The Toxic Effects of Isolation

Isolation is typically familiar territory for those suffering from social anxiety and other anxiety disorders. The drawbacks of isolation include increased anxiety, depression if the isolation continues over the long term, low self-esteem, and perhaps suicide, in the extreme case. It is not necessary to go into further detail as to what the drawbacks of isolation are for the social anxiety sufferer.

However, the interesting thing is that isolation hurts all people, and it can occur in the presence of other people. How is it that isolation hurts all people? In order to demonstrate a point, it is always wise to take a look at the extreme example. In this case, take a look at someone who has committed murder. Why do people commit murder? Sometimes, they do so as an act of self-defense, but in most cases, murder occurs as an act of aggression. The perpetrator is attempting to gain something of immediate financial value; he or she may want to harm the person as an act of revenge; or, he or she may also want others to fear him or her and realize that he or she is a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Isolation comes in to the picture for the murderer in that if there is no one else to witness the act, the act itself becomes insignificant. So what if someone does something very extreme and there is no one around to witness it or there is no verifiable record of the act ever happening? No one cares about an act if it happens in complete isolation! One of the large reasons that murderers engage in murder is because if other people believe that person did in fact commit murder, the murderer will be feared and will have a much larger amount of power to gain what he or she wants in life. And so it is with all acts; all acts lose their significance, in the human mind, if there is no one else around to witness them. Isolation will drive any person literally insane because everything that he or she does in life is completely meaningless. Where are the most hardened criminals placed? They are not placed in some sort of torture chamber, but rather in solitary confinement, completely and utterly alone! The justice system recognizes that isolation from other human beings is the worst punishment of all!

The other point about isolation, turning the direction a bit, is that isolation can happen to people who have many friends and a large family. Anxiety sufferers are keenly aware of how frightened they become in social situations and how they find ways to be isolated, even when they are around other people.

But, it is not just anxiety sufferers that are isolated. Many other people, including extroverts, are emotionally isolated, even though they may know very many people. How is it that this works? American society is very busy and on-the-go, and most of society is so on the go that it never has any time to build emotional closeness. People typically hang out in groups, meet a friend for a quick meal or drink, or hang out at a once-every-three-months work social, and for many people, this is the only social stimulation they ever experience. What is lacking in these social relationships is emotional intimacy. Intimacy is built by people disclosing secrets to one another and having the other party maintain their confidentiality. For the most part, this does not happen in the aforementioned common social situations. So, it is entirely possible for someone to have all the “friends” (these are really acquaintances) in the word, but yet not be happy and satisfied emotionally. It does seem that having many friends with whom one is not close leads to a lower level of isolation than one who does not have any friends at all, but the effects of that type of lifestyle can be very similar to the lifestyle that includes no friends.

So, what is the point to take away from all of this? The point is that isolation can be devastating and can drive any human insane, even to the point of death. Isolation can occur in different ways, including ways that one does not expect. The main thing to realize is that isolation is harmful, and while it is very difficult to break out of isolation, it is nonetheless vital for all people, including social anxiety sufferers, to break out of isolation as quickly as possible. The path, however, is not easy. An earlier paragraph mentioned that American society is busy and on-the-go, and as such, many people feel they do not have the time to spend with other people. Nonetheless, it is very important for one to keep trying, and he or she must realize that just because a friendship is not made, it is not necessarily that person’s fault. Eventually, everyone can and will break out of social isolation if they continue to work at it.