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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Abstract

DOMAN, LCH  and  LE ROUX, A. The causes of loneliness and the factors that contribute towards it: a literature review. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2010, vol.50, n.2, pp. 216-228. ISSN 0041-4751.

Loneliness has been defined as a condition that is characterised by subjective feelings of social pain and/or isolation. It may also involve the longing for more social interaction than being experienced at a certain time. Loneliness is thus a social construct. Although loneliness affects such a large part of the population that it is regarded as a universal phenomenon and as part and parcel of the human condition, the pain associated with loneliness may have serious consequences. Various studies indicate that young people (particularly those between 18 and 25 years of age) are especially prone to loneliness and that they should accordingly be the focus of new studies on the condition. At the root of their isolation lie the uncertain political situation, the lack of leadership in the country, a high incidence of child abuse, rape, sexual abuse, incest and violence. A hazard of social isolation is that it has been found to be a risk factor for a wide variety of problems, such as high levels of psychological stress, negative affect and consequent poor psychological well-being which lead to depression, suicide, animosity, alcoholism and psychosomatic illnesses. In other words, loneliness has both physical and psychological implications, many of which could be long term. Although it is impossible to prevent loneliness, the condition may be alleviated by cultivating social awareness on the prevalence and consequences of loneliness and doing research on the effect and influence of culture and the community on the prevalence and alleviation of loneliness. (Most current research focuses on the individual and does not consider the complexity of the South African context.) A range of factors influence the extent of people's loneliness in South African society where many cultures and races may deal with the phenomenon of loneliness in different ways. Rokach's (1988) model of the predictors of loneliness is the basis for the identification of factors that cause and contribute to loneliness. This model is subdivided into three broad categories that influence the feeling of loneliness: problems with relationships, traumatic experiences and personal and developmental variables. These categories may be subdivided into eight factors that increase loneliness. Although this is a holistic model, other factors that were not mentioned by Rokach were included in order to make the study more complete. In this study the following predictors of loneliness are discussed: • Personality: The following factors that contribute to loneliness are mentioned in this article: anxiety, an inability to assert oneself and hyper-sensitivity. A poor self concept, an external locus of control and shyness are other aspects of the personality that contribute to loneliness. Additional characteristics have been found to be common among lonely people: isolated people are generally suspicious, imaginative, radical, self-sufficient, tense and dominating. They are also more emotionally mature, are inclined to feel guilty and are less sociable than others. • Affect: Loneliness is linked to negative affect and is typified in conditions such as depression, boredom, hopelessness, aggression, stress, anger, restlessness and tension. • Depression: A complicated vicious circle makes diagnosis tricky: people with poor social skills are more inclined to become depressed and yet depressed people are inclined to be lonely. The differences between loneliness and depression are explained. • Problems in relationships: A lack of feelings of belonging, support and intimacy caused by poor communication promote loneliness. Social estrangement and separation and rejection also contribute to loneliness. • Marital status: Married people usually feel less lonely - but this is not the case when marriages are unfulfilling. Loneliness in marriage is linked to a lack of intimacy. • Major changes that promote social isolation consist of events such as leaving home, a new career, separation from loved ones, breaking off a major relationship and moving house. • Illness or physical disability may lead to limited contact with other people. Research indicates that HIV/AIDS and eating disorders isolate the sufferers from social contact. • Religious faith correlates negatively with loneliness. However, religions with strict behavioural prescriptions are likely to isolate individuals from free social interaction. This could result in loneliness. • Academic achievement: Research indicates that students whose academic performance is poor are more likely to be lonely. • Leisure activities that alienate people from each other are watching television and surfing the Internet. While it is impossible to avoid loneliness completely, it may be alleviated. The recommendation is made that contributory factors towards loneliness should be investigated because knowledge of these may substantially lessen the impact of loneliness on people's mental health status.Such knowledge should be available to therapists and psychologists so that preventative programmes may be designed and implemented, particularly to assist in the prevention of suicide, substance abuse and stress. This will contribute to an improved quality of life, productivity and health for those afflicted and particularly for South African youth.

Keywords : loneliness; Rokach's model; loneliness predictors; depression; marital status; faith.

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