Correlates of Loneliness among Midwestern Adolescents

Article excerpt

Loneliness is one of the most pervasive of human experiences, yet it is very difficult to define. Medora and Woodward (1986) defined it as a response to the absence of an adequate positive relationship to persons, places, or things. Peplau and Perlman (1982) referred to loneliness as the psychological state that results from discrepancies between one's desire and one's actual relationships. According to Rook (1984), "loneliness is defined as an enduring condition of emotional distress that arises when a person feels estranged from, misunderstood, or rejected by others and/or lacks appropriate social partners for desired activities, particularly activities that provide a sense of social integration and opportunities for emotional intimacy".

Few adolescents escape the pain of loneliness. In fact, many theorists and investigators suggest that loneliness is widespread and especially intense during adolescence (Brennan, 1982; Gaev, 1976; Weiss, 1973; Woodward, 1988; Woodward & Frank, 1988). According to Woodward (1988), adolescence is frequently characterized by alienation, solitude, loneliness, and distress.

The importance of loneliness in the study of affective disorders among adolescents cannot be overemphasized. It has been linked to drug abuse and alcoholism (Pittel, 1971), adolescent delinquency (Brennan & Auslander, 1979), and suicide (Diamant & Windholz, 1981; Trout, 1980).

Sullivan (1953) theorized that loneliness is an integral component of all psychopathology, and that the struggle to find relief from loneliness is a central motivating factor in much of human behavior. Fromm-Reichmann (1959) asserted that understanding loneliness will lead to a better understanding of the etiology of most mental illnesses.

A review of the literature suggests that loneliness is correlated with numerous variables. Beck (1967) reported that feelings of loneliness, sadness, and apathy were significantly related to depression in the subjects he studied. The relationship between loneliness and depression has been substantiated with adolescents (Moore & Schultz, 1983) and college students (Anderson & Arnoult, 1985; Anderson & Harvey, 1988; Ouellet & Joshi, 1986; Rich & Bonner, 1987; Wilbert & Rupert, 1986).

A number of studies have documented that loneliness is negatively related to self-esteem among adolescents (Brennan, 1982; Woodward & Frank, 1988), and one documented this relationship with college students (Goswick & Jones, 1981). Lonely people frequently feel worthless, incompetent, and unlovable.

The relationship between loneliness and family strengths has not specifically been examined among adolescents. Goswick and Jones (1981) reported that one variable implicated in the experience of loneliness among college students, but not among high school subjects, was parental disinterest. Brennan and Auslander (1979) identified family; school, and peer settings as the major variables associated with loneliness and interpersonal dissatisfaction among adolescents.

The relationship between loneliness and parent-adolescent communication has not been substantiated. However, Mahon (1982) and Franzoi and Davis (1985) found an inverse relationship between self-disclosure and loneliness among adolescents.

Several studies with adolescent subjects have found a significant negative relationship between age and loneliness (Mahon, 1983; Woodward, 1988). Brennan and Auslander (1979), however, reported no appreciable relationship between the two variables.

Numerous investigators have examined loneliness and gender among adolescents. Females have reported substantially higher loneliness scores than males (Brennan & Auslander, 1979; Medora & Woodward, 1986; Woodward & Frank, 1988).

To date, only a limited number of studies have empirically examined the nature of loneliness in adolescent populations; much of the available data on loneliness concerns college students. …