Isolation is very common, but why is there such a stigma around isolation? Why is it so difficult for some people to admit that they may at times experience it?
It can affect pensioners, divorcee’s, victims of bullying, domestic abuse victims, family scapegoats, students, professionals, rich people, freelance workers, self-employed, popular people can feel isolation, I am sure you could email me more examples?
If you google the term isolation, then you are likely to find many definitions and many horror stories of how it can have a negative impact on an individual. Here are some of the concerns around isolation using the lifestyle of freelance workers as an example:
At first, it may seem liberating to start your day—every day—in complete control of your own time. Whatever you want to tackle first, it’s your choice, and if you have to run an errand in the middle of the day, there’s no one stopping you.
This kind of flexible work life is usually envied by those stuck in the constantly churning, always-on corporate microcosm. Every year, more workers make the switch to the freelance life as they try to take back the reins of their own success. According to a 2014 survey by Edelman Berland, freelancers currently make up34%—or 53 million people—of the U.S. workforce, and those numbers aren’t slowing down.
While there’s a lot of pros that come from having complete control, what isn’t discussed enough is the lonely business that is a freelance career. When the house is quiet and everyone is gone for the day, it’s just you and the humming of your laptop—day in, day out. You may go through an entire day without speaking, and often go for several days without having any face-to-face interactions with anyone.
I think the above example highlights how this can not be correlated with a specific ‘type’ of person. I have met people who hold suspicions towards people that do not have a large social network. Some people need to be surrounded by many people and some will make sure they are surrounded by many people. Personally I feel that the more I find out who I am, the more I realise, that I may be introvert quite possibly? I would not like to label myself, as I feel we are rather complex and often moulded by our environments and experiences and stages in life to some extent. I let go of the need to know ‘who am I’ a while back, in favour of simply ‘being’, but that is a whole new other topic. However, when it comes to looking at others with concern and worry that there may be something wrong with them, it is equally possible that those that need to be surrounded by lots of people could just as well be as at risk of provoking concern as a person who is more isolated? Either way, for me it is never good to judge and finger point.
Obviously there are times when people isolate, because of reasons that could cause concern like; bereavement, substance misuse, divorce etc. I realised this more when I experienced a recent bereavement. I needed to isolate to some extent, because unfortunately for me there was a realisation, that the people around me could not help if they wanted to, but I soon realised some people around me could leave me feeling even worse, at a point where I did feel close to the edge, so to speak. With a guillotine like fashion, I had no hesitation to cut those people out of my life, a survival instinct kicked in and I knew it was needed to get back on track, so I needed to distance from anyone that could hinder that healing process.
Fortunately there were people there for me who I felt safe around and that was all I needed. Even if I did not have much contact, knowing someone would be there, fully present, fully accepting, that was all I needed. My heart feels that as I type it for those who know they are truly appreciated and loved by me.
I know I wasn’t easy to get on with at times, but I had a valid reason to have zero tolerance towards anyone that upset me in any way. I was at rock bottom, with sole responsibility for running a home and caring for my young daughter, so I had to try and quickly get back on my feet. Zero tolerance was that path at that time.
I had more toleration before the bereavement, but I do question that to some extent, maybe it is sometimes a good thing, but maybe sometimes it is not? Bereavement changed me. Seeing how delicate life is, changed me. I could no longer be around anyone I felt even slightly uneasy with due to feeling delicate. If I felt a person may talk about me behind my back and attack my character, the relationship had to end, if i felt someone may hold resentments and show that in manipulative ways, or if I felt someone was angry and closed-minded, I needed to have distance. For me setting that standard and boundary was vital.
My motivation was fear of either being pushed over the edge, or becoming toxic myself in order to deal with certain relationships. Neither of those options was acceptable to me as it would hinder my recovery through the stages of bereavement I knew I needed to go through. If I was able to talk to the people close to me about any problems or concerns, my loyalty would have kicked in and I would have worked to keep those relationships. If open, honest, direct, healthy communication was not an option, then the relationship was no longer an option. It felt ruthless in some ways, to cut off from people, but the internal conflict I felt in those relationships, would not ease. Something wasn’t working, maybe it was me who had changed, or them, or it was two way? Either way, it was challenging letting go following what felt right, and battling with my Taurean loyalty.
Another slant on isolation, is those that deliberately reject or isolate individuals, to punish them and manipulate them to be more susceptible to be controlled. Research abusive relationships, narcissists, sociopath’s, toxic relationships to learn more about this. Google stages of idealise, devalue, discard, gas lighting, smear campaigns etc. This will explain how abusers use isolation as part of their abuse.
I believe that we can be surrounded by many people and feel alone and isolated at times. Some of the most popular people, with large social networks, can experience these feelings. I do not think it is about how many people surround you, I believe it is more about how many people around you, really ‘get you’. How many real quality interactions do you have? How many people know your deepest darkest secrets and guard them and still accept you? Are you isolated with aspects of yourself that no one see’s? Are people attracted to what you have, or what you can do for them, rather than who you are? Are people only interested in who you are, because of what you have got? Maybe it is these points play an important part in healthy relationships and dysfunction?
I do not know many rich billionaires, but I can guess that there may be quite a few that experience loneliness and feelings of isolation? I often find myself feeling empathy for footballers, tycoons, professional boxers and sports people etc. Yes they are rich, but that itself can be destructive if a person has inner voids. Positions of power can not only be isolating, but quite destructive. At least if you have nothing, or not very much, you know that those that care really do care. How many rich people have that assurance? How many rich and famous struggle as their careers come to an end, and the glory fades?
As Beth Orton sang : If I never saw the sunshine, then maybe I wouldn’t mind the rain.
It can be that some people have excellent family relationships, with lots of nurturing and love but then struggle with naive beliefs that all people are kind and loving. Think how dangerous that could be around toxic individuals?
Isolation is universal, we all feel it time to time, I believe it can be a risk of substance misuse, poor mental health, vulnerability to abuse, and maybe the knock on effect could go further towards homelessness, suicide, trafficking. That may sound slightly extreme, but traffickers will look out for people who are isolated and vulnerable. If homeless people had more support, would they be homeless?
One of the biggest problems with isolation, is a lack of validation from quality relationships I have found when experiencing some form of isolation. Our own self talk can be powerful and negative. Being isolated with your own self talk, and no positive validation, can be mentally challenging. If you have critics around you, to add to that mix then the risk increases I believe, maybe it is best you decide for yourself?
So how do we combat isolation, what solutions are there?
Well first of all we need to get rid of stigma, to create a platform where the issue can be addressed, allowing individuals to feel more comfortable to come forward and talk about their experiences of isolation. If we come across people labelling some as weird, or assuming there is something wrong with them if they are isolated for some reason, then maybe this needs to be challenged as those attitudes could put vulnerable people at risk.
Bonding with others is what I believe to be vital for survival (see Ted x link below) so we may need to learn about quality relationships, standards, intimacy, commitment and so on. Unfortunately some do not learn these things in their family home growing up, so dysfunction can spread like a ping pong ball falling down a large set of steps.
Sometimes in counselling, the simple fact of developing a safe, healthy and functioning relationships, may be all a person needs to move forward. For some, it may be an experience they have never experienced sadly. This is not a shameless plug for business, in fact I hope to explore ways to offer free peer support or sign-posting.
We live in a world where if you say ‘Hi how are you’ we have a social norm, conditioned response to say ‘yeah good thanks’. If we dare to say anything like ‘do you know I have felt so ….., I feel like…………’ you will be met with an odd look and possibly some talk about how odd you are. So feeling isolated is often common, because often beyond being polite and friendly, who we truly are as a person, often does not get much space to air. The best relationships are those where we are celebrated for who we truly are with others that show their true self, would you agree? Often we can feel we need to watch what we say around some, and feel unable to relax and be our true self, but once we find people who are not judgemental or critical, we feel safe and can shine.
My friends accept me for who I am, even if they look at me like I am an odd ball at times, I know I am accepted for it and thought no less of. I feel safe around them. I had to become very selective with my circles after my close friend died recently. It hit me hard and I knew my usual strong self had crumbled and I would have been ripe for the picking for anyone who may have taken advantage of that fact. People that treat you with respect and who genuinely care for you, will leave you feeling good about yourself, those that treat you opposite to that, will leave you at risk of feeling bad about yourself, so isolation could be healthy at times, if it is to avoid negative or critical people?
I often see on Facebook how some very popular people interact with a certain few and the warmth from their pictures alone show real quality relationships. So this blog will not be relevant for many.
The start of this blog highlights how anyone can feel isolated. Isolation in my mind, is not about how many people you are surrounded by, it is about how many people you have quality interactions with. That can often depend on you. That is not to say there is something wrong with you if you are lacking more meaningful relationships, leave that judgement to the finger pointers. Maybe how you feel is affecting aspects of your life and how you feel can be linked in with past experiences, current circumstances, thoughts, behaviours and so on. The good news is, all of those areas can improve. Like a garden if neglected, it can become overgrown, tend to it and it can be a focal point. The same with you and your life.
So hopefully this may highlight how isolation affects most of us from time to time, how it can be a risk of creating further more serious issues, how there can be a stigma attached to isolation, how it can be linked with unhealthy relationships and the benefits of quality interactions and maybe we need to think about how does someone move forward out of isolation?
So if you are reading this and interested in working on this area of your life, email me, let us talk it through, confidentially. You could look for recovery groups if you are coming through substance misuse, mental health groups, if you have a diagnosis, single parents groups, social groups, walking groups, which box do you feel is more for your label?
I can not help but feel it a little outdated that services and support are so segmented here in the Uk. You can access religious groups, mental health groups, reading clubs, walking groups, social groups, recovery networks, Mum’s groups. So there is lots of support, but it all seems so segmented and for me, it seems like we have to cram people of all individual shapes and sizes, some with multiple needs, into one rigid box more often?
Some may search for some form of love and belonging from different groups if feeling isolated. Vulnerable people could be at risk of inflating issues of occasional alcohol use, to fit the criteria or AA. When I worked in a treatment service, it was not uncommon for people to become dependent on the service, rather than move through and often this was due to isolation outside services and the service being their only form of love and belonging. Sadly in services, they are funded to hit certain targets, so once people do get better, what then? Send them on their way into vast isolation to maybe end up in a revolving door? I have known offenders to prefer prison, as they receive stability and love and belonging.
Support groups often tend to be groups for specific issues, or social groups for specific interests. Sometimes people are just having a tough time, maybe not facing difficulties enough to access mental health or other recovery groups, but maybe a little vulnerable so not able to take big steps to mix socially. Love and belonging is one of the most powerful concepts that I have witnessed to promote healing for people, as well as possibly being a destructive factor in mental health decline if the need for love and belonging is not met. Abraham Maslow was a famous psychologist that focused on this aspect.
I would be keen to hear from you, as currently I am interested in more diverse, appealing options for tackling isolation. I will be happy to hear from anyone. If you are isolated reach out to me or someone else. Maybe we can find a way to unite people in isolation towards good standards and quality interactions using the free forums available on the internet.
Ted x on Isolation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0hxl03JoA0
Thoughts and opinions are my own, to offer a general sense of personal development topics and insights into available support.
For support in the Uk:
If you feel in crisis, please contact your local Accident and Emergency Service.