There are 3 different types of loneliness. Here's which one you're dealing with, and how to overcome it.

Most people have experienced loneliness at some point. Whether for a brief or prolonged period, the sensation of isolation is well known. Yes, this year more than ever. 

In Australia, one in four people say they experience loneliness - a statistic from our pre-pandemic world, before populations at large were mandated to socially distance and loneliness, understandably, increased.

Today, loneliness is being dubbed the ‘silent epidemic’. Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former Surgeon General under the Obama Administration, spoke with Mamamia’s 'No Filter' podcast about the different types of loneliness and ways to manage it. 

Here are the three different types of loneliness, according to Dr. Murthy, as well as how to lead a more connected life.

1. Intimate loneliness.

The first type is intimate loneliness, whereby the person is “missing a connection with somebody who is a trusted confidant”.

This could be a partner or best friend, or anyone with whom you “don’t have to have any facade”.

Side note... Here's what it would look like if a man lived like a woman for a day. Post continues below. 

Video via Mamamia. 

2. Relational loneliness.

The second type of loneliness is relational loneliness. 

“That's when we're missing friendships - the kind of relationships with people with whom we may spend weekends and go out to dinner with on a Friday night,” Dr. Murthy explained. 

"These are folks that we may have over for a barbecue or for a social gathering or birthday parties. And when we miss those friends, we experience relational loneliness."

Dr. Murthy said there's a difference between having friendships and experiencing friendships. He added that the absence of 'experiencing friendships' gives rise to loneliness. 

Experiencing friendships, he explained, means social interactions including phone calls, visiting friends, and having conversations with friends. 

"When you realise how extraordinarily common loneliness is you start to realise that many of those friends who you are no longer in touch with are probably struggling with loneliness as well."

“Reaching out to them could be a lifeline for both of you,” he shared. 

3. Collective loneliness.

The third type of loneliness is collective loneliness. 

“This is when we miss being part of a community with which we have a shared identity or a common sense of purpose,” Dr. Murthy explained, adding this can come in a variety of forms, including a Facebook group, a volunteer organisation or even at the office.  


Listen to Mia Freedman's interview with Dr. Murthy on the No Filter podcast here. Post continues below. 

Who’s most at risk of loneliness?

Dr. Murthy said there are certain groups of people who are at greater risk of the public health issue.

“Our world has a bias toward extroversion,” Dr. Murthy explained. “It tells us that when we're in groups, that's when we're doing it right.” 

He said introverts are consequently at greater risk - “not because being an introvert in and of itself is risky,” but rather owing to introverts typically thinking they “don’t know how to interact with people” thanks to society’s “extroverted bias”. 

“I think if introverts recognise what they need - which is often interactions in smaller groups, one-on-one interactions and more alone time, more solitude - then I actually think introverts can live a perfectly connected life and can feel deeply fulfilled with one another,” Dr. Murthy shared. 

“It's when we judge our needs because of an external standard that society sets, that we run into trouble, and that we run the risk of being lonely.”

He went on to say there are other groups at greater risk of being lonely as well, including for those who suffer from depression and anxiety.

How can we manage loneliness?

It’s clear that by identifying the different types of loneliness, more specific antidotes can be adopted. 

Dr. Murthy said to “think about loneliness as a source of pain, because that's what it is,” adding, “what matters is what we reach for”.

“If I reach for the phone to call a friend, or if I reach for my car keys to go visit someone I love, then that could be a great way to deal with that pain,” Dr. Murthy explained. “If I reach, for my sneakers to go out and take a run because exercise helps lift my mood, that might also be a healthy way to deal with pain.”

He continued: “If instead, if I reach for food and sweets - and I say this is someone who loves sweets - then it may actually not be so good for me. If I reach for alcohol or drugs as a main way to numb that pain, then again, I may run into trouble.”

To feel more connected, Dr. Murthy says to remember that “the lines that divide us” are learnt, whereas the default for humans “is to reach out with kindness and compassion”. 

“The journey to building a connected life is not an effort to transform us into something we're not, it's an effort to return to who we fundamentally are.”

He continues: “We still are that person that is hard wired to connect with one another. What we have to do is remember it - we have to build on that. And if we do that, we can become the deeply interconnected people that I believe we were ultimately designed to be.”

Feature image: Getty.

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