Existential Psychology

Rationalizing Isolation As Solitude

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When isolated, bereft of community, steps are usually taken to try to rectify the situation. Nobody likes feeling isolated. We’re isolated enough as it is, even when surrounded by a supportive community. We’re all separate beings very much aware of our separateness, separate beings encased in our own skins with firsthand access only to our own thoughts and feelings. We can describe our experiences to others and they can describe their experiences to us, we can go through experiences together, but we can never be absolutely sure that we understand each other because we don’t share bodies or brains.

And so we find ourselves constantly reaching out to connect with our fellows as best we can in order to diminish that inherent existential isolation. When we do feel connected to life and people it works, the felt sense of isolation is banished to the periphery.

But when we don’t feel connected to life and people existential isolation is only magnified, and it’s painful. So painful in fact that if we fail in our attempts to bridge the gap we’ll likely resort to psychological coping mechanisms in order to try to diminish some of the pain through different channels than the preferred healthy channel of community.

Probably the most common coping mechanism is rationalizing isolation as solitude, in effect convincing ourselves that a painful, unwanted state of being that’s detrimental to our mental health is actually a pleasant, wanted state of being that’s required for our mental health. It’s a neat trick really. Everybody needs solitude once in a while, we need to get away from all the noise, to recharge on our own time. Since isolation and solitude both imply being alone we can sort of trick ourselves into believing the first is actually the second.

While the rationalization does reduce some of the sting – if we can convince ourselves that we really do want to be alone then being alone doesn’t hurt so much – it’s a crutch that keeps us from making the required efforts to forge a community, to find our place within a group of people. Feeling like we belong somewhere, that we’re part of a community (whether it’s just one other person or a large group of people), is the only surefire way to keep existential isolation at bay.