Loneliness and the three steps to maturity


In my previous blog post, I wrote about the importance of solitude for creativity. The voluntary solitude is important for inner reflection, self-exploration and creativity, but is inherently different from the involuntary loneliness.

Loneliness is linked to a number of negative health effects. It raises the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, and triggers inflammation in the body, and is thus causing a number of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, not to mention the risk for psychosocial effects such as unhappiness, depression and even suicide.

The problems with involuntary loneliness are so serious that the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has recently appointed a special minister for loneliness. This very worthy initiative made me reflect on the three steps to maturity.

Step 1. Dependence (you). When we are born, we are totally dependent on our parents and other adults to cater for all our physical and emotional needs. This period of dependency is significantly longer than for any other animal species, mainly due to the slow maturation of our bodies and brains.

The interactions between the child and the care-takers is absolutely crucial for a healthy development and the possibility of the child to later reach the full potential as an intelligent, caring and mature adult.

Step 2. Independence (I). In the teens starts the, sometimes painful, process towards independence. The child needs to find his/her own paths, testing acquired skills, and learning from mistakes. During this period, the understanding parents should slowly let go, while still try to create a safe environment for their teens.

In our Western society, independence has been seen as the societal and desirable norm. It has been linked to individual freedom, the right to always choose your own paths, and endless possibilities for self-fulfilment. This is of course largely good, and we should cherish these possibilities that are not-self-evident in all parts of the world – but it is not the ultimate goal of life.

The backside of this coin is also the risk of loneliness, if for some reasons you would fall outside the social networks that glue society together (and here I don’t refer to the Internet). This is especially a risk for our elders, but also for many young people that have not yet found their place in life.

Step 3. Interdependence (we). This brings me to the third step of maturity, interdependence, where we are acting together in a social context, where everyone can contribute with something and everyone can learn and grow from others. Together we could make miracles.

But the interdependence, needs to be combined with independence. It should be the free choice of mature human beings that participate, knowing that helping and supporting others, is not only the right thing to do, but is also important for your own self-realisation, personal growth and happiness.

… and it will prevent loneliness.

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Author: Karl Ekdahl

International public health leader and creativity blogger.

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