"Loneliness: Why it Happens and How to Overcome it"
by Tony Lake
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 6th September 2012I've had this book for maybe ten years now and finally got around to reading it. I guess that at around 100 pages it's not the length that has discouraged me in the past, but it's a remarkably compact book built around the idea that loneliness is a disease which attacks a person through their communication system, cutting them off from "mutual" communications with other people - that is, commnunication where all parties are engaged and take part in equal measure. Without mutuality, a person feels cut off from other people, unable to express their thoughts and feelings and feel understood and accepted by others; and the effect is that feel even less able to communicate, and even more cut off, in a kind of vicious cycle.
Tony Lake suggests that there are different categories of loneliness, varying by time-frame and degree. People can be lonely while knowing that their situation will only last for a short time (for example if their partner is away but is due to return), or they can become cut off over many years and almost completely lose their ability to communicate in a social setting. There are a various suggestions for these different situations, to either cope with short term loneliness, or attempt to address the longer term problem, and while the book shows its age in some of the discussions on meeting people (my copy dates from 1983 and thus predates the internet), the advice on body language seems timeless - and in fact makes great deal of sense when considering how to overcome the communication problems that arise from loneliness.
Aside from the concise description of what loneliness is (which I found profoundly insightful), I think the idea that has stayed with me the most is encapsulated in the phrase "people need people": we each need to be able to feel we're understood, known and valued by others. The "mutual behaviours" that Lake talks about are the mechanisms by which we communicate these things to each other. Crudely put, the solution comes in two parts, firstly how to meet other people, and then how to interact with them. Like any book, reading this won't end loneliness - but it does give some excellent insights into what it is, and how you might overcome it.