Welcome back to another episode of the Women in Medicine Badass Radioshow. Today we’re going to talk about the difference between isolation and loneliness and feeling disconnected and also I want to really give you some tools about how to think about this differently and how to change how you feel. That’s really important.
So there are a lot of terms here that I want you to understand because they are used interchangeably sometimes but I think they mean different things.
So the first thing to notice is that we are wired for connection as human beings. And how do we know this? Because we found that neglect is a far more destructive form of abuse than even sexual or physical abuse. In other words when we don’t have a chance to regularly interact with others, we don’t thrive. And so it’s important to first see how crucial this connection is to other people and then if we aren’t feeling that for whatever reason, we want to understand what is getting in the way and what we can do to turn it around.
So let’s talk about isolation because it is something that we typically do to ourselves. We avoid others as a result of discomfort. Either we don’t feel safe, we don’t feel secure with our own worth, or we don’t feel at ease because of overstimulation as in the case of social anxiety or being high in introversion. So let’s break this down.
If you’re somebody who doesn’t feel safe, here’s what I’d like you to consider. There could be real reasons why you don’t feel safe around certain people in your life and it makes sense in that case that you would avoid them, that you would isolate yourself from them. But too often we create these overgeneralizations in our mind where we see everybody as potentially unsafe. If we’ve had early life experiences that made us feel unsafe around certain people, then our brain becomes programmed not to trust other people. And then you might see that where you’re not able to create relationships in your life, where you have very few friends or it’s hard for you to become intimate in a relationship, a romantic relationship with somebody.
If that is the case, here’s what I think it would be really helpful for you to do…is do a reality check with yourself. And what I mean by this is you want to really ask yourself, “Is it true that I am not safe around this particular person or in this particular situation?” In other words, what we’re doing is rather than letting our subconscious mind dictate the terms and us just automatically following along without question, we’re actually interjecting here and saying, “Let me use my rational brain. Let me really think about this in my conscious mind to see if this makes sense. Am I acting out of habit or does this actually makes sense given the situation?” And once you make that decision from your conscious mind you’ll be able to make better decisions about what you doing each and every situation. Perhaps you make a list of the people that really trigger you when you’re around them and you avoid those people. But then you also note that everybody who’s not on the list is somebody that you could be around safely. So it’s important for us to feel safe in the world and that means that certainly if there is some sort of threat to your safety, you want to take care of that but we also don’t want to go around assuming that we’re not safe in the world because of some early life experiences and then not allow people in. Because the result of this kind of isolation is loneliness and we’ll talk a little bit about that and the effects of that later on.
The second reason I mentioned that people often isolate is because they just don’t feel secure within themselves. This might mean because you see yourself as incompetent or not worthy and you know that you fall into this camp because you’re constantly comparing yourself to other people and you’re thinking to yourself, “Well they’re better than I am in this area so I don’t really want to be around them.” Or it feels threatening to be around them because you’re doing this comparison. Are you worried about embarrassing yourself or maybe you just feel ashamed of who you are? All of these reasons are what lead us to isolate ourselves from other people. And what I want you to do is look at this as a challenge. If you are struggling with this, it is real. It lives in your brain as if it is true. But this is where the work begins. This is where you have to start working on your relationship with yourself to get to a point where you really see value in yourself.
Now that is really a whole other episode that we could do just on this. There’s plenty of information out there on how you can turn your relationship with yourself around. Ultimately, what it’s going to boil down to is reprogramming your brain to believe in your worth.
So one thing that works really well for a lot of people, a lot of my clients, is they use the Mantra I am enough and I’ll just repeat that to themselves over and over again. And what I’d like to have you do, if you’re going to do this, is really assess how much you believe that to be true right now on a scale of zero to a hundred. And often my clients will say, “Oh, I believe that only 25%” (something like that). And then they’ll keep saying it to themselves even though it doesn’t feel true and it feels a little weird to say this to yourself and maybe you’re feeling a little embarrassed. You don’t want other people to hear that you’re saying this or to know that you’re practicing this. That’s all normal and that comes from that place of feeling like you’re not enough. It all is part of the symptom of this problem. But do it anyway. Commit to doing this for yourself and then check in with yourself once a week and see if your number is rising. See if after week 1 instead of 25%, you are at a higher number. Most of my clients will report a huge boost in their self-worth within weeks. Sometimes with in just one week they’ll go from 25% to 70%. Now everybody is different so I don’t know what’s going to work for you but it’s a simple technique that I think is worth trying. And then you’ll notice once you get to that place where you really believe that you’re enough, how that changes how secure you feel around other people and whether you can allow yourself to surround yourself into connect to others.
And finally the last reason why we sometimes isolate ourselves is because we become overstimulated. And I can really think of two reasons why that happens. The first is because we are a hyper-introvert. These are people who really become easily overstimulated when they are around other folks. So loud noises can be overstimulating, other people can be overstimulating, having lots of people are having long periods of time around other people can be really energy-draining for them. And so if that’s you, honor that about yourself and ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” If you know that this is something that’s draining you, then you got to really pay attention to that balance of “where am I right now in terms of my energy and when am I about to go over the hump and that’s when I need to excuse myself and take a break. Maybe I go and read a book or I go for a walk or I put on my headphones and I listen to some music.” You do something for yourself where you can re-energize all alone. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is what you need to do to take care of yourself. So that’s something that you can do continuously — constantly checking in with your self your energy level and asking that question over and over again, “what do I need right now?” and then acts accordingly.
The second reason why we might become overstimulated is because we have social anxiety. We don’t feel comfortable around other people. We don’t know what to say or are constantly questioning ourselves. Now of course this can come into that second camp where you’re not feeling secure in this is what we talked about, but I also think that it’s worth noting that when you struggle with this sort of anxiety, it’s a thought process. There is usually a thought that goes through your mind where you tell yourself that, “I won’t know what to say.” Notice that that sentence is future based and so is anxiety. Anxiety is an emotion that we based on some thought that is focused on the future.
So if that’s you, what I encourage you to do is change your thinking. Instead of telling yourself that you won’t know what to do, tell yourself, “I always know what to say” or “I am comfortable in my own skin” or “I’m an interesting person and I can share about myself with ease.” Something like that that helps you to create this sense of security in social settings so that you can show up and not really psych yourself up in advance. Now it doesn’t mean that is always going to be easy for you but certainly you can get your mind to work for you rather than against you by saying these kind of statements rather than saying the things that are only going to perpetuate the problem.
Now, I mentioned loneliness a little bit early on a little bit earlier on and I want to come back to this subject. According to researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad loneliness is “as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” So it’s really important to talk about loneliness in addition to isolation because isolation is a behavior. It’s something that you do. Loneliness is how you feel sometimes when you’re isolated, especially when you’re isolated for reasons that don’t align with what you truly want.
Sometimes as we said if you’re an over-introvert you might really want to isolate and it feels good and it’s appropriate. But other times we are isolated because we don’t feel comfortable or because, like in COVID, we had to isolate ourselves in quarantine and it wasn’t up to us. And a lot of extroverts actually struggled with tons of loneliness as a result because they needed that connection more than anybody else. They needed to feel connected to other people, to interact as they used to in the office every day, and finding themselves isolated at home was extremely difficult. It was also hard for people during COVID to not see their family members for so long.
So let’s talk about what happens when were isolated and that behavior leads to a feeling of loneliness. Well typically what we see is that people can fall into deep depressions and here’s the interesting thing about that. Sometimes we feel lonely because we have poor connection with other people. That means that even when we’re surrounded by others, we may not gain the benefit of those interactions. That’s what we call mental isolation this happens usually when we’re depressed. And when we’re in a bad mental state like this, we’re more likely to also want to physically isolate which perpetuates a feeling of loneliness and exacerbates our depression.
So let me just repeat this because I think it’s important. There’s a difference between mental isolation and physical isolation. And I would say the closest thing to mental isolation is that feeling of loneliness. It’s when we’re around other people but we don’t feel connected or it’s when we are by ourselves because we’re isolated physically and then we feel very alone in the world.
Guillermo Maldonado has been quoted as saying, “Loneliness is not lack of company. Loneliness is lack of purpose.” So I want you to consider if you feel lonely how you can sit down with yourself and create some sort of a purpose for your life moving forward. When you have something in mind in terms of your relationships, not just your business, not just your work and your career because that’s where we tend to focus a lot but that can often be a lot easier for us and feeling connected to other people. So if you’re feeling lonely, make a purpose statement around how you’re going to connect to others because what we know is that at the end of our lives when we look back typically people have the most regrets about how they spend their time and how they didn’t spend enough time with others. That they focused and prioritized on making money and on being successful and on driving themselves, but what really matters at the end of the day that sometimes they realize a little too late is their relationships. So I invite you to find ways to connect, to feel safe and secure with yourself, and to take care of yourself in the process.
I hope it was helpful to you and if you’ve struggled with loneliness, if you have struggled with feeling disconnected from other people, I want to hear from you. Leave me a comment in the notes. I hope this was helpful and that if you’ve tried any of the strategies or suggestions that I’ve made in this episode, I want you to let me know about it and share it with the other guests. And while you’re there be sure to subscribe to the show, like the episode, and tell all your friends because this is something that a lot of people are struggling with unnecessarily.
And if you would like more information on how to work with me, go to my website www.drsharongrossman.com and join my Tribe to Thrive. It’s a way for us to stay connected and continue to learn from each other. Until next week take good care.