Loneliness is a universal human feeling that is nuanced and personal to each individual. You can feel lonely at any time, not only when alone. While most people associate loneliness with being alone or in a state of isolation, loneliness is primarily a mental state.
Lonely people always feel empty, undesired, and alone. They usually seek human interaction, but their mental state makes it more difficult for them to build relationships.
Several studies have linked loneliness with poor social skills, social isolation, depression, and introversion. “Loneliness” and “objective social isolation” are two parallel words. Because people surround you, or you are in a crowd, or have many pals doesn’t guarantee you won’t feel lonely.
The fact is loneliness is an everyday human experience. Even if you’re in a crowded environment, you could feel lonely. Even if friends or family surround you, you may still feel entirely alone if you don’t feel connected to anyone or feel that no one understands you. Some people want to be in a romantic relationship but are unable to do so due to personality traits such as shyness or introversion and may feel lonely. Someone who is socially isolated, on the other hand, maybe pleased with few social interactions or long periods of seclusion.
Adverse effects of loneliness
Loneliness can be detrimental to your physical and emotional health if left unchecked. According to some studies, it has been linked to a variety of unhealthy behaviors, such as difficulty exerting self-control or using maladaptive emotion regulation mechanisms. Loneliness is also a strong predictor of a variety of poor consequences, such as increased pain, depression, greater anxiety, etc. What’s more? The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to loneliness and mental health disorders like anxiety and sadness.
So, how do people cope with loneliness?
One of the many ways to cope with loneliness is through “compensatory consumption experiences.” A recent review by Fumagalli et al. reported that people could sometimes cope with loneliness through consumption, such as buying nostalgic items, becoming materialistic, etc.
What is compensatory consumption?
Compensatory consumerism is defined as using items to meet a psychological demand to feel belonging. Someone who is afraid of rejection, for instance, may be more ready to buy a product they dislike but that their spouse wants as a means to indicate shared preferences.
Compensatory consumption experiences can either be positive or negative. Positive in the sense of buying to donate to charities. They can, however, be hazardous if someone is willing to participate in excessive drinking or drug usage to fit in and fulfill their need to belong.
Of course, certain products, such as social media platforms, are created with social aims in mind. They may be especially useful for lonely people, as they allow them to reconnect with friends or communicate with people who share their ideology.
Surprisingly, however, internet communication has not proven effective in reducing loneliness. Social media usage has been connected to an increase in loneliness.
Why? Lower-quality social connections and Increased fear of missing out (FOMO) are two possible explanations (when compared to in-person interactions).
Consumption of goods to alleviate loneliness
Some products have an oblique or symbolic link to others. An example is purchasing second-hand things, such as a used comic book, game, or watch. Alternatively, instead of a Toyota Corolla, you might purchase nostalgic items such as a Volkswagen Beetle. Other items help alleviate loneliness by providing a “social connection function.”
Lonely people, in particular, may be more susceptible to forming emotional attachments to brands or anthropomorphizing objects (attributing human characteristics to them). Studies have also shown that socially alienated or lonely people have a higher liking for anthropomorphized things.
What are the possible consequences of replacing human connection
One worry is that product replacement for human connection becomes permanent over time, and it may present itself in the form of material accumulation – making one more materialistic. Some studies suggest that materialism has a negative impact on happiness and well-being.
Moreover, becoming materialistic to combat loneliness may worsen loneliness by replacing social relationships with items. This, in turn, leads to even more loneliness, creating a vicious cycle.
Motives of self-preservation and loneliness
As previously stated, social connections are critical for survival; thus, loneliness tends to elicit the desire to reconnect. On the other hand, loneliness can trigger self-preservation and avoidance of others.
Loneliness warns us of a lack of support and safety and the hazards of desperate and “indiscriminate attempts to build trusting social ties.” As a result, lonely people tend to become more self-focused, hyper-vigilant, or self-centered.
These actions make it difficult to connect with people. One possible explanation why chronically lonely people are uncomfortable with physical proximity and interpersonal touch is that they are untrustworthy.
This is regrettable because interpersonal touch has been shown to have a good impact on mental health and well-being (e.g., reducing stress, anxiety, and depression) and can be especially beneficial to lonely people. Consumer preferences are influenced by the discomfort with interpersonal touch. According to the authors, lonelier people “exhibit lower preferences for consumer-related services (like dancing, massage lessons) and service encounters than less lonely customers.”
Introversion, Shyness, being ostracized and bullied, and experiencing racism or sexism are some of the social and personal endangering social connection, acceptance, and belonging. In a nutshell, they raise the likelihood of loneliness. Loneliness happens when people are unable to develop positive relationships and fulfill their need to belong, whether to a group, community, or something else.
So, it’s not about how many relationships we have but rather whether our interactions assist us to meet our social and belonging demands. In fact, too much mingling isn’t good for you.
Consumption-related coping methods can sometimes backfire, leading to increased feelings of loneliness and difficulty bonding as a result of paranoia, materialism, narcissism, and other factors. As a result, we must find a good medium between shunning all items that can help us connect with people and becoming unduly dependent on products to satisfy emotional or social needs.