Understanding Loneliness to Create Fulfilling Relationships

THE FORMATION OF RELATIONSHIPS AND SOCIAL NEEDS

Loneliness is a purely subjective and uniquely individual experience; it differs from the idea of being alone entirely. Loneliness is a part of one’s biology in the sense that it is a bodily function similar to hunger. When we feel hungry it brings awareness to our physical needs, when we feel lonely it makes us aware of our social needs.
The importance of our social needs is embedded in our DNA because over a million years ago it determined our likelihood of survival. Due to natural selection, our ancestors were rewarded for collaboration and connections with each other. This caused our brains to develop and become more aware of how others thought and felt and allowed us to create and maintain social bonds.
Early humans were born into groups of fifty to one-hundred people and usually stayed with them for the rest of their lives. Getting enough calories, staying safe and warm, or caring for children was practically impossible to do alone, so the benefit of these bonds became programmed into our biology. Because of the importance of survival being left alone or abandoned from the group was considered a death sentence.

To create an awareness of our social circumstances our bodies developed a sensation we can call “social pain” which is essentially an evolutionary adaptation to rejection. Think of it as a warning system to make sure you stop behavior that would result in isolation from your group. Our ancestors who experienced rejection most likely adjusted behavior to allow them to stay in the tribe while those who did not were kicked out and left to fend for themselves and most likely died.

As our world developed and evolved so did our chance of survival which changed our dependency on one another. Our ability to automate our basic needs for food, shelter, and security became less dependent on individuals functioning as a whole, and more dependent on the invention of new tools and the creation of concepts or structures to support our society. Cities developed as new methods of maintaining society grew along with it. This impacted our relationship with individuals in the need for survival and allowed us to separate from our families to travel and experience the world with newly developed perspectives and ideologies.

HOW LONELINESS PLAYS A ROLE IN CULTIVATING RELATIONSHIPS

In our day to day lives it’s normal to feel lonely from time to time. Whether it comes from moving to a new city, finding time for friends, or especially during a lockdown by a pandemic. During the last few decades, this feeling has become chronic for millions of people. We are living in the most connected time in all of human history and so many of us still feel isolated. However, loneliness and being alone are two very different things; you can be in complete joy and delight by yourself, and also hate every moment while your with friends. In any case, if you feel lonely you are lonely.

HOW LONELINESS AFFECTS US

There is a common stereotype that those who lack social skills have a hard time making friends, but it makes no difference when it comes to social connections as loneliness affects everybody. You can be rich, famous, attractive, sociable, or popular but loneliness still affects us all, because it is a part of our biology.

Studies show that stress which comes from chronic loneliness is one of the unhealthiest things we can experience as humans (Cacioppo, J.T. and Cacioppo, S. (2014.). Studies also show it is as deadly as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and twice as deadly as obesity. If loneliness becomes chronic it may develop into a self-sustaining feeling, and since physical and social pain feels very similar within our body it begins to create defensive behavioral responses. If those responses are ill-managed we run the risk of negative behavior that can keep us in isolation by a fear of rejection. In other words, our brain creates a false sense of comfort in isolation and develops ways to continue to seek that isolation through avoidance of social activities from the risk of rejection by others.

AVOIDING UNHEALTHY CODEPENDENT RELATIONSHIPS

The need for relationships is a part of our biology; however, our survival is no longer dependent on the cultivation of these relationships. So how do we build more fulfilling relationships that are free from potential codependency? Our evolution as a species has made it possible to survive alone, and relationships are typically based on this awareness allowing us to identify the foundations on which relationships are formed. Some relationships are based on a need to share shelter, while work-relationships depend on one another for tasks completion. Friendships, families, and romantic relationships typically depend on each other for love and acceptance or knowledge/guidance.
If our basic needs of survival are met, then how do we determine what relationships are best suited for us? Once we have the basic necessities of survival met in our daily lives, it allows us freedom from the stress and concern we normally face when those needs aren’t met.
We can then focus on other aspects of human growth emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Since the need for human interaction and companionship are still programmed in our genes, who we choose in our lives determines our quality of life.
Since we are all individuals, our needs vary depending on past experience, upbringing, family values, morals, religious beliefs, and a multitude of other variables. The foundations of these relationships are as diverse as human life itself. We do not have control over the behavior of other individuals but we do have control over what we allow in our immediate lives and how we choose to let it affect us.

CREATING HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS THROUGH CULTIVATING AWARENESS AND PRESENCE

It is my firm belief that you must place value on how a person makes you feel. The best way to do this is to practice being present and completely aware of yourself and those with who you interact daily. Essentially this is considered self-awareness; the more self-aware you are the more likely you are to choose relationships that serve you positively and allow you to serve others positively as well. Not being dependent on each other for survival, but being aware of the value you both bring into the relationship and treating each other with respect, freedom, presence, honesty, and transparency.

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