Fear, dogma and loneliness are some of the psychological obstacles that impede our efforts and natural strivings for total rejuvenation. Each one of these entities works in a similar manner, constraining us to firmly remain in our comfort zones. Thus, loneliness is a defence mechanism obscured as a comfort zone. We pay a heavy price for remaining in our comfort zones, it concludes in us restricting ourselves from establishing new social connections and failing to enrich life with our existing social connections. We are led towards forgetting that we can only see the beauty around us whence we are emancipated from the fears that blind us. John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick’s book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009) offers a comprehensive and invaluable insight into loneliness from social, physiological and psychological perspectives. Concurring that “unwanted isolation in any of its forms—physical, emotional, spiritual—is deeply disruptive to an organism designed by nature to function in a social setting.

Loneliness is the result of a life journey that takes one to isolation. What drives this decision making is fear. We seldom realise how much control our fears have over us. Prolonged fear means prolonged pain and pain changes people. “It makes us trust less, overthink more and shut people out.” As the “Pain grows and the world shrinks. Loneliness isolates in a different way: rather than destroying the world, it establishes a barrier between the self and the world, leaving the world intact as a torment to the isolated person.” In this way, loneliness affects the soul and not just the environment. “One needs social connections as remedy, maybe needs to be heard and understood, unconditional acceptance. The social connections based on mutual need.

These connections help us build and nourish our self-confidence and self-esteem; whereas the absence of supportive and positive social connections can have a detrimental effect on our health. According to John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick “If you perceive that others see you as worthless, you are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviours and less likely to take good care of yourself.” This explains why people suffering from loneliness experience 25% more stress, which in turn contributes to the development of multiple common illnesses like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure. The book is a timely and invaluable contribution on the subject. The distinguishing aspect of this book is that it avoids the academic gibberish and lucidly explicates the subject to the reader in an easy to understand way. The authors’ academic experience in the field has made it possible for them to make complicated subject accessible and coherent. I felt, after highlighting the propagation of loneliness, the authors refrained from stating how the institutes and governments need to create policies to halt the spread of this malign condition, e.g. to educate. This book ought to be made mandatory reading for all general practitioners so that this growing epidemic can be defenestrated.

Loneliness is on the increase globally and more so in the western hemisphere. People seem to be living anxious, unfulfilled and almost lonely lives, with less closer friends than previous generations. One possible explanation for this surge in loneliness is the relentless onslaught of secularism on old institutes like religion. Communal places like churches and temples have always served as ideal socialising venues. One of the tenets of Islam is for Muslims to pray in the masjid, five times a day, one must wonder about the purpose. Religions have always highlighted the significance of social connections in life. Evidence shows people of faith generally tend to have more positive outlook on life, engage in charitable activities more and feel sufficiently satisfied spiritually.

The book offers simple but remarkable solution to loneliness; a realisation that connection is the normal state. Loneliness is not a disease nor is it something that cannot be undone. It is a choice. Therefore, we just need to repair social connections for sake of restoring ourselves.  However, “reaching out beyond one’s own pain sounds like a tall order. That is why the road to success begins with small steps and modest expectations.” A four step guide to letting go of self-protective, isolating behaviour, titled EASE, is included in the book. As the title of the book says, social connections are a human need. We have to let go of our fears and dogmatic thinking, not our social connections, to restore and rejuvenate ourselves.

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By Khalid

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