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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is it possible break a life-long social isolation?

    Female, 38, single mum of 6yo, no friends, family overseas. I feel very isolated and don't believe I can break the isolation. Mostly I am unable to initiate or maintain conversation. It's easier with strangers, but gets increasingly more difficult with people I know. I feel empty with nothing to share, have no positive feelings in the presence of people I know and have no spontaneous reactions to what they say. Attempts to pretend emotions usually results in no positive outcomes, so I am progressively giving up. Rarely, when someone persists and accepts my pretended reactions the barriers go away for a while. At workplace I am almost always left out. I've tried interest groups but as the time goes on I always become increasingly more isolated and find it embarrassing and painful. I was bullied in childhood, had a pathological family and no friends. I don't think I fit social anxiety. I may have depression coming from isolation but I keep active. Is there a reliable way out, please?
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  • 7

    Thanks

    Nigel Bailey

    Counsellor, Psychotherapist

    I am a professional counsellor and psychotherapist with a special interest in mens' issues. In a competitive culture that celebrates winners and quickly discards those … View Profile

    Is there a reliable way out? The short answer should always be “yes”, as difficult as this may be to imagine. It must seem that the odds are stacked against you at the moment but this is in no small part the product of the preconceptions that you take into any interaction with others, particularly the historical “baggage” that is obviously difficult to shake off. The harder you try to break this pattern, the harder it becomes; you clam up, become shy and awkward, and convince yourself that you would be better off alone. Without a more detailed assessment it would be unwise to rule out social anxiety or indeed depression; but many of these definitions are quite fluid anyway, so let's leave the labels to one side and look at the facts.

    I have some very good news. You look quite different to others than the way you imagine. Nothing in your behaviour advertises you as bleakly as you fear. You may be a little reserved; shy even, but no collective decision has been taken to cast you into the wilderness.  A good therapist will help you dispel many of the historical preconceptions that are holding you back, and as your confidence increases, so your sense of depression and isolation will lift.

    I would propose a behavioural program with you, encouraging you to reformat many of your maladaptive beliefs, then follow that up with some basic skills to increase your self-confidence and self-esteem. Social engagement will cease to be a nightmare, and become a pleasure that you actively seek.

  • 2

    Thanks

    I have been working in Eltham, Melbourne as a relationship and family counsellor for over twelve years. I draw on current theory and research about … View Profile

    in addition to the excellent advice given by Diane and Nigel, it may be important to understand that isolating yourself from bullies was a very good idea at the time! Because you learned to do that, no doubt you kept yourself safer than if you had persisted in trying to stay socially connected in situations where people may continue to hurt you. The problem is, what was once a very good coping strategy is now keeping you disconnected and lonely. Working on the  therapies that Diane has outlined will help you move forward in ways that will need to replace old ways of keeping yourself safe (isolating yourself) with new ways of being self-protective in social situations (e.g. assertiveness skills training). Once you are confident you can handle tricky situations and protect yourself from difficult people, even bullies, you will find it easier to relax and be yourself with people who are safe to do that with.
    All the best!

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