Friendships are one of the most important close relationships throughout a person's life. Friendships become especially important in adolescence when the need for closeness and the desire to discuss issues related to maturing and life with peers increases.
- How to be a good friend?
A true friend is characterized by qualities such as trustworthiness and honesty, and it is interesting to spend time with a friend; you will have common interests with them, and they know how to keep a secret and supports both in happy and difficult moments. One can be friends with a person of the same or the opposite sex. Friendship has also been characterized by such sayings as "A friend is known not by words but by actions" and "Shared joy is double joy."
Quite permanent friendships can be formed already in childhood. If, in the early teenage years, one spends a lot of time together in a friendship relationship and friendship is perceived as an inseparable relationship, then with age, the skills of being a friend improve, and the boundaries of friendship become wider - the best friend may suddenly have a new relationship (boyfriend or girlfriend), and they start to get together more and spend time in a group of friends of the opposite sex. The first dating relationship can also start in such a group of friends.
Apart from family relationships, friendships are the first close relationships in the life of a growing person, through which the skills of being close are learned - caring for another person, trusting them, and mutual respect. Friendship has many characteristic features of love - for example when one feels that a friend can be trusted, they respect the other's feelings and care for the friend unconditionally. Through friendship, one learns to consider the wishes and needs of one's companion and to get along well with other people. Thus, what is learned and experienced through friendship prepares for future satisfying love relationships. Friendships have a great influence on a person's understanding and perception of themselves - healthy friendships increase self-confidence and give energy.
Being a friend also comes with the responsibility to keep the trust you have received and also to offer respect, trust, and care to your friend. It's also important to recognize exploitation, dishonesty, and imposing one's will on the other person in relationships - these are not part of healthy friendships.
Making friends is not always easy. One of the prerequisites for making friends is self-respect and self-worth - these qualities are the basis for building relationships and determining what kind of relationships they develop.
- What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a feeling. In the international literature, the explanation of loneliness is mostly based on Perlman and Peplau's definition: loneliness is a subjective and undesired state where, due to the absence or loss of a companion, there is a discrepancy between the quantity and quality of social relationships and the person's desired situation. In this case, the person assesses that the number or depth of their social relationships is not what they think it should be.
Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin describes loneliness as the feeling of not having meaningful relationships. He also refers to the criterion of a person's own assessment. So one can feel lonely in a choir, in a crowded store, or in a permanent relationship - if a person feels lonely, there is no point in denying this assessment, but this feeling can be validated and empathically reflected, and the person can be listened to.
There are many types of loneliness
In order to better understand the nature of loneliness and to support a lonely person more effectively, it would be advisable to have an in-depth look into different classifications. Feelings of loneliness can be divided as follows: 1) social loneliness, where a person lacks social cohesion, they are not satisfied with the quality of their relationships; 2) emotional loneliness, where meaningful relationships, for example, at work, family, or other groups, do not provide a sense of belonging; 3) existential loneliness, where a person is objectively separated from others.
According to another classification, the feeling of loneliness can be related to specific circumstances, such as a new school, moving away from one's hometown, or other conditions accompanying life changes that make a person feel lonely. Fortunately, this kind of loneliness decreases when one gets used to the conditions - a person meets new people in the new city, and this easily alleviates the feeling of loneliness. Loneliness can be related to life stage or development. It seems to a person that all of their peers go to university, find a life partner, start a family, and if they do not go through such changes, they can feel left out. The third type of loneliness is internal - a person is out with their friends, in a company, or married, yet they feel lonely.
To better understand loneliness, its intensity can be assessed with two measures: how important it is emotionally and how long it lasts. Feelings of loneliness are influenced by the emotional importance of a person's social contacts - the presence of meaningful relationships can be much more important than the number of superficial contacts. For example, a grieving person feels the pain of losing a loved one with whom they had a strong and close relationship, and numerous casual acquaintances do not compensate for this. Another determining factor in the feeling of loneliness is its duration. Most people experience loneliness from time to time, and in this case, it is not very significant and lasts for a short time. Yet some people report experiencing loneliness continually or all the time. Therefore, special attention must be paid to them in order to be able to distinguish between different forms and offer possible solutions.
Loneliness of youth
Young people can also feel lonely, and there are many reasons for this. One can feel lonely if it is difficult to find friends if a person has moved and has to start building social relationships from scratch, has been bullied and abused, has experienced the pain of loss, does not get along with their family, suffers from a long-term illness or has an eating disorder. COVID-19 has also had an impact here, and young people who were separated from friends and family for long periods during pandemic restrictions may experience greater loneliness.
How does loneliness affect health?
Loneliness in itself is not a mental health problem and is not classified as a mental disorder. However, mental health problems such as depression and social anxiety can affect loneliness. Loneliness both contributes to and causes depression, and the combination of loneliness and depression affects healthy life expectancy.
Loneliness affects both physical and mental health and people's assessment of their well-being. Neuroscientist Cacioppo explains that feelings of loneliness are a warning that our well-being is at risk. Just as the feeling of hunger is a biological warning that we should eat, the feeling of loneliness is a sign that we should seek contact with other people. It is a long-established survival instinct and a universal human feeling.
Is loneliness painful?
Why is loneliness painful (neuroscientists have indeed found that loneliness produces a sensation similar to physical pain)? Neuroscientist Levitin suggests that perhaps noticing loneliness is related to the realization that we have failed in a key area of life – belonging. Research has confirmed some links between loneliness and health problems, both behaviorally, psychologically, and physiologically. Thus, it has been found that social isolation and loneliness adversely affect the daily life activities of the elderly. Loneliness also has a direct impact on health indicators such as blood pressure and immunity. People who rate themselves as more lonely have poorer sleep quality. Both social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of remaining inactive in terms of lifestyle and behaving more carelessly toward one's health (smoking). It is associated with lower self-esteem and limited use of supportive coping mechanisms.
How to deal with loneliness?
The most promising and evidence-based approaches are mainly three techniques: cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and positive psychology. In the framework of cognitive-behavioral therapy, people can be taught to be more aware of their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so that they can better cope with psychological problems. One can monitor whether thought patterns support coping with loneliness. For example, one can notice what thoughts and feelings arise when seeing a joint picture of former friends on social media - do my thoughts and feelings affect my behavior so that I isolate myself more from others? Or do I want to connect with others more?
Mindfulness supports presence and alertness to be aware of and accept one's thoughts during difficult times. Positive psychology supports the strengths and solution orientation found in a person. The importance of gratitude is highlighted separately: whether a person notices what to be grateful for and whether the feeling of gratitude can be increased on a daily basis. In addition, evidence-based benefits of meditation and listening to music have been found to alleviate feelings of loneliness.
How to communicate about loneliness?
As with any mental health first aid, what helps to support a loved one is noticing them and listening to them supportively. Below are some questions and facts to explore as a free-form conversation.
- How do you rate your own social behavior? Are you generally satisfied with your relationship? What would you like to change in your relationship?
- Have you recently had a major change in your life, such as bereavement, loss, moving house, retirement, illness, or giving up driving?
- Do you have supportive relationships with your family and friends?
- Do you have any formal or informal groups that you belong to or have thought about joining?
- Are there any factors that prevent social interaction (e.g., poor transport links, long, lonely working days)?
- How would you benefit from spending more time with loved ones?
- What is dating violence?
Dating violence is intimate partner violence that occurs between people who have met and are in a relationship but do not live together. In dating violence, all forms of violent behavior can gradually occur.
Usually, all couple relationships start with love. However, the partner's violence emerges over time. Young men/girls with violent behavior may even be excessively caring at the beginning of the relationship, adore the girl/young man, and want to move in together, be engaged, or marry soon. In the attitude and behavior of the young man/girl, there may be signs of the need for control, possessiveness, and violence, but the girl/young man may not notice them.
The following behavioral patterns may indicate the start of violence in a couple's relationship:
- The young man/girl is jealous. Jealousy is directed not only at acquaintances of the opposite sex of the girl/young man but also at their friends and relatives.
- They claim that they cannot live without the girl/young man.
- They speak disparagingly of their previous partners.
- They constantly use the expression "MY girlfriend/boyfriend" and want the girl/guy to commit to them only.
- They constantly investigate where the girl/young man goes and with whom they communicate.
- They ask for the passwords of the girl's/young man's social network user account and email addresses and check the phone's call log and messages.
- They make their partner feel guilty that the latter does not do anything right, is wrong, and has to ask the young man/girl for forgiveness 'for something.
- They demand sexual intercourse from the girl/young man to prove love, and they may also attempt rape.
- They do not consider the wishes, opinions, or feelings of the girl/young man. They claim that only they are right and cannot tolerate different opinions.
- They always blame others when there is a problem.
- They treat the girl/young man roughly, insult and humiliate, and use or threaten to use physical force.
- They break objects in a fit of rage.
- Their behavior creates fear and confusion in the girl/young man.
- They threaten suicide if the girl/young man leaves them.