What are the Positives and Negatives of Isolation?

Dr. John Townsend

August 17, 2018

One of the most important aspects of our lives is the need for connection and great relationships. When we don’t have that connection, we can find ourselves in isolation. While it can be healthy in limited doses, isolation can be harmful to your wellbeing when it turns into an extended period of time.

Isolation Is Not Always Bad

First, let’s talk about small periods of “alone time.” Isolation in small doses is a good thing.  

All of us, even the extroverts among us, need “me time” to rest, recharge, and get our heads back in the game of life. This “me time” possibly includes being alone in one’s home or office, reading, listening to music or taking a walk.

Our brains crave a space during the day. In this space, there is no external stimulation coming in which we need to deal with, such as someone’s questions, or story or simply talking about their experiences.  Alone is a good thing in this context. It’s not permanent. It’s just a “time out,” if you will.

Loneliness is often a symptom of isolation. I share four tips to help you move away from loneliness and into healthy relationships here.

The 3 Types of Negative Isolation

A little isolation is okay. But, if you are not careful, it can turn into prolonged periods where we don’t connect with anyone. Isolation can sort-of take control of your life.

I want to outline the three types of isolation which aren’t helpful for us and how we can address them.

  1. Continual interpersonal isolation. This is where there’s “too much” aloneness. It may be that you are very busy at work, or don’t regularly reach out to friends or family. Regardless, research indicates that we need some sort of meaningful, supportive contact with people every week of our lives. So, if life has you in a busy-and-isolated season, that’s fine. That’s normal. But, don’t make it a lifestyle. Have lunch or a good phone call with supportive, safe people a minimum of three times a week.
  2. The isolation of exposure to chronic relationships. You may not be technically alone, but if you spend significant amounts of time on people who drain you or are toxic, you are not experiencing the transfer of relational nutrients that you need. You may be isolating yourself without even knowing it if you are not with someone who listens, is emphatic, and wants the best for you. If this is your situation, prune back the chronic relationship and increase the supportive connections.
  3. The isolation in our minds. Some people can be around supportive, warm relationships all day and STILL don’t feel connected. This is because their mental isolation is so pervasive that, try as they might, they can’t let others in. So, they always feel they are “on the outside looking in” on life and not a part of rich relationships. This is a problem called detachment, which is the inability to make vulnerable connections. If this is the issue, you can get help, in the form of a coach or therapist who specializes in detachment.  

There is a great deal of information and research on isolation. It can be overwhelming, but not insurmountable by any means. Live in a relationship, even if it’s just a platonic friendship. Don’t let isolation rule over a life of connection, love, meaning, and energy.

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