Friday, August 26, 2011

Description and Interpretation of Loneliness

Taken from my doctoral dissertation "Loneliness and Lived Experiences of Elderly Individuals Living Independently: Hermeuneutic Phenomenological Approach.
Rev. Dr. Peter Abas

A State of No Direction

Loneliness is like losing my path of where I am going. It is a searching kind of experience.

A feeling of being lost.
Four participants in my study described their loneliness as feeling lost; there is no literature that speaks directly to this experience of loneliness. Feeling lost occurs when other people are not able to help to give the participant a sense of understanding and meaning. According to Adrian, a sense of loss is created from being alone. He stated, “When my wife died, my emotions were unclear and I did not know which way to turn.” People are often used to depending on others to help them complete their daily tasks. This quote by Sonia validates the previous statement, “after my husband passed away, I was lost and burdened with many tasks.” People gain a sense of identity by being around other people. If one is lonely and no others are around to support him/her, he/she often loses his/her sense of identity. According to Sandra, “since all my children are gone, and I have been left alone, I don’t know who I am anymore.” Confusion precedes feeling absolutely lost because there is, in general, no maintenance of the sense of identity or the sense of self. In summary, these quotes serve as a support for the incidental theme of feeling lost, but there was no existing literature about this subject matter.

It is difficult to lose someone (her husband). Confusion hits me very much. I am stuck and need direction. –Josephine-

A feeling of confusion.
Another incidental theme that is not directly mentioned in literature is the feeling of confusion. There were six participants who mentioned this feeling of confusion in their descriptions. One piece of literature did mention something about this emotion, however, the reference speaks more specifically about “identity confusion”. Salder and Johnson (1980) stated: “The experience of social loneliness is often quite complex. Consider, for example, the problem of identity confusion which may be an integral part of the social dimension of loneliness” (p. 53). In contrast the participants in this study were addressing in this study confusion about being alone and the inability to handle chores in their daily lives. Alice also sees that “loneliness is similar to getting out of confusion and searching for direction.” Once very functional in their everyday lives, these participants were becoming aware of the fact that they were beginning to become confused about doing things they once did automatically. Adrian states, “…now that she (his wife) is gone, many things, I once knew how to do are confusing to me.” Sonia adds, “After my husband died, many things that I was capable to do have since confused, me totally.” Sometimes, the end result was even incapacitation to the extent that others had to become involved in order to achieve a functional lifestyle. This, then, can be described as having feelings of confusion, due to this predominant and underlying inability to rationalize and discern.
I am trying to understand my situation better; this is loneliness for me because there is no one who truly empathizes.-Vicky-

A feeling of lack of understanding.
The incidental theme of the feeling of a lack of understanding is very prominent among the participants’ descriptions. There were six participants who described feeling a lack of understanding. It was very clear that their descriptions were based on their lived other components of lived experiences. The participants looked into their inner selves and assessed that nobody understood their situations. Sonia emphatically states, “unfortunately, family members’ lack of understanding makes me feel lonely.” In addition to the previous statement, Jessica offered a similar testimony. “When others do not understand my experience it is a lonely feeling for me.” She adds, “It is just a matter of knowing that this is my life and I need to have a direction.
There is no literature that corroborates this incidental theme, thus, it is another incidental theme that is worth researching in an in-depth way. The need for more in-depth research is underscored by the frequency with which the participants mentioned this in their descriptions. In this study, not being understood has been identified as the initial feeling of loneliness.

Losing the natural balance of psychological well-being has been proven to be precipitated by feelings of loneliness due to the three incidental themes described in this section. First, feeling that one is lost gives that person a helpless feeling and frustrates attempts at recalling previously learned abilities and behaviors. Next, feeling confused brings about a concern that it is important to be able to “get right” with the world so that the course can be re-charted. But when confused, there seems to be no where to turn. Lastly, trying to convey the lost and confused state to others poses the problem of then becoming greatly misunderstood, thus leading to the inevitable lonely feeling that sets in and becomes deep-seated and constant. Generally, “a state of no direction” is the end result of the incidental themes that occur while these persons experienced loneliness.

In concluding this section, it is noteworthy to discuss the fact that there is evidence of a lack of corroborative literature available when addressing some of these incidental themes that were used to describe loneliness. In particular, it seemed that the more depth these incidental themes possessed, the less corroborating literature there was available on that particular theme. It demonstrates how difficult it is to fathom the words spoken, but it is ironically very easy to empathize with the feelings expressed. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to chronicle situational feelings in documentation format without losing their total meanings. When listening to the participants explore the feelings of being lost, for example, the term “lost”, took on an array of nuances when utilized in these various interviews. Corroborative literature, however, did not exist pertinent to the term lost. As discussed previously, inner suffering is almost impossible to quantify or document because of its extreme profundity. Likewise, the feeling of being overwhelmed is also too broad a topic to describe because of the range of problematic situations that could be included in the overwhelming situations. All in all, these specific incidental themes have proven to be the area of greatest concern in the ongoing study of loneliness in that the need has emerged for additional study in these individual areas of the characteristics of loneliness. In the following section the area of interpretation will be explained and evaluated relative to the responses of these participants.

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