You would certainly expect a POW to suffer from extreme loneliness in the confines of their prison cells but a recent study found that they may endure a different kind of loneliness when they finally come home. Israeli researchers Jacob Y. Stein and Rivka tuval-Mashiach of Bar Ilan University recently revealed their conclusions after examining the narratives of a group of Israeli veterans who were ex-prisoners-of-war (POWs) and/or who suffered from PTSD caused by military combat.
They discovered that the ‘core of isolation’ felt by both groups was qualitatively different than those who had not undergone severe ongoing trauma. They characterized this unique form of suffering as ‘experiential loneliness’. Despite deep emotional and social bonds to family and friends, these veterans yearned to have their experiences understood, and become even more withdrawn from loved ones when they failed to grasp the enormity of his/her special pain.
Loneliness significantly impacts both the mental and physical health of everyone affected by it. Some of its many risks include:
• Depression and suicide
• Cardiovascular disease and stroke
• Increased stress levels
• Decreased memory and learning
• Antisocial behavior
• Poor decision-making
• Alcoholism and drug abuse
• The progression of Alzheimer’s disease
• Altered brain function
Their extraordinary circumstances make it almost impossible for anyone who has not endured similar treatment as hostages or battlefield combatants to comprehend. They reintegrate into society and civilian life with a distinct sense of unreality.
This is why so many veterans find solace in openly communicating with others who have survived similar traumas. A myriad of resources are available to the veterans in the U.S. who want to find an understanding group but a good place to start can be found at: http://maketheconnection.net/resources
Loved ones who want to help should remember not to take a veteran’s emotional distance too personally and exercise the patience to allow them to re-enter society at their own pace. However, it should be noted that one ten-year study indicated that loneliness may actually be contagious. Fifty-two percent (52%) of respondents close to someone experiencing loneliness were more likely to be lonely themselves.
John Cacippo, a University of Chicago psychologist and one of the top loneliness experts, provides a few tips to overcome loneliness:
1. Recognize that loneliness is a signal that something in your life needs to change.
2. Identify the effects that loneliness has on your life, both physically and mentally.
3. Get outside of yourself. Volunteer for community services that provide you with opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships.
4. Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share your attitudes, interests and values.
5. Expect the best. Rather than expecting rejections, focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in social interactions.
Loneliness is a universal condition that can affect us all but no one should suffer its debilitating effects without understanding that it can be treated with the help of others. Reaching out to others who share your feelings is the first step.