Wednesday, January 5, 2011



Feeling lonely is not the same as being alone. Part of our emotional life2, the experience of loneliness emerges when certain normal relational needs3 are not being met; that is, when we lack that life-giving, reciprocal steady-attuned-responsiveness4 which is the condition for the possibility of a sense connectedness.

Human connectedness is so fundamental4 to human functioning and being that without it we fall apart psychologically and physiologically, down to the cellular level.
Physiologically, over time blood pressure climbs and gene expression5 falters. The intellect dulls; the immune system deteriorates. Ageing accelerates under the constant corrosive presence of the stress hormones. The study of this biological/psychological/social interface is dubbed nowadays social neuroscience.
Psychologically, the suffering wrought by loneliness comprises the fields of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.

Like hunger or thirst, the experience of loneliness also serves as a survival signal that powerfully motivates6 us to seek and to try to maintain the essential nourishment we derive from meaningful human connectedness.

As a survival signal, loneliness has been a powerful evolutionary force, binding humans together not only to survive, but to pursue the good life, a life worth living.

Loneliness is a strong model for understanding and delineating the inextricability of the biological and psychological dimensions of human functioning and being, which are so irreducibly relational and complex .
Ernesto Vasquez, MD.
January 5, 2011.

Cacioppo, J. T. (2008). Loneliness. Human Nature and the Need for Human Connection. New York: W.W. Norton.
2 Orange, D. (1995). Emotional Understanding. Studies in Psychoanalytic Epistemology. New York: Guilford.
3 In Self Psychology these needs are termed selfobject needs and go together with the related notion of selfobject experience:
Kohut, H. (1984). How does Analysis Cure? Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.
4 This is one of the major theoretical contributions of Intersubjective Systems Theory: Orange, Atwood, & Stolorow (1997). Working Intersubjectively. Contextualism in Psychoanalytic Practice. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press; Stolorow, Atwood, & Orange (2002). Worlds of Experience. Interweaving Philosophical and Clinical Dimensions in Psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books.
5 Gene expression is the process by which information from a gene is used in the synthesis of a functional gene product. These products are often proteins, but in non-protein coding genes such as ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes or transfer RNA (tRNA) genes, the product is a functional RNA.
6 The issue of motivation has been comprehensibly addressed phylogenetically and psychoanalytically by Jones, J. M. (1995). Affects as Process. An Inquiry into the Centrality of Affect in Psychological Life. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.

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