Loneliness can cause aches and pains far greater than the worst physical ailment you could possibly imagine. A study performed by the Brigham Young University confirmed that loneliness increases a person’s risk of an early death just as much as obesity, smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and being an alcoholic.
More people live alone and feel alone than ever before, and if we don’t get a grasp on the causes of this, we could be headed for a loneliness epidemic in the future. Luckily, though, researchers of this loneliness outbreak have begun to narrow down why lonely people stay lonely, so that these people can start to make friendships and feel connected to others once again. Because loneliness threatens one’s longevity just as much as obesity, scientists want to get to the root of the problem so that more people can understand their loneliness, and break out of the habit.
Just like anything that you do repeatedly in life, it forms new pathways in your brain, and you simply act on those impulses. With that said, you can create new experiences by changing your mindset first, but many lonely people don’t know where to start with this process. You can beat loneliness and have thriving, healthy relationships, but you have to do the dirty work first to get to the heart of the problem.
Here are 3 reasons why lonely people stay lonely:
1. You don’t believe in yourself.
Many people believe the theory that people become lonely because they have inadequate social skills, which makes them self-conscious and leads them further down the road of isolation. Then, they lose the few social skills they do have, making them even more lonely and out of touch. However, new research suggests that lonely people actually have a wonderful grasp on social skills and understand how to connect with people; they just hyperanalyze themselves and don’t put their skills to use in social situations.
Four scientists led four different experiments that tested how lonely people would perform when under social pressure, and the study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. First, all the students participating in the experiments filled out a survey that measured their loneliness. Then, these 86 undergraduates were put to the test when they had to identify the emotions of 24 different faces on a computer screen.
In short, the lonelier students performed worse on the test than the non-lonely participants, but only when they were informed that they were being tested on their social skills. When the scientists told the lonely students that they were just taking a general knowledge test, they actually did better than the less lonely students. This confirms the findings in previous studies: lonely people have a keen ability to read people’s emotions, probably because they long for human connection. However, when they actually go out to talk to people and put those social skills to the test, they end up choking and letting their nerves get in the way of forming relationships.
Everyone feels lonely at some point, but what exactly discerns the temporarily lonely people from those who remain lonely? Perspective.
Could it really be that simple, that you could just change the way you look at social situations and yourself in order to overcome loneliness? Precisely. Research by Allison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School reveals that by simply telling yourself to get excited rather than telling yourself to calm down in scary situations can make a world of difference. Brooks and her colleagues told participants to perform several somewhat scary tasks in a series of studies, including solving math problems and singing karaoke. Before they performed the tasks, they were either told to calm down or to get excited. The people who were told to get excited did better on both tasks than those who were told to calm down.
These two separate studies show that lonely people can actually overcome their loneliness by simply getting out of their own heads more and believing in themselves. Easier said than done, we know, but having more social interactions and actually getting excited about talking or performing in front of people can get you on the road to recovery.
2. Lonely people often overanalyze themselves.
As these studies above suggest, lonely people usually have no confidence in their social skills. They have a distorted view of themselves, for some reason believing that they’re inferior to others in social settings. At the heart of loneliness lies a lack of self-esteem and a belief that you have something to hide from other people. The more you isolate yourself from social situations, though, the harder it will become to get back out there and try to form connections. Lonely people remain lonely because they continue to analyze themselves to such a degree that it becomes simply unhealthy, and in many cases, inaccurate.
Realize that you don’t need labels or identities to make it in this world. Don’t worry so much about what others think of you if you stutter or turn red in the face or forget what you wanted to say. Remember, we all are human here, and everyone has more similarities than differences. Start putting your “flaws” on display for others to see; once you realize that your imperfections make you beautiful, you won’t want to hide them any longer. You’ll want to show them off.
3. You always think of the worst case scenario.
Lonely people tend to think of things in black and white. They either think a situation will go fantastically, or it will go down in a wall of flames. Usually, they think of the latter scenario, unfortunately. Just like we talked about in the first point, you need to change your perspective first. You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind, so you obviously can’t make progress with social skills if you constantly think something will go wrong. Lonely people remain lonely by living too much inside their minds and believing all the tales that their brain conjures up. In reality, you just need to focus on having more fun in life and letting go, and all the right people will start to come into your life.
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Give yourself a chance to shine, and you’ll start to see that neither you nor other people can put out your light.