Emotional Isolation: impacting relationships and self-worth

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Emotional Isolation: impacting relationships and self-worth


We  live in a world where interaction with others is essential for our emotional and physical well-being.  Relationships provide meaning, joy and purpose in our lives.  However, we must also acknowledge that certain relationships can trigger negative responses such as hurt and low self-worth to name but a few.  To protect ourselves from further emotional distress we instinctively learn to separate from others.

There have been times in my life when I have felt totally alone with my emotions even though physically I have been surrounded by people.  The sudden and unexpected death of my Mother when she was 43, was one of those times.  I was 19 and the youngest member of a family whose pattern of relating to each other was already sadly lacking.  In essence we were emotionally unavailable for each other.  

During my childhood I had learnt to keep my emotional side hidden.  I silently struggled to make sense of the world around me.  I could neither find the words nor the right person to whom I could express the emotional turmoil I felt deep inside.  I coped by supressing my feelings and consciously moved them out of my awareness.  This was a pattern so ingrained in me that I naturally repeated it after the death of my Mother for many years.

Patricia DeYoung, a Relational Psychotherapist, speaks of emotional isolation as becoming a “habit of being” rather than something that is imposed upon us.  It can serve to protect us from an environment that is abusive or nonresponsive.  When accepted as a “habit of being” the danger is our lives can become joyless, narrow and rigid.  Comfort can sometimes be sought via obsessions, substance abuse or compulsions.  Feelings of numbness, emptiness, depression, despair, anxiety and self-loathing may not be far away.


We are all born into an environment that is chosen for us.  As children we adapt to that environment including the people that surround us.  Carl Rogers, the founder of  Client-Centred Therapy (now referred to as Person-Centred Therapy) discovered that children instinctively absorb the values of those they depend upon for their early survival.  This can affect the way in which we view ourselves in terms of self-worth and self-esteem.  The relational experiences we have during times of distress, when ultimately we need soothing, are stored and used to define our behaviour patterns.  Soothing during childhood is especially important.  Without soothing we can learn never to voice our pain when hurt or wronged. It is at these times we feel emotionally isolated.    

Do phrases such as “good boy, good girl or bad boy, bad girl” and “you are clever, you are stupid” ring any bells?  Those are examples of some of the powerful messages that, if we let them, stay with us for the remainder of our lives and affect the way in which we relate intimately to others and in some cases the way in which we isolate ourselves from others.

Who experiences emotional isolation?

Emotional isolation can be experienced by anyone.    People of all cultures, genders, social class and ages will at some point in their life feel isolated.  Feeling different to others, self-loathing, insecurity and low self-confidence can all trigger emotional isolation.  Crisis such as divorce, bereavement or illness can engender people to distance themselves from meaningful contact with others.  

Cruse Bereavement Care offers useful insight into isolation during bereavement at: http://www.cruse.org.uk/search/node/isolation.

Society has a tendency to stereo type individuals and can impose further pressures prohibiting us from expressing emotions.  Some families view the men in their family as the strong figure.  

Further reading on “Men and Isolation” can be found at:

How can counselling help?

Counselling can assist you in identifying behaviour patterns of emotional isolation and help uncover the reasons for dysfunctional relationships in your life.  At the core of my training to become a Counsellor was the in depth study of childhood development and relationships.  My aim is to offer you a therapeutic relationship that is non-judgemental, safe and nurturing. I will listen carefully with interest and sensitivity offering understanding and a new perspective. We will work together, at a pace to suit you, to work out solutions to aid you in establishing a more fulfilling life.  

“When you find yourself cocooned in isolation

and cannot find your way out of the darkness


that this is similar to the place

where caterpillars go to grow their wings”

Quote – Unknown




DeYoung, P.A., 2013. Relational Psychotherapy.  New York: Routledge.

Sanders, P (Ed.), Merry, T., Cooper, M., & Worsley, R. 2007. The Tribes of the Person-Centred Nation – An introduction to the Schools of Therapy Related to the Person-Centred Approach.  London: PCCS Books.

Good Therapy.org  – “Isolation” (15/12/2013).

Available at:  http://www.goodtherapy.org/therapy-for-isolation.html [Accessed 07/03/2014]