I have been reading an article in AARP’s magazine about loneliness. As I read it some of the things about lonely people sounded like some things I read about a year ago about introverts. I have been reading a bit again today about extravert and introvert. The article I read a while back just talked about how people who identify with those traits deal with certain things. Now reading about some of the health risks associated with loneliness has me taking a closer look at the similarities and differences.
The thing that got me looking at them similarly was the loneliness article saying people who are lonely tend to want to deal with people at a little deeper level. This was one of the traits that old article mentioned about introverts. I read the introvert/extravert article long enough ago I can’t even remember where I found it so I am going from a somewhat faulty memory. I remember shortly after reading it having another article come through my reading that said introverts feel physically drained by the small talk at gatherings where that is the only level people interact. The thing I remember the most is it saying extroverts also feel that drain of energy, just not as strongly.
It has me wondering why introverts don’t show the signs of inflammation that loneliness brings out in people. What I feel is going on, and this is just based on my years of living, not any formal training or study, is we all want to connect with people. Those connections come at different levels and through different means, but we really don’t do well as a species when alone. Lonely people need to make those connections, but when they feel lonely, they don’t readily make those connections so they can stay lonely even when surrounded by people.
When I’ve had time the last couple of days I’ve tried to find information on introvert/extrovert comparisons. One article (Why Is Socializing Exhausting for Introverts? Here’s the Science by Jenn Granneman) I found that was probably published near the same time as the one I read but had some additional information. It reports a theory that introverts don’t have as active of a dopamine system as extroverts. I think it might be better to actually see if other activities may release dopamine in introverts rather than just saying their system is less active. Of course the author was just reporting what some researchers had theorized based on their studies.
One thing I know from many articles about sex is that sexual activity causes releases of dopamine. Since the first article I read mentioned loneliness can manifest along with inflammation I tried to find information on relationships between inflammatory responses and dopamine. Again I found an article about a recent theory but not about a study (How chronic inflammation may drive down dopamine and motivation). Studies and expertise from Emory Health Sciences have led to the theory reported on Science Daily’s website.
When I started with AARP’s publication (I found it online here: Is There a Medical Cure for Loneliness? by Lynn Darling) I noticed a mention of over the counter drug naproxen as part of a study being done. They found loneliness was related to pain and used acetaminophen to deal with that and noticed some changes. So they are now going to use anti-inflammatory naproxen to see what it brings about. My guess is the theory that loneliness is connected to an inflammatory response will be the result of the research.
So what I take away from the reading I’ve been doing is a bit of journey. It seems loneliness causes a pain and/or inflammatory response. These in turn interfere with dopamine levels in our bodies. Inflammation also causes other problems such as earlier death, cardiovascular problems, etc. Though sexual activity can help increase dopamine, I don’t think it is a cure for loneliness. A person can masturbate to orgasm and get a bit of dopamine but still be feeling lonely. Having a connection with other people is part of being healthy. Even if that connection takes the form of talking with people about model railroads, or driving trails in a Jeep, or some other thing. We need connections. Once those connections are made, masturbation may be enough for sexual activity. People can make those connections through engaging in sexual activity with others, or just with one special partner. We are complex animals.
I feel being sex positive means I will accept any ethical sexual behavior someone participates in, whether I want to participate with them or not. I think the worst thing a society can do to someone is isolate them. There are many people who want to create a “pure” society. Whether that means purely one color of skin, purely one way to express sexuality, purely one economic theory, etc. This is an attempt to take power and the punishment they enforce to begin with is isolation. When those societies have been given enough power in the past they usually move on to dealing with differences in ways that amount to genocide.
The better path is to embrace differences. Diverse populations deal with problems better than “pure” societies. Diverse populations usually cope with disease better than “pure” populations. Diverse ideas can find solutions to problems that “pure” cultures may not even think of.
The cruelest thing that can be done to someone is to isolate them. If you are feeling lonely, find a way to make some connections with people. If you know of someone who is alone, slowly, politely, show them you accept them for who they are, and make a connection with them. The more we learn to accept a diversity of ideas and people the stronger we become as a society.