Loneliness does not just affect the elderly and vulnerable. It’s a feeling that can hit anyone, any age, any circumstances – and can be devastating.
A 28-year old woman living in Manchester felt so cut-off from her family that despite being thought happy and successful, she felt acutely lonely to the point of suicide.
The Kenyan online paper The Standard (read the report here) reported the sad death of Sharon Bukokhe, a high-flying business woman living in Britain, with her family scattered around the world. Her sense of disconnection must have agonising, as it lead to her planning and carrying out her own death, presumably to stop the pain of alienation and separation.
On the surface she was happy, busy, intelligent, ambitious and heading for success. But she was disguising profound loneliness, even from her family. She was in her twenties, married, with everything ahead of her.
Loneliness, isolation, disconnection – whatever the feeling’s called – can break strong people and shatter lives.
Much of the focus on loneliness is aimed at the elderly. Not before time, but they’re not the only group of people who feel lonely much of the time. Too many people begin their lonely lives when they are still children.
Lots of people hide their emotions, disguise how they feel and pretend that everything’s just fine. Truth is that we never know what’s really going on behind the disguise, let alone behind other people’s front doors. Loneliness can lurk behind the smartest doors and the busiest schedules.
Look again at the children around you. They may not say they feel lonely. You may not guess from their behaviour. But more children than you’d think feel lonely most of the time, and it has nothing to do with being alone. Loneliness feels lonelier if you’re around other people.
Chronic feelings of loneliness and isolation are high within these groups, for example:
Bullied children and their bullies; children who look after a sick parent; children of alcoholics; children with disabilities; children who have been scarred or disfigured; children with a parent in prison; children whose parents are focused on an ill or injured sibling; children who are expats or immigrants; children in a bereaved family…
Know kids who behave badly? Some of them maybe yearning for attention and don’t know any other way to get it; ‘attention-seeking” may be another way of saying “lonely”.
Christmas is coming – how will you make sure the kids you know aren’t feeling excluded, invisible or unloved this year?
I met a girl the other day who is, by European norms, a pretty woman of 20. She is at university, with a good career ahead of her. She’s clever, sweet, kind, lively and attractive. She’s going out with a man who is darkly jealous, feckless and mean-spirited. She knows what he’s like, and she wants to dump him, but she’s scared that no-one else will want her. She thinks she’s fat (compared to contemporaries who are skeletal). The prospect of being on the shelf, in her culture, is horrific, even at the expense of an unhappy married life.
So she defies her parents (who detest the boyfriend) and puts up with the boyfriend’s horrible behaviour because she thinks he’s the best she can expect.
She’s not alone – how many young men and woman set themselves up for years of unhappiness and loneliness in much the same way?
What is it about our society that we bring our children up to feel unlovable? Can family influence outweigh the media brainwashing? What do we need to do to stop the growth of loneliness in our families and friends?