Loneliness / St.Petersburg State Polytechnical University (Russia)
The first scientific paper on loneliness can be traced back five decades ago. A psychoanalytic treatise written by Frieda Fromm-Reichmann in 1959. The work of John Bowly (1973) on attachment bonds describes the beginning of theoretical conceptualisations of loneliness. Robert S. Weiss (1973) framed a theory of loneliness in which deficiencies in social relationship were applied to contribute to feelings of loneliness. Weiss describes loneliness as “a chronic distress without redeeming features”.
A second approach to loneliness has focused on social skill deficits, personality traits that do impair the maintenance of social relationship. Research in the social skills area has shown that loneliness is associated with a lack of self-disclosure to friends (Marangoni & Ickes, 1989). Loneliness is connected to depressive symptoms, shyness and low
A third conceptual approach defines loneliness as “the distress that occurs when one’s social relationships are perceived as being less satisfying than what is desired (Peplau & Perlman, 1982). From a cognitive perspective it is clear that loneliness is not synonymous with being alone, being with others does not guaranty protection from feelings of loneliness (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2003).
The group started to investigate loneliness and found it that people can experience loneliness for many reasons and many life events may cause it, like the lack of friendship, the lack of relations during childhood or the physical absence of people around a person. At the same time loneliness may be a symptom of another social or psychological problem, such as chronic depression for example. But what our research lead us to find out is that loneliness is a subjective experience and that loneliness is often due to:
1/ The way we are evaluated by others according to certain standards
such as: career, money, network, health and success (Watson, D., & Friend, R. - 1969). We are constantly over exposed to success stories. It is expected from us, in our society, to have a successful job, a nice place to live in, a good looking partner, two charming kids and a great bunch of friends. We are supposed to enjoy our holidays in some idealistic places. We are supposed to be healthy, fit and sporty. We are asked to be opinionated about more or less everything, but to keep our thoughts politically correct.
We are constantly reminded that our imperfect lives must be changed. TV-reality has helped us to believe that an improper life style must be adjusted and can easily be modified (the biggest looser), that beauty is more important than brain (Top Model), that love is just a game (the Bachelor, Farmer wants a wife… etc).
For those who do not enjoy this type of entertainment the competition takes another shape. The evaluation is done according to different criteria such as intellectual knowledge, money, political beliefs and jobs. From the moment we are born until the moment we die we are constantly evaluated and reevaluated. We get asked to take a stand, but to do it within
2/ A refusal from our modern society to accept to take care of the individual instead of focusing on the mass. Refusal or lack of resources? Maybe a little bit of both. Most of the psychological problems that we have investigated such as HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), MDD (Major Depressive Disorder), SM (Selective Mutism), Social Anxiety and loneliness are known problems, but in most of the cases the symptoms were discovered too late. Mostly because nobody had noticed anything even though the symptoms can easily be spotted: body language, lack of appetite, loss of weight,… etc. (Peplau & Perlman, 1982)
3/ We are made to believe that every problem can be solved quickly with medication. Everything can be cured with a pain-killer. There are drugs for everything, every type of pain or/and problems. Sleeping disorder: sleeping pills. Depression: antidepressant… etc. Long term cures are seen as inefficient and time consuming, or seen as the beginning of the end by most of the people: “I’m that sick, this is a catastrophe”. In a society where any part of the body, both outside and inside, can be fixed, long term diseases are seen as potential death traps or/and heavy
4/ The apology of the “zapping generation”; if I don’t like it, I can always zap it away. Everything is about entertainment, and serious subjects are less and less discussed within our social network. Everything has to go faster and faster, if a subject is slightly boring we zap it and try something else, something different. We have access to multiple channels, multiple devices, thousands of medias but we only keep “surfing” on the top of the wave, we don’t investigate. We know millions things, but none perfectly. We’ve seen, touched, tasted everything that is available in our surroundings, but we don’t take the time to truly appreciate or enjoy it. Done, let’s do something else. We act like unsatisfied collectors. But instead of items we collect emotions, adrenaline kicks, snap shots for our friends. In such environment dialogs are getting more and more difficult to build up. Our over-exposed brains does not have the ability to concentrate long enough in order to truly take part of a real discussion. Debates are totally stripped to the minimum to avoid offencing the potential audience. We’d rather drop a discussion than having a serious talk. We refuse to be confronted to our responsibilities. Zapping is more effective and does not involve any type of social commitment.
Sociologically oriented theorists have seen loneliness as resulting from cultural factors and the structuring of social institutions. For instance, sociologists have argued that secularization, mobility, and/or urbanization contribute to the high incidence of loneliness in society (Slater - 1970).
When we reached this stage we felt we had started to frame our problem a little more precisely. We came out with the conclusion that loneliness isn’t due to social media, regardless what people tend to make us believe. Loneliness isn’t a frivolous problem, but a social failure due to our lack of empathy that can lead to heavy depression, social anxiety and sometime even suicidal tendencies. We also found that, in most of the cases, when a problem disturbs the establishment, which happens often, instead of being taken care of it is framed as a taboo or/and a nonsense. The “don’t see - doesn’t exist” determines our behaviour according to what is expected and accepted. As visual communicators we also realised that the fact that we are constantly over exposed to images, advertising, posters… etc, tends to generate a stressful environment which increases our need to block other’s problems and needs. A perfectly logical “self defence” mechanism.
The time spent researching and analysing the theme helped us to shape and to frame loneliness. But one of the most important outcome is that the group and the students were not embarrassed to share their personal feelings about this specific problem. They were fully aware of the fact that a fairly large amount of people do experience the same issue and that the only logical solution will be to talk about it, to visualise the problem instead of denying it.