Loneliness and Love

"Loneliness is separation distress without an object" -Robert S. Weiss

Why do we feel lonely when we are not loved?
(Read me I'm worth it!)

As children, we all needed someone to take care of us.  That person can be referred to as a caregiver.  A caregiver was someone who provided for our needs, looked after us and most importantly gave us a sense of security.  In this relationship between caregiver and child a special relationship is formed that is commonly referred to as an attachmentJohn Bowlby came up with the theory of attachment, that special bond between caregiver and child.

However, not all caregivers give care and attention the same way.  And the different ways caregivers care for their children affect the strength of the attachment between the caregiver and child.  Some caregivers provided for those in their care very well, providing for their children's needs reliably and consistently.  Children who grew up with this kind of caregiver usually form a secure attachment to their caregiver.  Caregivers who provided for their children's needs but in an inconsistent manner (for example, sometimes they would provide the love needed, sometimes they wouldn't) or  who neglect their children's needs most of the time tended to form insecure attachments with their children.

So what's the big deal if I had a secure or an insecure attachment with my caregiver?

Well, two things are interesting here.  The first deals with the idea of a caregiver.  Have you ever seen a child when the mother leaves the room or is lost.  The child is restless, cries, searches for the mother and generally there is a huge amount of distress and anxiety.   Does this sound familiar to you?  Well it should, because if you are lonely and looking for love, don't you feel a huge amount of distress and anxiety, aren't you constantly searching for that special person in much the same way as the child?  This is what Robert S. Weiss noted in his research into loneliness.  The separation distress in children when the caregiver is gone seems to be the same as the separation distress of lonely persons looking for the love of their life.  Somewhere during our lifetime (Weiss believes it happens in adolescence) we transfer our caregiver image from our mother (usually the caregiver is the mother, but not always!!) to the person we want to marry.  So perhaps we are lonely when we are not loved because of the separation distress we feel.

The second interesting thing about attachments is that the attachment you had as a child, tends to be the attachment you will have with the person you love as an adult.  Some research done by P. Shaver and C. Hazan (1989) demonstrates this.  There are really three types of attachment, one secure and two insecure ones.  The two insecure ones are anxious/ambivalent attachment where the caregiver provides care and support  in an inconsistent manner and avoidant attachment where the caregiver provides little or no care and support.  Read the following descriptions below:

Secure attachment:  If you think you had a secure attachment as a child, chances are you feel little loneliness.  You see the relationship to your parents as being loving and responsive.  You tend to form stable relationships, are not usually jealous and provide unconditional support for your partner.

Anxious/Ambivalent attachment:  If you think you had an anxious/ambivalent attachment as a child, chances are you feel quite a lot of loneliness.  You probably have both good and bad things to say about your parents/caregiver.  Shaver and Hazan describe the relationships of these people as "emotional extremes, jealousy, obsessive preoccupation, sexual attraction, desire for union, desire for reciprocation, and falling in love at first sight."  In other words you are want to be loved and needed, you want that relationship, you might believe in love at first sight but somehow when you get there, you end up screwing things up.  You might be a jealous lover, you might have highs and lows (some days you really love that person, some days you are really disgusted by that person), it ends up just being a sexual thing, the person doesn't love you as much as you love them, and so on.  Shaver and Hazan describe you as being "over ready for love."

Avoidant attachment: If you think you had an avoidant attachment as a child you probably suffer from a lot of loneliness.  You think your parents/caregivers were generally rejecting.  You are afraid of commitments, and would take the easiest way out of having to commit.  For you one-night stands is part of your repertoire, the less commitment the better.

If these descriptions do make sense to you, and you think you have insecure attachments, why don't your relationships last?  Deep down inside you think that real love isn't possible or you think that other people are not as good-intentioned or as good-hearted as they appear.  You mistrust and most importantly you make yourself too invulnerable to love.  When you can learn to be open to being hurt, then you can be open to being loved.

Click here for more on loneliness

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Have you ever wondered what are the causes of loneliness?

Do you know there are different types of loneliness?

In what way do people cope with loneliness?

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