Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Loneliness of People with Physical Disabilities

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Loneliness of People with Physical Disabilities

Article excerpt

Physical disability has a profound effect on one's quality of life, social intercourse and emotional well-being. Loneliness has been found to be a frequent companion of those afflicted with chronic illnesses that result in physical disabilities. This study examined the qualitative aspects of that loneliness. Five hundred and ninety-three participants volunteered to answer a 30-item yes/no questionnaire. Those with physical disabilities were compared to the nondisabled (general population), and then further divided into five homogeneous subgroups (i.e., those with multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, Parkinson's, arthritis, and "other" disabilities) which were compared to each other and to the general population sample who are healthy and not chronically ill. Results indicate that the loneliness of those with physical disabilities differs significantly from that of the general population.

Keywords: loneliness, physical disabilities, chronic illness, social isolation

"Our relationships with others are the keystones of society. In some instances our lives depend on them. Our encounters with others run the gamut from casual acquaintances to the intimacy of conjugal unions. These encounters affirm our existence, foster growth, help ensure stability, and give us a sense of place and purpose."

(Robinson, West, & Woodworth, 1995, p.99).

Social alienation is, unfortunately, a common experience at the beginning of the 21st century. As Pappano (2001) so clearly observed "We are losing touch. And we don't even realize it" (p.1). Stivers (2004) echoes this view, and suggests that people's desires to talk to people they hardly know, to bare all on TV shows, and seek crowds in shopping malls just so they are not alone, are clear indications that the fear of being alone is terrifying to those who are lonely.

Loneliness is a painful experience that is, commonly, not embraced and which has consequences that are detrimental to one's emotional, physical and spiritual well-being (Ernst & Cacioppo, 1999; McWhirter, 1990). Lonely individuals tend to exhibit negative intrapersonal traits like pessimism (Davis, Hanson, Edson, & Ziegler, 1992; Ernst & Cacioppo, 1999). Loneliness was found to be negatively correlated with happiness (Booth, Bartlett, & Bohnsock, 1992) and life satisfaction (Riggio, Watring, & Throckmorton, 1993). It has been linked to such maladies as depression, hostility, alcoholism, poor self-concept, and psychosomatic illnesses (McWhirter, 1990). Recent studies suggest that a large proportion of the population feel lonely frequently (Rokach & Brock, 1997a).

Current research points out the pervasiveness of loneliness and its debilitating effects (Jones, Rose, & Russell, 1990; Rokach & Brock, 1997b). Its pervasiveness is evident in its identification as a frequent presenting complaint to telephone hotlines, college psychological clinics, and youth and marriage counseling services (Jones et al., 1990). The social importance of loneliness is also indicated by the vast amount of research investigating its effects on emotional, physical and behavioral problems (Jones et al.). Weil (1997) asserted that human beings are highly social, communal animals who are meant to live in families, tribes, and communities, and when we lack those connections, we suffer. Kohut (1977) noted that establishing and maintaining relatedness to others is a pervasive human concern, as we tend to believe that interpersonal interactions will promote survival, growth, and personal development (Hagerty, Williams, Coyne, & Early, 1996).

In today's world, with all the technological advances such as computers, digital videos, cell phones and email, there is less time and opportunity to connect with other people on a personal level, with the physical world, and with ourselves. Pappano (2001) observed that as a society, we face what he termed a collective loneliness, an empty feeling that is caused not from lack of human interaction, but from the loss of meaningful interaction. …

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