Loneliness is the perception of being alone and isolated, it is a feeling of disconnection from the people around us. Thus, it is associated not with the number of interpersonal relationships we have, but with the quality of these relationships and their capacity to make us feel emotionally and socially connected. For this to happen, it is essential to have the perception that the other one is listening to us and understand us, that he is emphatic with us – creating the sense that we are accepted and that we belong somewhere or to someone. Otherwise, we may feel lonely even when accompanied.
In evolutionary terms, loneliness seems to reflect the feeling and sensations of social exclusion. The human species is a social species, since our ancestors learned how to survive as a group. Not belonging to a group or tribe often meant non-survival (difficulty in finding food resources etc. and difficulties in defending and protecting oneself). Possibly, this is why human contact and social relations are basic human needs, because in an evolutionary perspective our species and our ancestors did not survive without the support of others. And maybe this is the reason why we feel so deeply and intensely loneliness, because our brain is creating a warning sign for a potentially dangerous situation – being alone.
If our brain reads this situation as a potential danger, we are likely to feel some level of anxiety and stress associated with the feelings of loneliness. It is an immediate reaction of our body, which prepares itself to fight and to deal with this danger, which brings consequences to our general health and aggravates the psychological suffering.
Nowadays, relationships usually occur and develop with the use of technologies, and the physical presence of the other person is no longer a necessity. However, physical contact and touch are important for the creation of close relationships in which we feel comforted and connected. This is very visible in children who need a hug or a physical comfort to feel safe and loved. A healthy adult learns to self-regulate and to create this sense of security and affection for himself, yet he continues to need this physical comfort from other people.
So there are some situations that can lead to the experience of loneliness, such as the loss of someone important, the end of an important relationship or difficulties in communication in a loving relationship or another equally important relationship.
Additionally, moving to a new country or city, with new values and culture, or living in a city with many inhabitants and with a very hectic lifestyle, where relationships tend to be superficial and fleeting, can lead to feelings of solitude.
Therefore, loneliness does not have a single cause and each person feels it in a particular and personal way. The intervention has to be adapt to each case. However, it will always involve building healthy and close relationships with others. After all, we are social beings who yearn for relationships in which we feel loved and cherished.