Below, Teal Swan writes about loneliness in the over 50s. She explains how loneliness, as time goes on, needn’t be inevitable …
Loneliness in The Over 50s
The world today is obsessed with youth. Value, significance and desirability seem to be contingent upon youth. All we have to do is to stand in line next to the magazines at the supermarket or turn on the television to know it. When we begin to age, we feel ourselves slipping into insignificance. We often feel ourselves losing value and desirability and to others. The result is that we begin to feel isolated. One of the single biggest impacts of the changes that come with aging is loneliness.
As we age, we face several physical, psychological and social changes that enhance this sense of loneliness. For example, our children grow up and they move out of the home to live their own lives separate from us. We often lose mobility as well as the energy to actively participate in things the way we used to. Many of our friends begin to get sick and even die. Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 43% of older adults openly report feelings of loneliness. These feelings of isolation greatly impact our health as well as our happiness in life. What we need is connection.
Connection is a necessary part of life for all of us, whether we are infants, school children, teens, young adults, adults or seniors. We all have a need for connection and it is a need that we cannot un-need. Therefore, our well-being is dependent upon adapting to maintain connections and developing new connections even as we age.
Connection can be thought of as a link between yourself and that other thing. And the primary ingredient for connection is intimacy. When most of us hear the word intimacy, we think of sex. Obviously, if we think of intimacy in this way, it makes us feel threatened when we think of the notion of having intimacy with a friend, sibling, caregiver or child. But it’s important to understand that intimacy is not about sex. Intimacy is about knowing yourself and being known by others for who you really are in all aspects of your life. It is a meeting at the heart centre where empathy and understanding occur. Intimacy is to see into each another so as to deeply connect with the other person. It includes seeing into, feeling into, listening into, perceiving, and understanding each other. To have genuine intimacy with someone, we have to be willing to commit to becoming an expert on them.
Isolation is preventable when we accept that connection is our greatest need and take the steps to ensure that we get it. By actively prioritizing social interaction we can combat feelings of isolation associated with age. We can meet with people and attend social events even if we have to go outside our comfort zone to do so. We can also make use of technology to stay socially engaged. And most importantly, when we interact with people, we can make the conscious choice to really let them in on how we feel, what we think and who we are. We can be brave enough to really see and feel and hear and understand them as well. The closer and more linked we feel to people, the healthier we will be and the happier we will be, no matter how old we are. After all, in the end all that will really matter to any of us is the people we shared our life with. And we all have so much life to share.
Teal Swan, author of The Anatomy of Loneliness
In this book Teal looks at loneliness in the over 50s as well as in other age ranges.