Home Interpersonal & Group Psychology Unconscious Dynamics The Wonder of Interpersonal Relationships III: Pushing Away to Loneliness from a Psychological and Existential Perspective

The Wonder of Interpersonal Relationships III: Pushing Away to Loneliness from a Psychological and Existential Perspective

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It might be surprising to note that the bridge between a sociological and psychological perspective on loneliness was built by Karl Marx. His concept of alienation allows us to move from the “alienating” work conditions of those employed by manufacturing firms to the “alienation” of our sense of self from any sense of purpose in life. We are “hollow” men and women who wander and work aimlessly in a world that is dictated by profit and power.

Our loneliness, from a Marxist perspective, resides in the sacrifice of our sense of ownerships for the labor in which we are engaged and the attendant sacrifice of meaningful relationships with other people with whom we work. The “wounded” father at the end of a day of meaningful labor wants to be alone with his newspaper, television and (in contemporary times) Internet (Osherson, 1986). He is alone even in his home surrounded by his family. Mothers have now joined in the path toward alienation and wounding as they too enter the alienating workforce.

Anomie and Loneliness

A related term was also introduced during the 19th Century that provides an additional bridge between a sociological and psychological perspective. This term is “Anomie”. First offered by the esteemed social observer, Emile Durkheim, in 1897, Anomie is a psychological (and societal) condition that is created by the shattering of traditional societal values, norms and structures. In a state of Anomie, we are cast adrift on a deep and stormy sea (Kierkegaard, 1980). Without the traditional “glue” that binds people together, we are adrift in our own isolating boat. There is no one to hold the rudder or bail out the water that splashes over the gunnels. While we never drown, we do face the storm all alone. It should come as no surprise that Durkheim first uses the term Anomie in his book on Suicide (Durkheim, 1897). With loneliness comes sustained despair. With sustained despair comes the desire to end one’s life.

Durkheim (1933/1893) identifies a second source of Anomie. This is the division of labor that came fully into force during the Industrial Era of the late 19th Century. Whereas members of those families who owned farms (or owned small private businesses) tended to do whatever it took to keep their enterprise running, the worker in steel mills, cotton mills and the early automobile factors were assigned to do one job and perform one operation. Assembly lines can into fashion with Henry Ford, and even large, mechanized farms require hired hands to do one or two specific tasks. Silos were formed in which specialized language, acronyms and alphabet soups were bandied–about which “outsiders” could never really understand. What after all do we do about the N.S.F.Q. requirements that must be observed if we are properly to operate the neospecificating thingamabob. Do any of us actually know what any of this means—other than a few folks residing in a specific, specialized silo?

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