Sunday, October 11, 2009

What is the Difference Between Being Alone and Being Lonely?

Many people think that if they live alone and are not paired in a couple that this makes them lonely. However, research shows that there is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. Loneliness has little to do with whether a person is single or coupled. Many people who are married or coupled are still lonely, while many single people are not. Instead, people feel lonely when they lack emotional connections with others. For example, a single woman may have one or more good friends whom she talks to and spends time with who are like her, are concerned for her and interested in her well-being. While she may not be in a romantic relationship, she may feel connected and cared about and may feel content.

Another person may be in a committed relationship with a partner but not feel emotionally close, truly supported or even respected by that person. If this person does not have others in their life that provide for these needs, they experience a sense of loneliness even though they are coupled. Thus, it is not the coupled state of the person that helps with the absence of loneliness, but rather the presence of a close, trustworthy, emotionally supportive person in one's life.

There are 5 levels of emotional closeness and communication:

Level 1- Surface level- talking superficially about general topics. ex) Isn't it nice weather?
Level 2- Factual level- share facts about situations. ex)I have been having trouble with my car.
Level 3- Cognitive level- share our opinions and ideas about the world. We must trust that the other person will respect our opinions & ideas to communicate at this level.
Level 4- Feeling level- this level of communicating requires that we reveal who we really are, our dreams & disappointments,& how we truly feel about ourselves. We are vulnerable to the listener because we open up our inner selves but this also helps us to experience intimacy if we can trust the listener. In order to truly communicate at this level, we must feel "safe" with the person we are speaking to; we must feel respected, accepted and free from threatening repercussions. The ability to share at this level is the beginning of true intimacy and the inability to share at this level prevents intimacy from occurring. Only when both individuals feel comfortable sharing at this level, does the level 4 style of communication exist.
Level 5- Intimacy level- at this level, we are able to share our deepest feelings, concerns, most embarrassing moments, and our pain without any fear of reprisal; we feel fully accepted and loved by the other. We can talk about positive things in our life without fear that others will judge us as boasting. We are free to say whatever is on our mind, knowing that we will continue to be loved and accepted. This level of communication can only be achieved through a growing and abiding trust that has developed over time between two mature individuals. This level 5 "relationship" requires reciprocity; it is difficult to achieve and requires loving care to maintain. Few people ever achieve such a relationship in their lifetime, mostly because few people are willing to devote the time and energy necessary to develop and maintain such a deep relationship. Those with low self-esteem may have never experienced this type of emotional connection with another so they may not even recognize the intrinsic value or existence of this level of communication.

People who presently have a true and reciprocal level four or five relationship do not feel lonely, though they may have experienced loneliness in the past or again in the future. This level 5 relationship can occur between same sex relationships or opposite sex, however, it occurs more frequently in relationships between 2 women. Women, in general, place a higher priority on relationships and communication than men do.

Healthy relationships are ones in which both people are healthy individuals, with interests, goals, friends, activities, and a sense of worth from themselves. In a healthy relationship, both people want the best for themselves and the other person. They truly respect each other and trust each other. They support and encourage each other, yet they maintain their own unique personalities and individuality. They do not try to control nor do they compete. Healthy people form relationships in which there exists mutual respect, a willingness to negotiate fairly, sensitivity to the needs of both partners, a desire and willingness to regularly nurture and work on the relationship. They are people who are supportive, caring, encouraging, cooperative, interesting, communicative, assertive and open to change. Their relationships are fulfilling, though not all encompassing in their lives.

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