6 Things We Get Completely Wrong About Loneliness

To be honest, we should be taking this more seriously.

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Loneliness, a universal and deeply human experience, transcends geographical and cultural boundaries. It is a complex emotion that can even be felt in a crowd.

You probably know the phrase, "Even amongst friends, I am alone."

So why are we oh-so lonely and what exactly are we getting wrong about it?

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What We Tend to Get Wrong About Loneliness

1. We think loneliness is most common amount older adults.

People tend to think loneliness is most common among older adults, but the loneliest cohort today is actually 18-30 year-olds.


2. We don't realize dangerous loneliness can be.

Chronic loneliness poses as big a risk to our long-term health and longevity as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Indeed, as per a new study, loneliness poses a risk for all adults.

3. We don't realize loneliness is an invisible trap.

Loneliness traps us. We feel like nobody cares so we're extremely hesitant to reach out to those who could make us feel connected.


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4. We think quantity matters more than quality.

We tend to think loneliness is about the quantity of a person's connections, but it's about the quality.

Loneliness is defined subjectively. What matters is whether you feel connected to the people around you (many lonely people are married or live with families and roommates).

5. We think loneliness doesn't affect us physically.

We evolved in nomadic tribes in which loneliness signaled that we were about to be kicked out (a death sentence).

As a result, loneliness induces a strong physiological stress response that impairs the function of our immune system and increase our risk of illness, disease, and early death.


6. We don't reach out when we feel lonely.

Loneliness is associated with two perceptual distortions that discourage us from reaching out even though we need to do so:

Perceptual Distortion # 1

We believe the people who should care about us care much less than they actually do, and then we act in ways that are likely to reinforce that misperception.

For example, we believe that if our good friends really cared they would have realized we hadn't spoken in weeks and reached out to us, so if they didn't, they must not care. So we wait for them to make the first move and feel more hurt and resentful when they don't — even though we haven't reached out either.


Perceptual Distortion #2

We undervalue our relationships and believe they're less satisfying or meaningful than they actually are and have been.

We tell ourselves that they've changed, they don't have time for us anymore, or that things wouldn't be the same if we did get together. Then every passing day that we don't hear from them reinforces that perception — even if on their end, nothing has changed, and had we reached out they would have gladly hung out.


Loneliness is something we all feel, no matter where we're from or how we live. It's like this tricky part of being human that's not always easy to figure out.

But, the good news is it's not impossible — you can recover from loneliness by learning how to connect with others emotionally.

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Guy Winch is a distinguished psychologist and acclaimed author. His work has been featured in The New York Times and Psychology Today.