Loneliness and Body Language

Loneliness and Isolation. Five years ago I started a post with the words, "I am lonely today." Have you felt that way recently? As I work on the techno impressions chapter for my new first impressions book I reread what I said about the cost of loneliness. Isolation and lack of community are so much a part of our fast paced lives. Life can be rich and meaningful. It seems amazing to me that I could have ever felt lonely even when I had so many people in my life that I loved. The original post was lost on this blog when I switched host providers so here it is again.

I am lonely today. I got up and got on my computer like so many people hoping to download emails from friends. Sure enough there were emails from friends meeting me tonight for dinner and comedy improv competition and other friends that want to meet for dinner and movie tomorrow night and one from a girlfriend who was just checking in. But I am still lonely. I am sitting at my computer in my big old four bedroom two story house, all by myself. Well there is Bo, the wonder dog, curled up at my feet, but I am so lonely I am resisting the urge to belt out the old 70’s song ALL BY MYSELF. That’s lonely. I don’t think that we were meant to be so lonely and isolated.

We spend so much time working to get the big old car and house and live in suburbs where we can’t hear our neighbors and have to drive to get anywhere…we co-exist rather than live in community. Richard Schwartz, a psychiatrist who co-authored the book, "Overcoming Loneliness in Everyday Life," with his wife, Jacqueline Olds, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School says, "Our notion of success is being able to purchase what you need and not be obligated to anyone,'' I Want to be obligated to people. I have that with my wonderful friends. I want someone to expect things of me. I want someone to expect me to be there when they call, to love hearing their voice, to enjoy seeing their smile, to think that there company is a delight. I want someone to miss me when they have not seen me in a while. I want intimacy.

Last week I missed my Thursday night discussion group and they called me from the restaurant to find out where I was. That felt so good. It is strangely comforting to be missed. Yet I think we may fear the opposite in our romantic relationship. We may fear becoming so close to someone that we will miss them when they are not there. That is my fear. Or if we allow them to get close to us they will expect things from us that we don’t want to give. Something that is not a problem for me but I know is from experiences with others. And both those fears keep us lonely.

Now you may have read my article about my falling down the stairs weight loss adventure and think, hey you say you are getting hit on all the time, what is with the loneliness? You don’t think I actually follow through with any of those grocery store and parking lot flirting do you? No I just avert my gaze, look down and smile tensely. Romantic Relationships are scary. And even when we are in one, fear can make people in them get very close and then fear that intimacy. Now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with nonverbal communication. Everything. Because when we are scared we respond with our primal Freeze Flight Fight instinctual brain. Our neocortex with all its beautiful language is not accessed. So we stop talking and use nonverbal actions to communicate. We may communicate with silence, distancing and time. I have experienced the rubber band stretch that Mars and Venus relationship Guru John Grey talks about. Romances where the man gets very close then gets scared and stretches out and away like a rubber band then snaps back again and in again and out again. I have wanted to say “It will be OK, we can help each other through our fears.” But fear stops us and we stay silent.

Here is research on the topic.

One of the most fascinating revelations of the last decade is that emotions change the cells in our body. Just as exercise can change your molecular pathways so can emotion. Anger, stress and loneliness are signals for “starvation” and chronic danger. Research shows that lying on the coach watching TV melts our muscles not just because we aren’t jogging but because it isolates us. And positive emotions that come from loving other, building friendships and community actually trigger process in our body that help us build our bodies. Loneliness “melts” our bodies as surely as sedentary living. Optimism, love and community trigger the process of growth, building our bodies, hearts and minds. I am ready to do some growing.

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at http://pattiwood.net/. Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at http://youtube.com/user/bodylanguageexpert.