Many of us understand deeply the state of isolation because we’ve experienced it in some form for a certain length of time. For the purposes of this short ramble I’m referring to isolation in the context of its harmful effects on our minds. Isolation in this sense differs from loneliness and solitude. There is a pleathora of information and works about lonely people or people who choose a life of solitude but less published popular material about isolation.
Isolation, in the social sense, is more innocuous. Some cultures use it in the form of shunning. Many governments and rulers utilize exile. Isolation is sometimes self-imposed because of feelings of alienation or deep emotional distress.
I recall the effects of isolation after I lost my first full-time job while living in an unfamiliar city. Suddenly, without warning, the meaning and purpose of my life was yanked away without mercy. My former coworkers were unable and unwilling to offer aid and comfort. My neighbors were untrustworthy strangers. The social institutions such as government welfare and religious organizations provided little or no help without demeaning strings attached. My dysfunctional family of origin was emotionally and physically unavailable. Whatever ethical and moral standards I had became secondary concerns because the urgency of survival took priority.
I understood then how isolation can be one of the most effective tools to control a person. That solitary confinement is used as harsh punishment in our prison systems is akin to the shunning practices of certain religious organizations. Whether isolation is imposed by corporate, governmental, religious, or by oneself, it is a harmful, soul-crushing experience. In many instances, even after the isolation has ended, the mental and emotional repurcussions remain.
There is also the common problem of isolation among older people. While younger people are rightfully, heavily engaged in building lives for themselves and their budding families, grandparents and elderly members of their extended families seem irrelevant to modern lifestyles. Even if elders are included, oftentimes the relationships feel forced and obligatory. To be on the giving and receiving ends of such relationships is unsatisfying and humiliating. So older folks choose to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. They do not want to be a burden nor feel like being a burden to others.
Then there are problems with traditional social norms that are imposed on various minorities. In my personal experience, there is the perpetuation of cultural and familial pressure to conform to “standard” gender roles and relationships. In the effort to try to satisfy traditional roles and expectations most gay and transgendered people encounter conflict. We are shunned by family and much of society. The isolation as a social outcast is a cruelty that scars many of us for life. It takes considerable, lengthy effort to leave victimhood behind in order to live a reasonably happy, healthy life. Authentic allies are far and few between so individual struggle is the default mode of survival.
The fortunate few eventually learn that persistance and learning are the way out of the destructiveness of isolation. Even when we cannot monetarily afford professional counseling, we make do through study and honest soul-searching. We manage to find a true ally or two and end up living reasonably good lives.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes activist, author, feminist, and professor, bell hooks. “Every terrorist regime in the world uses isolation to break people’s spirits.”