ISOLATION: LIFE IN A VACUUM

"Life is for each man a solitary cell whose walls
are mirrors.”
Eugene O’Neill
No man is an island. So it is said. Yet, there are many men and women in our society whose lives would indicate the contrary. They live in an empty world; one in which, for the most part the only sounds are those of silence. A deafening silence! A world of isolation.
Isolation is often an acquired taste. At first difficult to adjust to and manage, it can become a familiar choice. It may arise from increased demands on one’s time such as work. Or it may result from feelings of worthlessness among family and peers leading to a slow and insidious withdrawal from contact.
Whatever the etiology, one thing is clear: People who are lonely, depressed—isolated—are three to five times as likely to develop serious illnesses or die prematurely than those who maintain intimate ties with family, friends and community. Love and intimacy not only feels good, but actually can affect the quality and quantity of our lives! Interestingly, there is no factor in medicine—not diet, smoking, exercise, stress, genetics, drugs or surgery—that has a greater impact on the quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death than the healing power of love and intimacy.
Yet so many people live unfulfilled lives. There is no love—not just romantic love, but a sense of belonging to a family, peer group, community organization. Love and intimacy creates powerful positive beliefs about one’s ability to affect others and be affected in kind. The idea of comfort, security—at times euphoria—that results from belonging and being loved can produce, among other things, endorphins which favorably impact the body. Some studies have actually linked these phenomena to improved immune systems, lowered blood pressure and reduced anxiety, which itself, can cause destruction to the body.
Only when those who feel “alone” become aware that isolation is a choice that is made; that it is a pernicious health hazard, and that it’s alternative---loving and being loved—is life enhancing, can they learn to make a different choice. A choice based on perhaps the belief that feeling “a part” instead of “apart” is as essential to life as eating, sleeping and breathing.
So how do you break the silence? Once you have come to terms with the importance of love and intimacy as life-enhancing phenomena, you can discover their existence in many contexts. Such as romantic encounters, groups or community organizations to which you seek membership, family relationships. Whatever the situation, there are opportunities everywhere to become part of someone or something if you are willing to risk being emotionally vulnerable. That is, to reveal who you really are and show your true feelings, even though the response you receive may not be desirable and may hurt.
Ah, but risk—there’s the rub. Many people in our culture believe they lack someone or some affiliation of people they can trust enough to lower their emotional defenses and share their feelings. Thus, they remain on that “island.” Unfortunately they fail to see the paradox: The very behavior that is believed to be protecting them can threaten their survival! Playing it safe maintains isolation with it’s attendant health hazards. Under the circumstances, learning to risk is certainly worth the risk.

  • Reach out and touch someone. Begin by telling it like it is—communi-cate how you feel. What we say and how we say it can determine the extent to which others are willing to also risk and relate in kind. Those who relate by revealing, though somewhat vulnerable, tend to be perceived as genuine, open and worthy of equal sharing. If this process seems a little difficult at first, practice by asking yourself how different people and events affect you, both positively and negatively. Then articulate those feelings in front of a mirror.
  • Listen…a lot! Listening communicates genuine interest and concern. It is, perhaps, the most desirable quality in an interaction. Although it is important to feel comfortable relating on a variety of issues, relate moderately…unless you are running for office. On the other hand, you will not likely be accused of listening too much. Listening will create stronger bonds, reducing the likelihood of isolation.

Find others who like what you like. Join—or even start—groups with similar interests. Groups of people who share common goals, hobbies and ideas can increase the “safety” factor in risking; in becoming vulnerable. By increasing the degree of comfort, we can then lower the shields of defense—the barriers that create isolation. And, in opening your heart to another, you can finally leave that island!