How do you remain connected with other people without compromising your solitude?
This is a question that was emailed to me recently. I felt it was probably useful to explore as a post because it’s something I know I struggle with, as do many other introverted and highly sensitive people.
It may sound like a strong term but social isolation is a potential danger for many of us. It’s a phrase we may associate with older people when they become less active and able to engage in their community, but social isolation can easily occur whatever age we are.
I’ve become very aware of the psychological aspects of isolation in my job at a funeral home. It is a potential possibility for anyone in a state of grief.
People can isolate themselves because they feel like no one understands what they’ve experienced or are going through. Maybe they avoid going to places because they don’t want to be reminded of certain things, and they don’t want to confront themselves with memories.
When you feel alone you feel isolated. When you feel isolated you feel alone.
Isolation and Introversion
Did you experience an ‘aha!’ moment when first realising that you are not weird or different but just have an introverted/sensitive temperament? That ‘aha!’ was a profound moment of engulfing empathy, and it gave you validation.
The very things that made you think ‘no one understands how I see the world and feel about all these situations’ were identified and accepted.
Have you built a habit of ‘isolating’?
If you have lived as an introvert in an extroverted environment then you may well be used to the feeling of isolation.
Perhaps even on the surface you ‘fit in’ just fine. You ‘extrovert’ at the right times and have learned all the right things to feign excitement about, and say when necessary. This pretence has become a part of who you are.
To the outside you fit in, but within you feel a deep unsettled sense of impostor syndrome, like you missed a meeting and don’t truly belong like everyone else seems to. Laurie Helgoe talks about two ways introverts engage with the world on a social level so that we don’t notice their isolation. She distinguishes between ‘Accessible Introverts’ and what she describes as ‘Shadow Dwellers’.
Break the Cycle of Social Isolation
This is an exciting time where we are waking up and becoming aware of who we are/what is going on beneath the surface as introverts.
Before the ‘aha!’ it felt like our problem, we experienced social isolation even if/when we were socially involved in things. Now we can begin to accept the truth of who we are and we can be ourselves, can know that we are not alone, and can engage with the world in ways that feel natural and right to us.
“Peaceful silence becomes a messenger of sadness; contented solitude transforms into loneliness.” – Michaela Chung
We must remember that our needs are in flux. We go throughout the day experiencing varying levels of need for hydration, food, and rest. In much the same way introverts and highly sensitive people have a dynamic need for solitude, recovery time, and social time.
We have many traits that play to our strengths. For example, introspection, insight, imagination, and creativity. These are often engaged when we are alone.
Solitude is Golden
Our natural strengths are un-bounding and should be enjoyed and celebrated. It’s vital not to equate introversion with isolation, but there is a line that people of all temperaments can cross into the realm of social isolation.
I recognise this place and the source of this risk, which I can identify in my past as stemming from certain aspects of my introspection and reflection.
You may want to be alone because you feel more productive, affective, and creative than when you’re working in the same space as others. Or perhaps you want to be alone because you feel it’s tiring or upsetting to be with other people at this particular time (like in grief).
Sometimes a vicious cycle can develop where the more time you spend alone, the less you feel like people understand you. Then the less you feel like people understand you, the more time you want to spend alone.
We can find ourselves in a spiral of social isolation in small and subtle ways for all sorts of reasons. It’s necessary to be aware of what is going on within and to know when to step out and get ourselves back into the world.
Signs of the cycle of social isolation starting:
- The Thought of Interacting With Other People Feels Impossible
- You Feel Generally Anxious
- You Create Reasons to Justify Your Choosing to be Alone
- Leaving the House Feels Like Stepping into the Scary Unknown
- You Get Easily Annoyed at People on Your Social Network News Feeds
- You Don’t Want to Arrange Anything
- Solitude is Spent Unproductively and in Fear
- You Avoid Doing Anything That Feels Risky
- You Feel Disconnected from and Disenchanted With the World, and Blame Other People
Become a Student of Yourself
Identify what’s happening inside of you. How are you really feeling? What is motivating your desire for solitude? It can happen quickly, it can happen subtly. There are periods of creative introspection when I am deep in flow and don’t want to be disturbed.
As these times come to an end the fear of finishing may take over and I can fear stepping out and away from that beautiful moment. Clinging to the solitude when I know it’s time to let go and reacquaint myself with the world. The spiral can begin.
Know Your Limits
How long is enough for you to re-charge? Where are the limits of your need for solitude before it transforms into isolation and loneliness that spirals in a way that requires a more serious intervention?
Stop the Spiral
Work out how to break the cycle of solitude. Maybe it’s forcing yourself to walk to the shop. Maybe it’s sending someone an email. Responding to someone on social media. Meeting up with a friend for coffee.
Do something small, whatever it takes for you to slow, stop, and gradually reverse the spiral.
Over to You
Have you ever found yourself in a spiral of isolation? How do you break out of it? Please leave your answer in the comments below.