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What is Social Isolation?

Becoming socially isolated is a choice that a person makes when they no longer want to spend time with other people. It’s important to note the differences between spending time alone versus being socially isolated. We all need time to ourselves, to think, read, relax, or just unwind in solitude. Time alone can help a person slow down from the fast pace of life, and can be revitalizing and recharging. Many people enjoy their own company and are comfortable both in being alone and in social settings. For people with social isolation issues, however, there is a different reason why they need to be alone.

Part of social isolation occurs when a person lacks social relationships. When a person is socially isolated, they may stay home for long periods of time before leaving the house. They may go days without speaking to anyone else. People who struggle with social isolation lack the desire to form meaningful, long-term relationships. If you prefer to be in social isolation, you will go to great lengths to avoid relationships and interactions with others making them as brief as possible without having to engage in lengthy conversations.


Types of Social Isolation

There are two types of social isolation, and they are both characterized by a person’s chosen desire to be alone.

a-      Social Isolation

With social isolation, a person loses pleasure in going out, and what they once enjoyed turns to stress, worry, fear, and anxiety. Social interaction becomes something dreaded instead of what they look forward to. Social isolation is not a condition on its own; however, it may be a symptom of a larger problem like a mental illness. Social isolation can have a negative effect on your personal relationships and may drive friends and family away, the more you refuse to join them in social settings.

b-      Emotional Isolation

With emotional isolation, a person lacks any desire to form partnerships or make new friendships. Emotional isolation is a way of shutting yourself off from the world, often to avoid dealing with insecurity, anxiety, or negative thoughts about yourself. An emotionally-isolated person keeps their feelings bottled up inside and is unwilling to let their guard down and allow another person to get to know them with any level of intimacy.

Even when married and/or in a long-term relationship, they can emotionally isolate themselves from their partner. You may feel lonely even though you share a home with your spouse or family. If a partner is emotionally isolated within their relationship, they may look outside of the marriage to find fulfillment through infidelity or abusing drugs and alcohol.


Causes of Social Isolation

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of social isolation, particularly because it is often a symptom of another problem. To recover from social isolation, you therapist will prompt you to dig deeper into your past and childhood experiences to determine the source of the problem. It’s important to understand that social isolation occurs for reasons that aren’t always visible on the surface, and your therapist will work with you to uncover the hidden meanings and causes of your desire to be isolated.


While each person has unique circumstances, there are some common factors that may contribute to social isolation. Some of these factors include:

  • Physical disability and feeling ashamed by your appearance or lack of physical functioning.
  • Domestic violence and the desire to hide the truth about your situation from friends, co-workers, and other family members.
  • Eating disorders where you wish to hide your unhealthy relationship with food from others by simply staying home and avoiding sharing meals.
  • Unemployment and the shame associated with losing your job may be motivation for you to stay home rather than having to face others.


Symptoms of Social Isolation

If you’re uncertain if you have issues with social isolation, ask yourself if you experience any of the following symptoms when you have an impending social event or are just trying to stay at home:

  • Avoiding situations that you once would have enjoyed
  • Canceling plans at the last minute and experiencing great relief at not having to go out
  • Feelings of dread or worry at times that are heavy with social events, like the holidays
  • Spending an increased amount of time and energy brainstorming excuses for canceling plans or avoiding making them in the first place
  • Physical symptoms that arise when you are faced with a social situation are, a racing heart, dizziness, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, nausea, and loss of appetite
  • Frequent panic attacks or trouble sleeping when you think about social interaction


Why Seek Treatment for Social Isolation?

With therapy you can address some of the larger issues that are at play, you can recover from social isolation and live a life that is happy and fulfilling. Failure to seek treatment means that your social isolation can worsen and become paralyzing.

At Wellbeing Center, we can equip you with the tools you need to overcome your desire for isolation. Since social isolation is often a mechanism for coping with a more serious underlying issue, it takes professional help to discover your deep-rooted emotional issues and create a treatment plan to help you address these problems. 

Types of Therapy for Social Isolation

While there are many types of therapy that you may try in your sessions, there are several that are particularly effective at treating social isolation:

a-      Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

CBT provides you with practical tools for dealing with social isolation. The goal of CBT is to discover when you have negative thoughts or self-talk. When you’re aware that you’re doing this, you can begin to challenge these false perceptions you have and learn to replace them with more realistic thoughts.

b-      Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a type of CBT that is commonly used to treat phobias, so it can be effective in dealing with social isolation. With exposure therapy, you will work with your therapist to gradually and safely reintroduce you to social situations that you typically want to avoid. The goal of exposure therapy is that once a person has repeated exposure to the thing that has brought them anxiety or fear, that phobia or stressor will lose its power and you will no longer feel the intense dread or panic about facing your fears in the future. With social isolation, the more you avoid social events, the more you get used to being alone, and the more stressful social situations become. Exposure therapy techniques, along with other CBT tools, can guide you towards living a life that is free from the desire to be alone.