Loneliness hurts. You feel it in your body like a physical pain. Why? Because that sensation of pain we experience when we feel socially isolated or all alone in the world has the similar underlying processes as physical pain. Our body has an amazing detection system, one which alerts us to both the possibility or physical or social damage and brings our attention to the situation until we fix it. Essentially social pain and physical pain are one and the same.
The roots of this convergence are the necessity of human closeness between mother and child for human survival, particularly in the early stages of development. Pain is attention grabbing and as such experiencing pain due to social separation is potentially an adaptive response, preventing this occurrence.
The interesting thing is that social isolation and loneliness have chronic health implications and in essence loneliness can turn into a physical disease state. Risk of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s all increase in the chronically lonely. Social isolation is a risk, one that our body views as a threat and drives immune system changes that lead to inflammation.
Loneliness happens to all of us in various ways at various times. Human connection not only gives us a way not to feel lonely, it also allows a sense of belonging, and based on above, helps maintain both physical and emotional health. In this TED talk Brene Brown discusses human connection, our ability to empathize, belong, love and how the power of vulnerability can help us connect more significantly and strongly.