Posted by: RealisticRecovery | May 22, 2009

Hellhole… the one we put ourselves in.

Hellhole… the one we put ourselves in.

by Dr. John Nickens

Self-imposed isolation is more destructive and debilitating than you might imagine.

The March 30,2009 issue of the New Yorker magazine contains a disturbingly informative article by Atul Gawande titled HELLHOLE, in which he describes the psychological horrors of long-term solitary confinement.  His focus is on the American penal system, and his article makes a compelling argument for changes that should and could be made if we are to reject the  infliction of torture on our own citizens – even those who have committed heinous acts.

Though perhaps not intended by Mr. Gawande, his article also brought me some insight into the destructive force of a different kind of isolation:  the self-imposed, emotional kind.  This is not the complete physical isolation represented by the solitary confinement discussed in Atul Gawande’s HELLHOLE, yet may be more prevalent and in its unique way just as destructive.  This kind of self-imposed isolation happens when a person retreats within themselves and ceases to communicate with others in any meaningful way.   This kind of “emotional sheltering” is a core symptom of psychosis, but can also happen when an otherwise well-functioning person simple stops maintaining congruence between his/her inner life and the daily reality they live.   According to one prisoner Mr. Gawande interviewed, “After a few months without regular social contact…. he started to lose his mind.”  While the meaning is clear in the context of the article, it begs the question of what constitutes “regular social contact.”

Self-imposed emotional isolation – being a form of social isolation – can be presumed to cause mental and emotional suffering as well as interpersonal alienation.  These in turn, though perhaps falling short of causing one to lose ones mind,  can be presumed to potentially cause serious mental distress.

Mr. Gawande goes on to state something commonly accepted by psychotherapists:  “Everyone’s identity is socially created:  it’s through your relationships that you understand yourself…”.  So we can then again presume that self-imposed emotional isolation can result in the loss of our sense of identity.

The point is, it can be crucial to your mental health and emotional well-being to have relationships that allow the free expression of ideas and feelings, and provide us a reflection back regarding our congruence or incongruence with personal and community standards.  Not that we must always adhere to those standards, but so that we will know, from the feedback of others, when we do and when we don’t.  Only then can we make informed and thoughtful decisions about our thoughts, feelings and conduct, and to the possible positive and negative consequences we may face.

The “hellhole” of isolation and alienation from those around us can also be self-perpetuating, in that a some isolation can result in increasing isolation, until the alienation is more profound that we ever expected or intended.

If you are feeling alone, and also feel that no one else could or would want to listen to you if you really said what you think and feel, it’s important for you to find someone who will help you to see that everything you feel can be spoken aloud and considered for it’s meaningfulness to you.  Starting with one person will help you to learn how to speak your truth to others (even if they are “selected” others), and will end your deep feeling of loneliness and alienation.

(“A qualified professional psychotherapist, who will listen and reflect but will not judge, is a safe place to start to let a little sunshine in.  You’ll be surprised how quickly the shadows recede.   Make an appointment today”.  – Dr John Nickens)

source: dr. j’s therapy blog


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