Monday, 21 October 2013

The Stigmatism of Loneliness in the UK

BBC poll last week suggested that half the adults in the UK experience a significant sense of loneliness some or all of the time.

A blog was posted on facebook several times last week by various friends of mine.  '7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook' was as dull and cynical as it sounds.  And long.  Really long.

To summarise, 'waitbutwhy' suggested that there were seven deadly 'status' sins committed on facebook.  People posting these statuses were categorised as being motivated by one or more of the following: narcissism, image crafting, the wish to induce jealousy, attention seeking/craving and loneliness.

I felt quite sad at this categorisation of people, especially the sense of criticising people for being lonely.

Listening to Clare Balding's Good Morning Sunday show on Radio 2, she raised the issue that being alone is stigmatised in the UK.  This is strange given that a third of us now live alone, whether through choice or circumstance.

My mum was widowed when she was in her mid 50s.  She married my dad when she was 19.  She had no idea how to exist without her other half.  I don't mean she wasn't socially and economically capable but emotionally, spiritually her heart wasn't in it.  What was the point if my dad wasn't there.

It took her nearly ten years to get the point, to get comfortable with living again.

She felt the stigma of being a woman on her own.  She felt people weren't interested, as if her right to exist was now called into question.  With bereavement comes the sense of being a burden on everyone.

She found a route through her loneliness, which involved all the things that make up life for everyone - through friends, through family, through a job, activities in the local community, through radio and television.

I lived with my mum for a few months a couple of years ago.  My head was full of my own exciting and changing life. I would run in and out of the house much like teenagers are fabled to do only probably with more attitude, cos, like, I'm an adult right?

One evening I was dashing through the house, running to get a cuppa and go to my room to log back on and respond to some emails that my 'important' job 'needed' me to attend to when I suddenly stopped.  I got us both drinks and sat down on the sofa opposite mum.

She looked shocked that I didn't have to go do something else. She looked pleased that I had chosen to sit down and chat, to ask questions, to engage with her as a friend, keen to know her thoughts and share opinions.

Our relationship changed that day.  There was something in that look, in the almost grateful reaction to my having the time that provided an unflattering mirror on myself.

I'm still pretty rubbish at being at and staying in touch with my family and my friends, especially face to face, but I know how important it is and I strive to be better at it.

We're sociable creatures, even the more solitary ones amongst us, and loneliness is not something we should be criticising people for.  Maybe people making those 'sinful' facebook status updates want attention, maybe they are lonely, maybe they feel they've failed in life and want to show a better image of themselves.

I'm not sure why showing it on facebook is any different really to demonstrating those things in real life, barring the medium.  That and the fact you've accepted their friend request/the ability to see everything that is posted on their wall.  In which case, who really is the narcissist?

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