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Clark E. Moustakas

  1. 124 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub


Clark E. Moustakas

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LONELINESS...is an intrinsic condition of human existence. This study of existential loneliness reveals that—beyond the first pangs of desolation, out of the terror of despair—human beings have found a key to deeper insight and keen perception of the world in which they live.This absorbing book provides an impetus toward renewed awareness of self, challenging and encouraging the reader to make a penetrating investigation of his own solitude.

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The loneliness of modern life may be considered in two ways: the existential loneliness which inevitably is a part of human experience, and the loneliness of self-alienation and self-rejection which is not loneliness at all but a vague and disturbing anxiety.
Existential loneliness is an intrinsic and organic reality of human life in which there is both pain and triumphant creation emerging out of long periods of desolation. In existential loneliness man is fully aware of himself as an isolated and solitary individual while in loneliness anxiety man is separated from himself as a feeling and knowing person.
Loneliness anxiety results from a fundamental breach between what one is and what one pretends to be, a basic alienation between man and man and between man and his nature.
Insidious fears of loneliness exist everywhere, nourished and fed by a sense of values and standards, by a way of life, which centers on acquisition and control. The emphasis on conformity, following directions, imitation, being like others, striving for power and status, increasingly alienates man from himself. The search for safety, order, and lack of anxiety through prediction and mastery eventually arouses inward feelings of despair and fears of loneliness. Unable to experience life in a genuine way, unable to relate authentically to his own nature and to other selves, the individual in Western culture often suffers from a dread of nothingness.
Why is it that so many individuals in modern life yearn for a fundamental relatedness to others but are unable to experience it? What is it that stands between man and man? Why is it that in face-to-face meetings man is unable to be spontaneous, truthful, direct with his fellow man? What makes so many people today act in opposition to their own natures, to their own desires and requirements? Why is self-estrangement and fear of loneliness so common in modern life? Margaret Wood in one of the few significant studies of loneliness, has asked, “What is there in us, or in the society of our time, that makes each of us a solitary individual, separate and apart, alone, yet needing others and needed by them?”{2}
Loneliness anxiety is a widespread condition in contemporary society. The individual no longer has an intimate sense of relatedness to the food he eats, the clothing he wears, the shelter which houses him. He no longer participates directly in the creation and production of the vital needs of his family and community. He no longer fashions with his own hands or from the desires of his heart. Modern man does not enjoy the companionship, support, and protection of his neighbors. He has been sharply cut off from primary groups and from family and kinship ties. He lives in an impersonal urban or suburban community where he meets others not as real persons but according to prescribed rules of conduct and prescribed modes of behavior. He strives to acquire the latest in comfort, convenience, and fashion. He works in a mechanized society, in which he is primarily a consumer, separated from any direct and personal contact with creation. Modern man is starving for communion with his fellow man and with other aspects of life and nature.
The fear of loneliness is an acute problem today because man has lost his world and he has lost his experience of neighborliness and community life. He experiences a feeling of alienation from the human world about him and he suffers from a corroding feeling of estrangement.{3}
Without intensive ties which have genuine meaning, modern man maintains an essential anonymity in society and in his community. Associations often are on a contractual basis and the person is treated as an object or thing or commodity. The individual fulfills his role in order to attain a higher reward, not because there is intrinsic value in being one’s self, but because there is an economic value toward which one is directed. With advances in production, with the development of mechanical and automatic devices, with the change from rural to urban living, with the emphasis on making others’ services indispensable, man has become increasingly competitive, exploitative, status conscious, and suspicious of his neighbor. He seeks group adjustment rather than group solidarity and enters into relations on the basis of formal agreements and contracts rather than trust. In modern life, much social interaction is between surface figures or ghosts rather than real persons.
Modern man lives without a personal world in which he has meaningful and enduring ties. The problem of this loss of world is not simply one of lack of interpersonal relations or lack of communion with one’s fellows. Rollo May explains alienation, as follows:
Underlying the economic, social and psychological aspects of alienation can be found a profound common denominator, namely, the alienation which is the ultimate consequence of four centuries of the outworking of the separation of man as subject from the objective world. This alienation has expressed itself for several centuries in Western man’s passion to gain power over nature, but now shows itself in an estrangement from nature and a vague, unarticulated, and half-suppressed sense of despair of gaining any real relationship with the natural world, including one’s own body.{4}
The separation of self from others and from nature constitutes the primary condition of loneliness anxiety in modern societies. The unhappiness, misery, fakery, pretense, the surface meetings, the failure to find genuine human contact often result in a fear and dread of loneliness.
Elder citizens in our society are particularly affected by the social and cultural changes and by the separation, urbanization, alienation, and automation in modern living. There is no longer a place for old age, no feeling of organic belonging, no reverence or respect or regard for the wisdom and talent of the ancient. Our elder citizens so often have feelings of uselessness, so often experience life as utterly futile. Old age is fertile soil for loneliness and the fear of a lonely old age far outweighs the fear of death in the thinking of many people.{5} Loss of friends and death of contemporaries are realities. The mourning and deep sense of loss are inevitable but the resounding and lasting depression which results and the emptiness and hopelessness are all a measure of the basic loneliness anxiety of our time.
Modern man is plagued with the vague, diffuse fear of loneliness. He goes to endless measures, takes devious and circuitous pathways to avoid facing the experience of being lonely. Perhaps the loneliness of a meaningless existence, the absence of values, convictions, beliefs, and the fear of isolation are the most terrible kind of loneliness anxiety. This is the message in Balzac’s The Inventor’s Suffering:
But learn one thing, impress it upon your mind which is still so malleable: man has a horror of aloneness. And of all kinds of aloneness, moral aloneness is the most terrible. The first hermits lived with God, they inhabited the world which is most populated, the world of the spirits. The first thought of man, be he a leper or a prisoner, a sinner or invalid, is: to have a companion of his fate. In order to satisfy this drive which is life itself, he applies all his strength, all his power, the energy of his whole life.
Loneliness anxiety in pathologic extremes is not rare in our society. It indicates a serious disturbance in health, often in the form of a bland existence. It is a type of chronic illness which debilitates the person and stifles any emergence of self or realization of capacities and talents. It is an exceedingly unpleasant, driving experience, resulting from inadequate fulfillment of the need for human intimacy—beginning in the early years with a failure to establish rich contact with the living, extending to the frustration of the need for tenderness and protective care, and into adult years when there is a failure to meet others on a genuine, fundamental, loving basis.
Frieda Fromm-Reichmann has made intensive studies of the psychiatric problems of loneliness anxiety based on her efforts to break through the loneliness she experienced from an inability and failure to communicate with schizophrenic patients, and the glorious moment when intimate contact was established. She relates one significant encounter with loneliness in the following passages.
Perhaps my interest began with the young catatonic woman who broke through a period of completely blocked communication and obvious anxiety by responding when I asked her a question about her feeling miserable: She raised her hand with her thumb lifted, isolated from the four hidden fingers. I interpreted the signal with, “That lonely?,” in a sympathetic tone of voice. At this, her facial expression loosened up as though in great relief and gratitude, and her fingers opened. Then she began to tell me about herself by means of her fingers, and she asked me by gestures to respond in kind. We continued with this finger conversation for one or two weeks, and as we did so, her anxious tension began to decrease and she began to break through her non-communicative isolation; and subsequently she emerged altogether from her loneliness.{6}
Is there any more heart-rending communication of panic than the terrifying feelings of loneliness expressed in the poem of a schizophrenic patient?
And is there anyone at all?
And is
There anyone at all?
I am knocking at the oaken door...
And will it open Never now no more?
I am calling, calling to you—
Don’t you hear?
And is there anyone
And does this empty silence have to be?
And is there no-one there at all
To answer me?
I do not know the road—
I fear to fall
And is there anyone
At all?{7}
The emptiness of loneliness is revealed in this poem:
No one comes near here Morning or night.
The desolate grasses
Grow out of sight.
Only the wild hare
Strays, then is gone.
The Landlord is silence.
The tenant is dawn.{8}
In these poems, it is obvious that the individuals felt sharply cut-off, drastically isolated and abandoned. They saw no hope at all in restoring a sense of relatedness, in communing with nature and other persons...

Table des matiĂšres

  1. Title page