Social isolation affects our internal sense of self in a number of ways. First of all, it has bearing on our self esteem. When we are isolated, it is common to feel that our alone-ness affects only us. The rest of the world can appear to be a unified force, against which we are small, solitary and alone. Next, it affects the manner in which our internal gauge of worth is measured. Most of us judge ourselves not by an internal moral navigation but by the reactions of others to what we proactively put out into the world. When we don’t have others around us to let us know that what we are putting out is good enough, we can sometimes question our actions, feelings and thoughts with a degree of fear that we would not otherwise feel.
It is also very important to note that isolation is self perpetuating. There is a certain comfort and freedom from judgement that comes from isolation.
There are certain communities that have greater levels of social isolation than others. Primarily, this is people who are living in rural settings. The lack of opportunity for social interaction is a major factor in the capacity to form and maintain relationships. Relationship is necessary for each of us, in order to feel connected and accepted. Relationship allows us a sense of belonging and peace from inner turmoil. Having people that you can spend time with, speak with, be honest and open with and feel that you are accepted and loved by is a necessity for the human psyche. Sometimes we neglect this necessity, as we can find that there exist social challenges to maintaining this for ourselves. When society, and the community in which we live, does not actively support our need for social contact, it can be difficult to seek this out for ourselves. It can seem that we are asking almost ‘too much’ if we ask for what we need socially in order to maintain psychological health.
If a person has any additional difficulties with forming or maintaining social contact (such as shyness, insecurity around their physicality, or any kind of disability) this difficulty becomes enormous.
Within the space of addressing social isolation, first of all, we need to identify the problem. A person cannot be told by another that they are isolated. It has to be something that they feel for themselves. Next, they need to experience this as a difficulty and something that they want to change.
When these base criteria have been met, then there are a number of ways in which an isolated individual can be helped. First of all, identify people that you know and trust, from all points of life so far. These people, even if they are not in contact on a regular basis, are those where a relationship can be more easily cultivated. Reaching out is difficult and if it is overwhelming for any individual, specialised, short term counselling support can offer great help. Small tools for overcoming shyness as well as interpersonal tools that help with conversation and connection skills can make a significant difference in terms of feeling capable of meeting and connecting with others.
Local community gatherings are the most easy manner of gaining a sense of connectedness within a locale. In order to overcome the difficulty of initial contact with a community group, bringing along someone that is already trusted is often a good idea.
Finally, reaching out to like-minded others is a great way to understand yourself as someone in the world who has similarity to others. Finding people that feel the same as you do is important in terms of being connected in your community and also within the world. If these people don’t live near to you, meeting online is a space in which you can supplement your ‘real life’ friendships with those that you may have even more in common with.
Social isolation is difficult. However, it is common and also is something that can be overcome. If it impacts your life, then taking steps to make changes will be hugely beneficial and will produce a consequence very quickly. The first steps are tough but there is help out there.