Loneliness – One of the many hazards of retirement

by | Jun 26, 2020

Loneliness: One of the many hazards of retirement

I recently read a fascinating article in The Economist, called ‘All the lonely people’. It was actually a review of two books that once again opened the debate on the difference between solitude and loneliness, a theme that the lockdown has brought sharply into focus.

It got me thinking once again about how retirement is a health hazard that few recognise or discuss. And one of the hazards is loneliness. But what is loneliness, and how does it differ from isolation and solitude?

Solitude is essentially a voluntary act, when a person wants to take time to be on their own. Isolation is to separate or quarantine and it has medical connotations. Loneliness, however, is an unpleasant emotional response to an unwanted lack of connection and intimacy.

Loneliness - one of the many hazards of retirement

Disengagement from our true self

So what’s the connection between loneliness and retirement? I would say it is ‘disengagement’, and I think this fits into three categories. The first is disengagement from our true self. 

When we retire, the world we knew vanishes, and we lose our sense of self. Who are we now? We are so unprepared for this change. We realise that the armour of who we are, our personality, is taken off and we now feel vulnerable and insecure. 

Dr Joe Dispenza talks about how we are addicted to being somebody; we’re addicted to being somebody because every time we have a thought, that thought releases neurochemicals into our mind and instructs the body to do whatever it has to do. Every time you have a thought those chemicals are released. So we are addicted to the way we live, to our relationships, and so on, and when these addictions are not fed, we have withdrawal symptoms and when you try to pull away, it’s going to pull back hard. 

Most retirees never get beyond this point and slowly slip into loneliness and isolation.

It need not end this way. It seems to me that at retirement, we have two choices, we can tiptoe to a quiet death or we can reinvent ourselves, by digging deep within us to discover our purpose, our passion, and potential. Life is a journey and our journey requires us to continue to grow, and if we choose not to grow, then naturally, we will die.

Disengagement from work

The second way that we disengage in retirement is from work. We have been fed this illusion that retirement should be a permanent vacation, with no responsibilities and plenty of fun and entertainment. 

Clearly, that’s a mirage. Our minds are constantly thinking. In fact our subconscious mind operates 24 hours a day from our date of birth to our date of death. So, if our minds are not focused on a creative, specific and positive goal, it will create and focus on destructive goals, such as fears and worries. 

Another reason why we must have a creative outlet or work is because our bodies require energy. We are made of 50 trillion cells according to the eminent cell biologist, Dr Bruce Lipton, and for example, our outer intestines have about 10 billion cells that need replenishing every 72 hours and to do that we have to be energetic; we have to be active, and that’s why the power of activity, not just physical but mental activity all contributes to our health.

Retirement is bad for our health on the basis that it actually doesn’t help our cells to replenish and this is the point about energy. So, we need to discover our purpose; we need to discover what we are passionate about, and then by tapping into these two, we discover our inner power, which opens us up to experience a renewed energy.

Retirement can make us disengage us from our friends causing loneliness

Disengagement from friends

The third way that we disengage in retirement is from our friends. As Brené  Brown says, “Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement”.

 But when we retire from work, many of us lose the friends we had there. Many do not recognise that retirement is a crisis, a turning point, and that these friends from work belong to our old life, and that we must now make a new life and make new friends. But how can we do that when we are in limbo, partly retired and partly working, so as to supplement income? We are in no man’s land or a twilight zone. We cannot grieve the past nor can we move forward. We are in the dangerous position of tiptoeing to a quiet death, unless we know what to do and we do something about it.

In the Economist article that prompted me to write this, it states that in 1900 just 5% of households comprised one person. Today a quarter do in America, along with a third in Britain, and perhaps half in Sweden. In Britain, a million older people say they routinely suffer from isolation. And sadly, most feel unable to admit their plight to friends and relatives. 

If we wish to avoid the loneliness of retirement, we are compelled to recreate and redefine a new life for ourselves, a life of passion, purpose and potential.

George Jerjian’s new flagship online course – “Dare to discover your purpose,” is available now.

George Jerjian
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