Loneliness is a common and universal experience. Most people
are probably going to have a significant experience of loneliness at some
time in their lives. It is important to define loneliness. Loneliness is an
important concept in psychology. What is loneliness? Below is one
definition of loneliness:
Loneliness is a feeling of social disconnectedness in which a person
wishs that he or she had better social relationships.
The above loneliness definition suggests that loneliness is not the
same thing as aloneness. There is a difference between loneliness and
isolation. One can be alone but not lonely. Loneliness reflects a
discrepancy between the current quality of one's social relationships and
the desired quality of one's social relationships. If a person does not wish
to improve one's social relationships, then the person may not be
considered to be experiencing loneliness.
The Experience of Loneliness
What are the elements of loneliness? There are many possible
feelings associated with loneliness. Mikluciner and Segal (1990)
conducted some studies in which participants were asked to describe a
situation in which they felt loneliness. In their first study, they had a list of
40 loneliness feelings. Some of the feelings (with the percentage of
participants) included self-pity (32 percent), the feeling that there was no
one who understood them (17 percent), helplessness (24 percent), a sense
of being different (20 percent), boredom (14 percent), and others had
rejected them (18 percent). These loneliness research findings provide
insight concerning the experience of loneliness.
Possible Causes of Loneliness
There are many possible causes of loneliness. The possible causes of
loneliness may be situational (e.g., lack of social support, moving to new
location, or having a job that requires you to work many hours), personal
(e.g., shyness or social skill problems), or a combination of situational and
personal variables (being different from the people around you).
Mehrabian and Stefl (1995) found that shyness was positively
correlated with loneliness. In other words, greater shyness was associated
with greater loneliness. One possible explanation of this finding is that
shyness causes loneliness. However, because this study was correlational,
we cannot make causal conclusions. There are other possible
explanations. For example, it is possible that shyness may be correlated
with other personality characteristics that cause loneliness, and there is no
causal relationship between shyness and loneliness. (1)
Stokes (1985) found that loneliness was negatively correlated with
the frequency of receiving supportive behaviors. In other words, greater
loneliness was associated with receiving less supportive behaviors. It is
possible that the lack of social support was a cause of loneliness.
However, because the finding is correlational, there are other possible
explanations for the finding and a lack of social support may not have
been a cause of loneliness. (2)
Bell (1993) found that emotional loneliness was negatively correlated
with the perceived similiarity of one's interests and ideas with friends and
acquaintances. In other words, people who were more lonely were more
likely to feel that their ideas and interests were not shared by friends and
acquaintances. Because this study was correlational, we cannot make
causal conclusions. There are a number of possible explanations. For
example, one explanation is that being different was a cause of loneliness.
Another possible explanation is being lonely causes one to perceive that
one is different. (3)
Loneliness and Self-Refection
Self-reflection may be one way that some people cope with
loneliness. Rokach (1990) found that self-reflection was one of the
strategies that some people reported coping with loneliness. For example,
sorting out feelings and engaging in self-analysis would be some types of
self-reflection. The self-reflection could be viewed as a form of personal
1. See their article for information on other findings in their study.
2. See his article for information on other findings in the study.
3. See Bell (1993) for more information on the findings and possible
Bell, B. (1993). Emotional loneliness and the perceived similarity of
one's ideas and interests. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality,
Mehrabian, A., & Stefl, C. A. (1995). Basic temperament components
of loneliness, shyness, and conformity. Social Behavior and
Personality, 23, 253-264.
Mikulincer, M., & Segal, J. (1990). A multidimensional analysis of the
experience of loneliness. Journal of Social and Personal
Relationships, 7, 209-230.
Rokach, A. (1990). Surviving and coping with loneliness. The Journal
of Psychology, 124, 39-54.
Stokes, J. P. (1985). The relation of social network and individual
difference variables to loneliness. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 48, 981-990.