The medicine most of us hunger for does not come in a capsule or an injection. You won’t find it at most doctor’s offices, though perhaps you should. The order for it isn’t written on a prescription pad or called into the pharmacy. You won’t find it in hospitals, at least not the way you might expect.
But it’s there, in the hospitals and doctor’s offices, poking through the white coats and IV bags, if you know how to spot it.
What Is The Medicine?
It’s intimacy, not just the romantic kind, but the kind you can experience with anyone when two people tear down the walls so many of us build and open their hearts to each other.
Intimacy and soulful connection treat the pervasive loneliness many people experience, and the scientific literature has proven that social isolation and loneliness harm your health.
Lonely people have also been shown to have higher rates of heart disease, breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and suicidal thoughts. Loneliness even affects mortality rates after coronary artery bypass surgery. A Swedish study examining 1,290 patients undergoing heart surgery found that patients who agreed with the statement “I feel lonely” had significantly higher mortality rates post-operatively.
When people are sick, they are at their most vulnerable, and when we are at our most vulnerable, we have a potent opportunity to experience intimacy with others. Stripped of our masks, our egos, our sense of safety, and our comfort zone, we lie, like exposed nerves, ready to feel deeply. From this place of vulnerability, we have a choice. We can strap on our defenses, for fear of getting hurt, or we can use illness as an opportunity for intimacy, connection, and spiritual awakening.
How To Treat The Loneliness
Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers have the opportunity to play a healing role in alleviating loneliness in patients. The health care provider who says to the patient with cancer, “You will not go through this alone” and really means it arguably offers something more precious than surgery or chemotherapy.
And the team of ten BFFs who gather together wearing clown noses and spraying Silly String, as they help you celebrate cutting off and pulling out your hair before the chemo can complete the job are more valuable than any vitamin.
If you’re battling an illness, you won’t fully heal if you try to make the healing process a solo job. Yes, the body has an infinite capacity for self-repair. As demonstrated in the Spontaneous Remission Project, people have cured their own cancers, transformed themselves from HIV+ to HIV-, recovered from gunshot wounds to the head without treatment, and cured any number of “incurable” diseases. So yes, I believe you can heal yourself (and I’m writing a book that will be published in April 2013 with Hay House about all the scientific proof I’ve found that proves how this happens). But “healing yourself” is a bit of a misnomer. Because while healing yourself is an inside job and only you can do it, you can’t do it alone. It takes a village of people who will hold the sacred space for your self-healing journey.
Loneliness & Longevity
If you’re not sick, alleviating loneliness is preventative medicine. One study examining the people of Alameda County, California found that, in every age and sex category, people with the fewest social ties were 3 times more likely to have died over a 9 year period than those who reported the most social ties, even when you account for preexisting health conditions, socioeconomic status, smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, race, life satisfaction, physical activity, and use of preventive health services. Those with more social connections were even found to have lower rates of cancer.
So if you’re lonely and long to extend your life, what can you do?
How To Alleviate Loneliness
The key to alleviating loneliness is twofold. First, you must be willing to expose your imperfections, even when you feel pressured by society to be impossibly perfect. As Brene Brown teaches in The Gifts of Imperfection, intimacy comes from exposing your vulnerabilities, allowing people to see your imperfections, and bonding from the connection we feel with others who are imperfect like us.
Repressing the REAL YOU has been scientifically proven to make you sick, (being authentically vulnerable) and feeling seen and still loved when you expose your authentic self to another person is profoundly healing.
The second key is learning to keep your heart open, even in the face of serial heartbreak. So many of us have a knee jerk response to getting hurt that leads us to close our hearts in order to protect ourselves. By building walls, we erect barriers to intimacy, making it impossible for us to fully give or receive love from anyone, since these walls tend not to be selective. They’re all or nothing. When they’re erected, nobody fully gets inside them.
In order to attract true intimacy with friends, family members, and romantic partners, we must be willing to give people permission to break our hearts. When we’re not willing to get our hearts broken, we wind up safe, but lonely.
Do You Give People Permission To Break Your Heart?
Are you taking the medicine we all need? Do you feel intimate with the people in your life? Tell us your stories. I love hearing from you.
Always prescribing love,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities LissaRankin.com and OwningPink.com,author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary.