Every once in a while, I run into a person who is living a life of relative emotional, and sometimes physical, isolation. Sometimes this person knows he or she is isolated and feels that it is easier than trying to make a relationship with someone. Sometimes the person does not even have the subjective experience of isolation, but feels “normal” in a state of relative disconnection from other people. It may be that this person has relationships, a spouse, children, and friends, but ultimately finds it preferable to keep his or her deepest feelings and needs private. 

It is a dilemma, really, because we know that biologically we are primates, and primates are social, group animals. There is, fundamentally, a deep need for connection with other people. Most of the time, a person who is living an isolated life has been hurt or disappointed in relationships, and perhaps in early relationships, and has in a sense given up on being able to fulfill a need to be understood and to understand other people. 

Any disruption in the defensive barriers this person has erected can bring painful experiences and can reawaken earlier despair. It can be difficult to intrude on a balanced system, however unhealthy it may appear. At the same time, it is possible that a person who has created this kind of defensive system needs a person from outside the system to actively interrupt the status quo. It’s hard to know if it is okay to jar someone out of a safe but ultimately destructive state of mind.

Most of the time, we have to wait to be invited or someone else in this person’s life begins to demand more connection and that forces the issue. It seems that the people who push us out of our comfort zone force us to grow in ways we might not have chosen, but which can lead us toward better, more satisfying lives. We don’t want to impose our own notions of what is healthy, but on the other hand, we don’t want to fail to act when someone needs us to intervene in a situation which is working against their own best interests.

Isolation, solitude, retreat, aloneness and loneliness. Sometimes it seems useful to cocoon ourselves and be thoughtful about our lives, and sometimes it seems destructive. It is not always obvious which is which. And how do we know if we have the right to make a judgment about someone else’s choices? Perhaps it has to do with whether the other person has expressed a desire to create a relationship with us. He or she might be able to express that desire but not know how to carry it out. Perhaps that is when we have to be active in making the connection from our side.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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