Social Isolation

For Introverts, enjoy spending lots of time alone might be a relief, and social interaction makes them feel drained, whereas extroverts prefer the company of others and are recharged through social interaction.

But is it always good to stay in solitude? Social isolation—the absence of social relationships—is typically considered unhealthy when people spend excessive time alone, particularly when they no longer benefit from it. Socially isolating can mean staying home for days, not chatting with friends or acquaintances, and generally avoiding contact with other people.

Social isolation may be indicated when a person’s avoidance of social interaction:

  • Persists for an extended period of time
  • Is a result of depression, shame, or low self-worth
  • Is associated with abandonment fears or social anxiety
  • Proves detrimental to important social or professional relationships

Social isolation itself is not a diagnosis, but it can be a symptom of depression, social anxiety, or agoraphobia. Other conditions that impair social skills can lead to isolation, though not necessarily by choice.

Emotional Isolation

Emotional isolation can occur as a result of social isolation, or when a person lacks any close confidant or intimacy relationship. Even though relationships are necessary for our well-being, they can trigger negative feelings and thoughts, and emotional isolation can act as a defence mechanism to protect a person from emotional distress. When people are emotionally isolated, they keep their feelings completely to themselves, are unable to receive emotional support from others, feel “shut down” or numb, and are reluctant or unwilling to communicate with others, except perhaps for the most superficial matters.

Emotional isolation can occur within an intimate relationship, particularly as a result of infidelity, abuse, or other trust issues. One or both partners may feel alone within the relationship, rather than supported and fulfilled. Identifying the source of the distress and working with a therapist to improve communication and rebuild trust can help couples re-establish their emotional bond.

How Can Therapy Help Isolation?

Therapy can help address the emotional and psychological issues that lead to isolating behaviours. Sometimes isolation is not a matter of choice; some people may report wanting to have friends and engage emotionally but are unable to do so out of fear or because they do not know how to proceed. In addition, many people battle a sense of isolation during major life transitions, such as when someone loses an intimate partner or close confidant, and others may experience isolation simply because they are physically isolated by living in remote areas. In any case, feelings of isolation can be severely distressing, and therapy can help a person develop social skills and learn to manage symptoms. In fact, the therapeutic process itself provides an opportunity to establish trust with and experience the emotional support of another person, all of which will help a person to live a less isolated existence.

 

References:

  1. Hawthorne, G., PhD. (2008). Perceived social isolation in a community sample: Its prevalence and correlates with aspects of peoples’ lives. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 43(2), 140-50. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00127-007-0279-8
  2. De Jong Gierveld, J., van Tilburg, T., Dykstra, P. A. (2006). Loneliness and Social Isolation. In Vangelisti, A. and Perlman, D (Eds), Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships. (pp. 485-500). Retrieved from http://www.iscet.pt/sites/default/files/obsolidao/Artigos/Loneliness%20and%20Social%20Isolation.pdf