Social Loneliness: How Does It Hurt When You’ve No Friends

It is always sad when you find yourself left alone with no friends.

You can be any age and still lose all of your social contacts, especially your dear friends. This is called social isolation—an unwanted and unhealthy state of being alone.

According to the American Psychological Association, social isolation is a serious public health issue.

Social isolation can lead to social loneliness. Feelings of alienation, worthlessness, despair, and apathy are some of its obvious aspects. It becomes more acute when the lonely person finds it difficult to forge new friendships.

Social Loneliness: Feeling Lonely Without Friends

Loneliness is the painful experience of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact you have. It can be of two types:

  1. Emotional loneliness: absence of an attachment figure.
  2. Social loneliness: absence of a supportive social network.

Emotional loneliness occurs when you feel lonely because of a lack of high-quality social connections, and do not have a single strong, meaningful relationship, like a romantic partner or a best friend.

It can happen even when you are among a flock of people. It can occur if you have many superficial friends, but none of them are your confidants since they fail to satisfy your need for belonging.

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Social loneliness appears when you are alone and physically isolated from your known people.

Physical isolation and lack of socializing environment can cause social loneliness. We can trace it back to long-term illnesses, disabilities, mobility issues, unemployment, domestic or communal violence, or a loss of friends.

You can lose your friends overnight if you move to a new town, have an irreconcilable dispute with your friends, or unexpectedly lose them to the hand of cruel fate.

Unfortunately, there may not be ways to make new friends in a strange place. It may not also be possible to stay in contact with old friends or estranged ones for too long due to sheer distance and the passage of time.

Social loneliness can also result from a person being socially ostracized, a modern form of which is the cancel culture.

Introverted people are less likely to actively seek friends in real life, though they may solve this lack of social connections by having online friends.

Online friends help in the way that one may satisfy your intellectual needs, while another may charge your humor batteries. But even if you have a few thousand Facebook friends, you may feel lonely if you do not have deep connections with any of them.

Then there is this strange thing: Lonely people prefer to remain isolated, out of concern to avoid social rejection.

Research validates that although lonely people want to repair unpleasant feelings and rebuild social contacts, many of them fail because of overly cautious approaches to social activities (Masi et al., 2013; Lucas, Knowles, Gardner, Molden, & Jefferies, 2010).

Social Loneliness

Harmful Effects of Social Loneliness

Loneliness is a complex and difficult-to-understand emotion. It can lead to depression, stress, and other mental health issues.

Here are some of the psychological effects of loneliness:

1. Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

Loneliness has a deep connection with depression. Loneliness can cause depression, and depression can cause more loneliness.

Loneliness and depression share common symptoms, like helplessness, emotional numbness, aloofness, and pain. The similarities between the two prod many researchers to consider loneliness as a subset of depression.

Studies show that loneliness is strongly linked to an increased risk of parasuicide and suicidal ideation. Furthermore, the peak seasons for loneliness have been found to be winter and spring, which coincides with the peak season for suicide.

Chronic loneliness may trigger alcohol dependence and substance abuse, which may then exacerbate the risk of suicide.

2. Stress

Loneliness is not only a source of acute stress, but also chronic stress.

It also makes a lonely person view regular habits, like bathing, as challenges. They also tend to cope worse in sudden difficult situations.

Studies have shown that loneliness may lead to increased levels of stress. One study found that loneliness can lead to self-perceived stress, which can have a major negative impact on health.

Self-perceived stress occurs when the weight of the world seems heavy on your shoulders but you don’t have someone to confide in.

The loneliness that is related to chronic stress can also cause low-grade peripheral inflammation.

3. Personality Disorders

People who are lonely frequently have a background level of anxiety that keeps humming on, making them restless and hurried.

Research has shown that lonely people are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety.

People with a secure attachment style are less lonely than others. According to Hazan and Shaver (1987), those who are securely attached suffer the least loneliness, whereas those who are anxiously or ambivalently attached experience the most.

Loneliness has been linked to borderline personality disorder (BPD) and schizoid personality disorder (SPD). (Schizoid personality disorder linked to unbearable and inescapable loneliness).

4. Aggression and Antisocial Behavior

Loneliness may lead to antisocial behavior, such as overt aggression, violence, and passive-aggressive behavior in some cases.

A study has found that loneliness can lead to more aggressive behavior. Researchers surveyed around 5,000 adults aged 50 and over every two years. They found that people who experience chronic loneliness are more likely to act aggressively or violently themselves, or become involved in aggressive or violent behavior, than those who do not report feeling lonely.

Loneliness is more prevalent among abused children and child abusers.

Childhood trauma is strongly linked to adult depression and anxiety, which impairs a person’s ability to socialize effectively and form meaningful long-term relationships.

5. Substance Abuse

According to Douglas Nemecek, MD, Cigna’s senior medical officer for behavioral health, “loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.”

Loneliness involves feelings of emptiness and sadness caused by not having close relationships with other people. Lonely people may try to alleviate this pain of social disconnect with an increased dependency on drugs, smoking, and alcohol.

Lonely persons who drink heavily are more vulnerable to alcohol-related issues, according to studies. The causes for this are ascribed to a lack of social support and different perceptions of community pressure.

Loneliness also increases bad dietary habits and leads people to exercise less.

6. Confusion and Poor Decision-Making

Experts associate loneliness with more confused thinking and less risk-taking.

A higher level of loneliness predicts less perceived self-control, which then leads to a tendency to avoid risks. However, this effect is only significant in gain scenarios rather than loss scenarios.

7. Decreased Memory and Alzheimer’s Risk

In loneliness, there is a more rapid decline in global cognition, semantic memory, perceptual speed, and visuospatial ability.

Loneliness can be both a cause and a consequence of dementia. Lonely people have been found to have over twice the risk of dementia. It can also make people more vulnerable to age-related neuropathy and brain degeneration.

8. Unhappy Life and Loss of Interest (Anhedonia)

By definition, we characterize loneliness as a subjective state where we feel disconnected from others and are unhappy with our social ties.

Lonely people are unhappy with their lives. The internal experience of loneliness was found to have a strong association with dissatisfaction with life. Loneliness is feeling sad being alone, which those who desire solitude do not experience.

Loneliness has been linked to poor sleep quality and daytime dysfunction, such as low energy and fatigue.

9. Altered Brain Function

In a 10-year follow-up of elderly people in the Helsinki Ageing Study for feelings of loneliness, researchers found that feelings of loneliness significantly predict cognitive decline and institutionalization of elderly individuals.

10. Physical Illnesseses

It also leads to various physical disorders like diabetes, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, physiological aging, cancer, poor hearing, and poor health.

Experimental research suggests that isolated people are in a state of persistent hypervigilance, which may cause dysfunction of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex or overreactions of the neural system (Will et al., 2016; Silva-Gomez et al., 2003).

How to Stop Feeling Lonely When You Have No Friends

Contrary to popular belief, loneliness is more prevalent among adolescents and young children.

Social loneliness can scar people’s emotional and physical well-being if left untreated. So it is vital to intervene and prevent and revert loneliness in people who do not have relatable friends.

It can be accomplished in one of these four ways:

  • developing social skills
  • providing social support
  • creating chances for social contact
  • recognizing and treating maladaptive social cognition

Final Words

Loneliness is not just a feeling, but a state of being when it results from being isolated and disconnected from others. It can make you lose touch with your emotions and needs, making you feel empty, numb, and hopeless.

Socially isolated people are less equipped to handle the variety of mental health conditions that result from loneliness, including depression, anxiety, psychosis, and Alzheimer’s.

Loneliness is an epidemic that has been on the rise in recent years. Nearly 50 million Americans report feeling chronically lonely.

Remember that loneliness is a social problem. To make lonely people feel connected to us, we must all work together.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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