Can a person live without affection

psychology : Loneliness makes people sick

Solitude rests in the middle of the sea, more precisely in the Kara Sea north of Siberia. The tiny island is uninhabited; It lies desolate and snow-covered in the pack ice of the polar sea. The average temperature here is minus 16 degrees Celsius. The sight of this desolate island must have reminded the Norwegian explorer who once gave it this name of the painful longing for contact with other people. Ensomheden. Lonliness. Sometimes this tormenting feeling only strikes us briefly, as fleetingly as a breath of air. But sometimes we are almost overwhelmed by loneliness, even conjure up illnesses or stifle all courage to face life.

The feeling is particularly evident when something fundamentally changes in life - for example, when people leave their parents' home for the first time for a longer period of time, change their place of residence, lose a partner or give up their job.

Establishing new, intensive contacts often takes time. Many people are initially left on their own in such situations, possibly for the first time in their lives. But only a few talk about it openly. People who are lonely are often ashamed. In the eyes of many, the lonely seems to have failed in society. “A life without intensive relationships does not correspond to the social norm,” says the sociologist Caroline Bohn, who specializes as an independent consultant on the subject of loneliness. Scientists, too, have long avoided the subject of loneliness. But little by little, doctors and psychologists, geneticists and sociologists are gathering more and more knowledge about it.

Psychologists differentiate between two forms of loneliness: Emotional loneliness shows itself when a close confidante is missing, a partner with whom one feels closely connected. Social loneliness, on the other hand, indicates that there is a fundamental lack of social relationships, support from friends, neighbors or colleagues. Widowed people, for example, are far more likely to experience stressful emotional loneliness than married people, but less often social loneliness. Overall, two percent of Germans often feel lonely, according to a representative survey by the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy. Another 16 percent experience occasional loneliness. Other surveys indicate that young people are more likely to feel alone than older people and also perceive this as more distressing.

In a survey by the German Student Union, four percent of students said that they had such great contact difficulties that they wanted help. Another eleven percent experience depressive moods, which can often be traced back to a feeling of loneliness. Perhaps it is precisely the fear of loneliness that prevents many high school graduates from leaving their familiar surroundings to study. Because the further away a university is from where you were young, the lower the probability of an application. This was recently shown by a calculation by the Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim (ZEW), for which applications from 4,535 high school graduates were evaluated. The candidates are attracted neither by the research excellence of their future alma mater nor the top grade in a ranking. For many high school graduates, it is far more important that the future place of study is not far from their home.

Loneliness fulfills an important function for humans: Just as hunger is a signal that the body is not receiving enough food, loneliness warns us if we lose contact with others. Because man is a social being. In the evolution of Homo sapiens, it was vital for every individual to maintain a connection to the horde. Isolation could easily be fatal. It was only in the group that our ancestors succeeded in asserting themselves in the long term - and passing on their own genes to a new generation. The American psychologist John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago therefore also describes loneliness as “social pain”. Indeed, when we are rejected by others, the same regions of the cerebral cortex behind the forehead react as when we are in physical pain. A team of scientists from the USA and Australia was able to prove this with the help of brain scanners.

The natural desire for conspecifics can take people so captivated that even their mental abilities suffer as a result: lonely people are less able to concentrate and search less persistently for the solution of a problem than non-lonely ones, as Cacioppo found out in studies. But it is not the psyche alone that reacts when loneliness becomes chronic. An analysis of 148 studies with data from 30,000 test subjects showed that people with social support live longer than those with less stable relationships. The analysis indicated that loneliness is about as damaging to health as smoking, being overweight, or lack of exercise. Especially with men, the risk of falling ill increases if there are no close ties.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page