The ‘Deadness’ of Isolation
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Waking up every day, only to feel empty or alone. Feeling separated from the world and yourself. Tired, losing the strength to smile at others, the loss of feeling alive. Distant, defeated, miserable, and alone. Surrounded by absolute darkness. Not having anyone to turn to. The feeling of longing to be included, have someone. The rise of low self-esteem.
No one wants to feel this way. No one wants to go through life thinking they don’t have anyone to rely on. However, this can be a grim reality for some. People who experience isolation feel like this every day. Even if they are physically surrounded by people, they can’t bring themselves to speak to anyone.
An isolated person experiences loneliness and deflated self-worth. Over time they can develop social anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns. In order to better understand isolation, we have to talk about social isolation and emotional isolation.
What is Social Isolation?
Social isolation is the absence of social relationships. It is distinct from solitude, which is simply the state of being alone. Social isolation can occur in solitude or within the vicinity of others. Solitude is often chosen but can be forced. It can be healthy, or unhealthy. Social isolation describes an unwanted, harmful experience. A person may be experiencing social isolation if they avoid social interaction because they feel ashamed or are depressed; spend extended periods alone; experience social anxiety or fear of abandonment at the idea of social interaction; have limited or superficial social contact; lack of important social and professional relations; develop severe distress or loneliness.
These are just a few of the many struggles people experience when battling social isolation.
What is Emotional Isolation?
Emotional isolation takes place when someone is unwilling or unable to open up about their feelings. They may be reluctant to discuss things that are bothering them in dread of being judged or rejected. Without emotional support, they start to feel numb or ‘shut down’. Emotional isolation can be a result of social isolation. However, this isn’t always the case. A person can feel emotionally isolated or distant despite having a large network of friends. In some instances, these relationships trigger negative feelings and memories. Sometimes, emotional isolation acts as a defense mechanism to protect someone from unnecessary distress or embarrassment.
Even in an intimate relationship, people can experience emotional isolation. One or both partners could feel alone in the relationship, instead of feeling supported and fulfilled. Trust issues, lack of communication, and abuse can cause someone to feel this way.
But is Isolation Related to How Old You Are?
It is. Research suggests that isolation is highest at both ends of the lifespan. It first surges in adolescence and young adulthood. When one feels confused, pressured, lost, and alone in the world. However, as you grow older, isolation will likely start to peak again. Spouses and loved ones die, mobility decreases, and it's harder to reach out for support.
Does Gender Affect Isolation?
The role of gender in isolation is complex. While studies show that men are more likely to feel isolated, they are less likely to admit to feeling lonely out of fear of being seen as vulnerable. Many researchers believe that this is a result of toxic masculinity.
Women can experience isolation due to toxic friendships, however, one of the leading causes of isolation is recovery from childbirth. Women are further isolated by the demand to achieve their pre-pregnancy bodies, breastfeeding, and the energy required to take care of a young infant. These factors can help exacerbate postpartum depression.
Isolation can severely affect the way a person behaves, acts around others, and even their physical health.
Some research reveals that loneliness can be as bad for a person's health as smoking ten cigarettes a day. Some effects of Isolation include higher levels of stress hormones and inflammation; heart disease, including high blood pressure and coronary artery disease; heightened risk of developing a disability; and an increased vulnerability to chronic illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes.
Social isolation can also increase one’s risk of premature death. A study conducted by Northwestern University found that social isolation increases a person’s risk of death by about 30%.
Not only does it affect their physical state, but it can take a toll on their mental health as well. Isolation increases the risk of mental health issues like depression, dementia, low self-esteem, and social anxiety. Isolation and Mental health intertwine and create a feedback loop. This means a person might develop depression because of intense loneliness, then feel even more isolated because of their depression.
Extreme isolation can have catastrophic effects on mental health. Humans are social animals who need human contact to thrive— sometimes even to survive. People who are held in confinement or isolate themselves from their loved ones for an extended amount of time may experience hallucinations, insomnia, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), and difficulty telling time.
‘Recovering’ from isolation isn’t easy. You can’t force people to socialize. You can’t force them to ‘open up’. That’s not how it works. The fear of being rejected or of being pushed further into an abyss of loneliness takes over. Recovery from isolation takes time, as does anything.
So, don’t pressure them into talking. Make simple gestures and let them know you’re there. The best way to overcome isolation is to talk to a psychotherapist and to get a psych analysis done in order to understand why you are experiencing it. Getting in touch with the pain inside is essential. It will be difficult, but it will allow you to overcome the unpleasant feelings. Understanding your feelings will empower you to push forward, and start seeing things in a new light.
You can then take this new capacity out into the world and feel enlivened by relationships.
This is just a small glance at what people feel and experience when they’re isolated.
The pain they go through every day. Try and be there for the people whom you care about and love. If you or your loved one is struggling with Isolation and is battling their inner feelings. Don’t hesitate to get them help.
It’s okay to not be okay.