Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Causes of Loneliness of Those Afflicted with Life-Threatening Illnesses

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Causes of Loneliness of Those Afflicted with Life-Threatening Illnesses

Article excerpt

The pain of loneliness is a universal social phenomenon, which is intensified by a diagnosis of a terminal illness. This study investigated the causes of loneliness as perceived by Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients, those diagnosed with cancer, and the general population. Three hundred and twenty-nine MS patients, 315 cancer patients, and 391 participants from the general population answered a 29-item questionnaire. Results indicated that with the exception of personal inadequacies and developmental deficits, those afflicted with MS and cancer perceived the causes of their loneliness to be significantly different from those of the general population. Men and women in each population differed significantly in their perception of loneliness.

Ornish (1998) stated at the very beginning of his book Love & Survival: "Our survival depends on the healing power of love, intimacy, and relationships. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. As individuals. As communities. As a culture. Perhaps even as a species" (p.1). Weil (1997) asserted that the human species is highly social, a communal animal which is meant to live in families, tribes, and communities, and when we lack those connections we suffer. However, our western industrialized society glorifies individualism and independence and fosters a spirit of "every man to himself. Weil further maintained that many people pride themselves on their independence and seem habitually to distance themselves from others. Some may indulge in isolation as a defensive strategy possibly as a consequence of emotional pain, while others may never have learned how to connect meaningfully to anyone beyond themselves. Kohut (1977) asserted that establishing and maintaining relatedness to others is a pervasive human concern, believing that "through interpersonal interactions people survive develop and grow" (Hagerty, Williams, Coyne, & Early, 1996; p. 235).

This connectedness to others is so important that its nature affects the bio-psycho-social process that influences behavior and promotes or impairs health. Prior studies have focused on the role of social support in relation to both physical and mental health (Cohen & Syme, 1985; Ganters & Victor, 1988; House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988). Other studies explored the effects of loneliness on health (Lynch, 1979; Russell, Cutrona, Rose, & Yurko, 1984). Ornish (1998) reviewed numerous studies that suggested that "anything that promotes a sense of love and intimacy, connection and community, is healing" (p. 14).


The term "cancer" is actually a generic, all-encompassing label which refers to over 100 different diseases (Alien, 1998). Cancer describes the process in which cells in the body grow in an uncontrolled and unregulated manner which results in tumors. Tumors invade and damage tissues and interfere with the normal functioning of the tissue region. They then may metastasize throughout the body and eventually bring about death (Kangas, Henry & Bryant, 2002). "There can be no doubt that the diagnosis of cancer must be a universally stressful life event and it is clearly associated with some increase in distress" (Koopman, Hermanson, Diamond, Angell & Spiegel, 1998, p. 101).

Singer (1983) asserted that because it is part of human nature to avoid pain, cancer patients and their families often experience tremendous difficulty relating to each other and working with the problem in a constructive way. Finally, as the cancer progresses, opportunities for social activities decrease due to disabilities caused by the disease (Bloom & Spiegel, 1984). Friedman, Florian, and Zernitsky-Shurka (1989) observed that approximately 50% of their 60 patients felt their loneliness was associated with illness or illness-related situations.


Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic illness. "It is a progressive, demyelinating disease of the central nervous system. Its ethology is still unknown, and there is no clue or predictably effective treatment" (Soderberg, 2001; p. …

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