Day 649: Social Exclusion and Loneliness

John Cacioppo discusses a dimension of loneliness that is not quite the same feeling you get in terms of longing for a relationship. The reason I say this is that when you are lonely and longing for a relationship it is more likely coming from your thoughts - what you are thinking is what drives your experience of loneliness. These thoughts would be similar to these examples:
  • If only I was in a relationship I would be happy
  • If only I could find someone who understands me
  • If only so-and-so would come back to be
This loneliness above is completely self-created and can be solved by stopping those destructive thought patterns.

There is no denying that we are a social species - we crave interaction and connections with each other. John discusses this biological aspect of loneliness, which I will refer to as social exclusion. Social exclusion can manifest for a number of reasons: it can be self-created (antisocial behaviour that drives people away is an example) or it can be that the other people are the ones who are intentionally alienating one individual out of cruelty.

The effects of social exclusion can be quite severe, as John points out in his Talk. One of these side effects that seem to be becoming more prevalent in our current-day society is that people who feel lonely and alienated go into a sort of survival mode and focus more on self preservation rather than social concern or empathy. John proposes that this is because of an evolutionary imperative to be part of a group - being part of a group essentially makes survival easier, especially for most of our ancestors. When you're part of a group you protect each other from the dangers around you, you help each other find food and share it amongst yourselves. While this dimension may be relevant, there does seem like there may be more to it than just that. In the end, each of us is autonomous and self-aware - would this not imply some sort of complicitness in the design of this construct?

Another side effect of social exclusion is that, because you become more focused on yourself and your own position, you are likely to become more defensive with other people - simply because you are not willing to take their point of view or position into full consideration. 

Saying that some long term behaviour is derived from our nature takes away the opportunity for us to take responsibility for that behaviour and change it. Take social exclusion as an example: you become more focused on self preservation when you feel alienated and alone - but what happens when you are aware of your feelings of loneliness and alienation and choose to no longer allow those experiences within yourself? Would it not then be possible to change your apparent nature? Take the defensiveness point as another example: it is entirely within your ability and power to stop the intense focusing on yourself and consider the other person's perspective. Sure, it may not be easy, but I have seen it being done and I have done it for myself so I know that it's possible. It requires willingness to see yourself clearly (objectively and with awareness) and willingness to change.

Now I'm not saying that any person "should" go be alone all the time. What I am saying is that being alone does not have to change you - your experience of yourself and of life should not be dependent on whether there is another person with you or not. Certainly it can be very enjoyable to be with people - I am not saying that you shouldn't. I strongly recommend building relationships and meeting new people as it can be a mountain of support and a source of new information about yourself - BUT, if you are in the position (for whatever reason) of being alone without the option to create connections with other people - make peace with it - it doesn't have to control your life. I know it can be scary putting yourself 'out there' to meet new people - but it is absolutely worth it.