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Sunday, 30 March 2014





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Conquer the malady of loneliness

By outward appearances, 38-year-old Angelina Jolie seems to be an exceptionally lucky lady. She has received an Academy Award, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and three Golden Globe Awards, and was named Hollywood’s highest-paid actress by Forbes in 2009, 2011 and 2013 and currently earning US $ 33 million a year. She has been also cited as the world’s “most beautiful” woman by various media outlets, a title for which she has received substantial publicity. Angelina promotes humanitarian causes, and is noted for her work with refugees as a Special Envoy and former Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Getting involved with the family will take your loneliness away

Jolie said last year that she now plans to spend most of her time in humanitarian efforts, to be financed by her actress salary. She devotes one-third of her income to savings, one-third to living expenses and one-third to charity.

With all these comforts, yet in a satellite interview with CNN two years ago, she said, “I don’t have a lot of friends to talk to.”

So why would this exceptional woman, an accomplished actress and humanitarian, seem to be bereft of close friends? In some ways, Jolie may be like the rest of us. We’re so busy juggling marriage, career and parental responsibilities that close friendships periodically take a back seat to other pressures. Maybe she has some free time but friends or friends-to-be incorrectly presume she’s so busy - and her world so full - that there’s no space for them. She’s likely grown apart and moved away from her childhood and high school friends; most of us have.


Loneliness is a universal human emotion, yet it is both complex and unique to each individual. Loneliness has no single common cause, so the preventions and treatments for this damaging state of mind vary dramatically. A lonely child who struggles to make friends at his school has different needs that a lonely, elderly man whose wife has recently died.

To understand loneliness, it is important to take a closer look at exactly what we mean by the term “lonely” as well as the various causes, health consequences, symptoms and potential treatment for loneliness.

The psychological definition of loneliness hasn’t changed much since Fromm-Reichmann laid it out. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann was a German psychiatrist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud who emigrated to America during World War II. “Real loneliness,” as she called it, is not what some characterise as the solitariness of the civilised. Nor is “real loneliness” the happy solitude of the productive artist or the passing irritation of being cooped up with the flu while all your friends go off on some adventure. It’s not being dissatisfied with your companion of the moment - your friend or lover or even spouse - unless you chronically find yourself in that situation, in which case you may in fact be a lonely person.

Fromm-Reichmann even distinguished “real loneliness” from mourning, since the well-adjusted eventually get over that, and from depression, which may be a symptom of loneliness but is rarely the cause. Loneliness, she said - and this will surprise no one - is the want of intimacy.


One of the greatest truisms in psychology is the fact that relationships or want of intimacy, matter to our sense of well-being. Throughout life, we need relationships to help us feel connected, boost our feelings of self-worth, and sustain our moods. Psychologists have ample evidence to support this assertion.

We tend to hear so much about “finding yourself,” especially as applied to young adults, that we forget about the importance of finding others. Being open to intimacy doesn’t mean that you’re weak, unable to fend for yourself, or pathologically dependent on someone else. Intimacy is an essential component of the healthy personality that you should cherish and foster.

It’s hard to imagine a life without relationships. With some effort and commitment, your life can include relationships that allow you to express your true identity, grow and change, and ultimately reap the rewards of self-fulfilment.


Is there no way this malady can be conquered? Modern psychiatrists suggest three steps:

1. Recognise loneliness for what it is - an enemy, a disease that eats away happiness, alienates you from all that is worthwhile in life. Trying to dress it up as a friend can be deadly to peace of mind. And, isn’t it a fact that our most acute feelings of loneliness come when we indulge in our misery?

2. Distinguish between loneliness and aloneness. They are far from same.

’I don’t have friends’: Lonely Angelina Jolie claims Brad Pitt is her only pal

Aloneness can bring on loneliness, and often does. But it need not. Some of the most radiant and productive people are those who by necessity are alone much of their time, but who have learned to use their solitude creatively.

In fact, all of us need periods of aloneness. From them we generate the physical and spiritual reinvigoration for our more crowded days. All of us have experienced the loss through death of loved ones and friends. It is ours to say whether such loss leaves us with a temporary feeling of grieving or whether it shall fester into the crippling disease of loneliness.

3. Involve yourself in service to others. When some crisis strikes a community, such as tsunami or a flood, people reach out, regardless of race or social distinction, to help one another. But many of the people we meet every day are experiencing inner tsunamis, floods and disasters that can be more devastating than any physical storm or flood.

The late Dr. Paul Tournier, an eminent Swiss psychiatrist once related a life experience. “To a lady who wrote to me of the boredom that came into her life when her children were grown and gone from home, I replied, ‘In the past, your immediate family needed most of your time and strength. Now you can extend the range of your love.

There are children in your neighbourhood who need understanding and friendship. There are aged people near you who are starved companionship, blind people who cannot even enjoy television you find boring. Why not get out and find the joy of helping others?”

Weeks later, she wrote again. ‘I tried your prescription. It works! I have walked out from night to day’.

That lonely lady, like thousands of others, had proved the wisdom expressed in a poem of Frances Ridley Havergal: “Seldom can a heart be lonely if it seeks a lonelier still, self-forgetting, seeking only emptier cups to fill.” All about us are “emptier cups.” Try filling them, and watch your loneliness evaporate.

No man (or woman) is an island, it’s just that we are all so often cut off from one another. Reach out, make friends, do more, be more. Start a society to help people who live on their own if you like. Remind the world that you exist and then perhaps when you need it the world will take more care of you.


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