Do You Recognise The Early Signs of Social Isolation?

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.

Social Isolation

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:

  1. The Thought of Interacting With Other People Feels Impossible
  2. You Feel Generally Anxious
  3. You Create Reasons to Justify Your Choosing to be Alone
  4. Leaving the House Feels Like Stepping into the Scary Unknown
  5. You Get Easily Annoyed at People on Your Social Network News Feeds
  6. You Don’t Want to Arrange Anything
  7. Solitude is Spent Unproductively and in Fear
  8. You Avoid Doing Anything That Feels Risky
  9. 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.

11 comments
  1. My advice, if your going to be alone, then be alone, but u have to be willing to accept the consequences of your choice. But remember this, out of all the people that’s on this planet someone cares, they care for you when others don’t. Life it’s self is against you because you wake up every morning closer to death when tomorrow is never promised. Our life is short, time keeps ticking, world keeps spinning, and it’s not going to stop for you, or anybody else who thinks there more important, and that’s a fact. One of the best wisdom I’ve hear was if life knocks you down…get back up and say ” you hit like a bitch”. We are only human and all we can do is try……….TRY

    1. Nice, but no thanks. When I have no further obligations, my time is spent in solitude. I have no need to be around others to feel complete or fulfilled. Those things come from within.

      1. I agree with the solitude piece. I enjoy being alone and doing my own thing. I don’t think that is a concern…a lot people feel isolated and lonely because they desire to connect to something deeper than just obligations. Purpose, fulfillment and being complete is of course within us, but we do need human connection to thrive…not just live and survive.
        Being alone is good. It’s a choice. Being/Feeling lonely is dangerous to ones health. Community is apart of wellness. People need people even if it’s just once person.

  2. Oh wow. This is me. People who know me on a superficial level think I’m extroverted, but my closer friends know better. They even call my periods of isolation my “hermit mode” where I don’t return texts or phone calls and I disappear from social media. I’m beginning to think I have some sensory issues (I’m 37 and just realizing this!) I am the mother to three little boys ages 7, 4, and 2 and the noise level is…unreal. I walk around with ear plugs because I find myself incredibly anxious without them. I’m pretty horrified by the fact that I’ve turned into one of those nervous old ladies.
    I am currently in hermit mode. I’m a writer and work part time in addition to being a mom to my boys. The writing helps me deal with the anxiety, but I also find that it can exacerbate the situation because I use it to escape from my anxiety to the point where I don’t wont to come out of the world I’ve created. I find it difficult to keep up with basic responsibilities like bills and commitments. Things fall through the cracks and when i remember, instead of dealing, I slip back into whatever thing I’m using to medicate (Like reading or writing–for example, I’ve read 9 novels this week.) When I come out of the haze, I almost feel drugged. Its scary and incredibly bizarre.
    I think exercise would help, but getting out of the house is a big hurtle. And social engagment EXHAUSTS me even more than usual.
    Anyway, thank you for giving me insight into this cycle I go through. I had no idea others struggled with it too.

    1. Hello Cassondra. Welcome! It’s so great to hear from you 🙂 Have you looked at stuff around high sensitivity? http://www.sheepdressedlikewolves.com/highly-sensitive-person/ The issues you have with sensory input sounds like you may well experience high processing sensitivity. Man, I know the hermit haze you’re talking about when you finish a reading/writing/creating session (I do that too in a massive way). It can be a really positive thing – hugely productive. But as you say the drugged feeling and real struggle to even step outside the house can be incredibly difficult. I completely empathise with what you say. I’m so glad you’ve seen this cycle and are able to identify with it. It would appear that there are quite a number of us who struggle with it so don’t worry, we’re not alone! 🙂

      Thanks again for stopping by.

    2. Wow, you are not socially isolated at all, you have kids and close friends, you also work part time! I’m a little bit younger than you (35). Haven’t had a single romantic relationship is my life, my last friendship ended 12 years ago, I don’t work. The only communication with humans I have is calls with mom and “Hello” to cashiers in grocery stores.

  3. This one killed me and I can’t stop thinking about it. Any chance you’ll have a followup that brings us into ways to get out of the spiral?? Because: SAHM + studio @ home = LIFE at home.

    1. Good idea, Mandy. I will definitely get thinking about real practical ways to get out of the spiral. Do you have any techniques that have worked in the past? When there’s no reason to leave the house it can be VERY hard! Oh boy don’t I know that 🙂

      1. I truly was rocked by this post. I think about it every day. And one thing I changed IMMEDIATELY was to make myself have some sort of social time each week, preferably out of my house… That’s all I’ve got so far.

      2. Back to this again bc REALLY you have no idea how it’s rocked me. Okay, talked some of this over with my husband. We have a plan: I will go on a daily “outing” of some sort, even if it’s just a ten minute drive before getting the kids from school. Or maybe instead of a snack break from the studio, I”ll go to the coffeeshop five minutes away. And will also be proactive (instead of reactive, which fuels my sense of lack of control) in planning social time with friends. I don’t have to be as outgoing as an extrovert, but I do have to be *out* sometimes.

        1. Love these suggestions Mandy! You hit me in the forehead with the ‘be proactive’ point. I’m really bad for that. When it comes to arranging social time I am pretty much always in a position of responding to invitations and not instigating them. This is DEFINITELY something I need to embrace. Really good point – the result of making that shift brings both social time AND a sense of control over your time. Really appreciate this. What you say about the need to be out reminds me of this talk by Prof. Brian Little. Have you seen it? Worth a watch.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZ5o9PcHeL0&

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