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Lonely girl

Are you contributing to our culture of loneliness?

You’ve probably sent or received a few texts, Facebook messages, snaps and liked a few Instagram posts today. With all of this socialisation, albeit through technology, you might feel connected, yet all signs point to a rise in loneliness in societies around the world. In fact, one author recently claimed that the loneliness epidemic is so bad that it’s ‘wrenching society apart’. Yet, loneliness is still somewhat taboo. No one likes to admit that they’re lonely. And perhaps therein lies the problem. What can we do to address the way modern society has somehow made us feel more alone than ever before, if we don’t know how to talk about it?

Lonely online

In a survey of young Victorians’ resilience and mental wellbeing, completed in conjunction with VicHealth in 2015, Dr Melissa Weinberg from Deakin University’s School of Psychology, found that one in eight young Victorians report a very high intensity of loneliness. Dr Weinberg also found that although many young people report moderate to high levels of stress and anxiety, they’re able to tolerate these levels. But the impact of loneliness on their wellbeing was evident at very low levels.

A contributing factor could be this generation’s reliance on social media for connection. ‘Our brains are wired for attachment. They’re not wired for attachment to computers, they’re wired for attachment to other human beings,’ Dr Weinberg points out. These worlds where we curate our lives and post only the sunny moments highlight what Dr Weinberg believes is the root of the loneliness epidemic: avoiding negative emotions.

'Our brains are wired for attachment. They’re not wired for attachment to computers, they’re wired for attachment to other human beings.'

Dr Melissa Weinberg,
School of Psychology, Deakin University

All emotions can be good emotions

According to Dr Weinberg, part of the problem might be the way that children have been taught to handle their emotions. ‘There’s lots of positive education programs that encourage the expression of positive emotions and the avoidance of negative emotions,’ she says and points out that when we have a culture that doesn’t allow young people to talk about negativity or anger, a sense of isolation can descend. ‘If young people feel like thinking positive isn’t working, they end up feeling like no one understands them and they’re alone,’ Dr Weinberg says.

The solution, Dr Weinberg says, is learning to ‘be comfortable with being uncomfortable’. Aspiring to consistent happiness is unrealistic. We must learn to experience and manage a range of emotions, including those associated with loneliness. ‘If you want to teach your children how to be happy, you need to teach them how to be sad and angry,’ Dr Weinberg says. She suggests that we’re all so caught up chasing good feelings that ‘it’s unpleasant to sit down with someone who’s not feeling good’. But we must employ better tactics to help those feeling lonely or misunderstood. Dr Weinberg concludes that it’s not until we make a sweeping cultural shift and learn to manage and discuss our emotions, will we get better at strengthening relationships and combating loneliness.

Want to learn more about how we process human emotions? Consider studying psychology at Deakin University.  

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Dr Melissa Weinberg
Dr Melissa Weinberg

School of Psychology, Deakin University
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