can feel lonely even when surrounded by his friends and family.

Interestingly, one cause of loneliness, according to John Cacioppo, University of Chicago psychologist and a leading expert on loneliness, is strongly connected to genetics. Other causes may be situational, like moving to a new city or divorce. It can also be a symptom of depression or low self-esteem. If you don’t think highly of yourself, you may feel unworthy of others’ respect leading to isolation and loneliness.

For some, loneliness becomes a chronic lifestyle. Assuming this mental state is stressful to the individual, over time, it has potential serious health consequences, as does any chronic stress, including:

• Alcoholism and drug abuse;

• Weakened immune function;

• Mild to severe depression;

• Trouble sleeping;

• Weight gain;

• Cardiovascular disease and stroke;

• Growing antisocial behavior;

• Worsening of Alzheimer’s disease;

Cacioppo, co-author of “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection,” in a U. S. News and World Report interview reported, “Lonely adults consume more alcohol and get less exercise than those who are not lonely. Their diet is higher in fat, their sleep is less efficient, and they report more daytime fatigue. Loneliness also disrupts the regulation of cellular processes deep within the body, predisposing lonely people to premature aging.”

Researchers have found those with little loneliness are more likely married, have higher incomes and educational status.

High levels of loneliness are correlated with health problems, living alone, small social networks and low quality social relationships.

Not surprisingly, research has also found loneliness becoming more common in the U.S. In a 1984 questionnaire, respondents most frequently reported having three close friends. In 2004, the most common response was zero!

What’s more important in combating loneliness is not how many social interactions you have but the quality of them. Having three or four close friends is enough to ward off loneliness and reduce the negative health consequences of it.

In my next article we’ll consider how to treat this mental state.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at