Loneliness is a condition that arises when the social relationships we have do not live up to our needs. It can be quantitative, that we do not have enough social relationships to cover our social needs, or it can be qualitative, if we have social relationships that do not live up to the quality demands we have – for example, if we are surrounded by a lot of people we call friends, but with whom we cannot share our innermost thoughts and feelings.

In the earlier stages of evolution, human beings only survived by remaining in packs. It can be compared to a school of small fish that, when threatened by a predator, swim tightly together, where the outermost fish constantly swim towards the middle of the group, thereby making it difficult for the predator to attack.

Even though in Denmark today there are not many outer dangers and predators that we must be protected from, we still have the need to be a part of a community. Our brains shift automatically to a condition of self-preservation when we feel socially isolated. That means that we – often completely subconsciously – become a bit more defensive and focus more on ourselves when we feel lonely.

Brain research has shown that the brains of lonely people are more likely to see the negative than the positive in social relations, which can lead to a vicious cycle where we pull away from social situations because we think that they are bad for us.

When loneliness is as taboo as it still is among young people, it can be very difficult to break the vicious cycle. When loneliness is taboo, it can be difficult to admit to ourselves that we feel lonely. People can be very good at putting up a façade and pretending that everything is okay, because who wants to feel like they are different?

Loneliness can be compared to the signal the brain sends when it experiences hunger or thirst. Where hunger is the signal that one should eat something, loneliness is the signal that one should seek out a social group. It is damaging to ignore the feeling of hunger, and it is equally dangerous to ignore the feeling of loneliness. When we ignore the feeling of loneliness, it can have physical and mental consequences, and loneliness can be difficult to get out of.

The American psychologist John Cacioppo has carried out research on loneliness and has researched its consequences. You can read more about it by following this link: http://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/09/do_you_feel_lonely/