Grief and Isolation

10 signs you’ve been spending too much time alone:

1.  Your laundry basket is filled with a soft pile of sweatshirts, oversized t-shirts and elastic waist pants.

IMG_54022.  The sound of your phone’s ringtone evokes the same fight or flight response as the sound of a really loud fire alarm.

Untitled3.  You’ve been carrying on odd conversations with objects around your house.

teapot4.  There is no greater affront than someone knocking on your door.

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5.  You feel excessively pessimistic, obsessive, anxious and worried.

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6.  Before you leave the house you have to remind yourself to act normal because there will be people.

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7.  You’ve become so unpracticed at the art of social norms that even the slightest interaction turns awkward. 

Wait But Why

 

(Image taken from a blog post that made me laugh several times on ‘Wait But Why’.)

8. When someone asks ‘what’s new’ you get tongue-tied looking for something noteworth to say aside from that you just marathon watched all 10 seasons of  Beverly Hills 90210.

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 9. When someone asks you to do something you say you’ll check your schedule and then get disappointed when you find you have no excuse to say ‘no’.

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10.  You’ve psyched yourself out so much that you assume you stick out like a shy and uncomfortable eyesore in all social situations.

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I know most of you aren’t actual hermit-people; but the inclination to stay in and stay away is stronger than ever after the death of a loved one.  The shift caused by significant loss can lead you to feel more isolated than you’re accustomed to. While you try to adjust to life in the wake of major change, it’s business as usual for those around you and it’s easy to feel cut off from family and friends, left out, alienated and misunderstood.  Not to mention, many people intentionally isolate due to feelings of anger, sadness, mistrust, helplessness, anxiety, and depression.  Grief and loneliness go hand in hand for a number of reasons but I’ll name just a few…

  • The person who died was one of your closest confidants or best friends.
  • Your friends stop calling because they feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say.
  • Your partner has died and everywhere you go you feel like a 3rd, 5th, or 7th wheel.
  • You don’t feel like those around you are tolerant of your grief.
  • Every interaction you have is filled with superficial condolences.
  • You don’t want to leave the house because you’re tired of making everyone else feel better about the death.
  • You don’t want to leave the house because you’re tired of having to reassure everyone you’re doing okay.
  • You don’t want to leave the house because you’re afraid something will trigger your grief and you’ll become emotional in public.
  • The things that used to seem important now seem pretty unimportant.
  • You don’t feel like you have anyone to really talk to.
  • People are pushing you to feel better and you don’t want to admit you still feel bad.
  • You don’t want to admit you’re lonely.
  • You don’t care.
  • You’re struggling with anxiety or depression.
  • An illness or disability makes it difficult to get out of the house without your deceased loved one.
  • You can’t possibly think of where you would go.

I could keep on going but our posts are long enough already (yes, we’re aware).  The point is that for a whole slew of reasons grievers are at increased risk of experiencing social and emotional isolation and loneliness. For many these feelings will be a passing phase, but for others they will serve as a tipping point for cyclical negative thinking and actual withdraw.

For clarifications sake, I’d like to differentiate between social isolation, emotional isolation and loneliness:

Social Isolation: Psychologically or physical distancing from desired or needed relationships.  This includes relationships in the broader community; organizations like work, school or church; and family, friends and significant others. Many, especially introverts, feel alone time is important to their emotional well being, but social isolation becomes a problem when you no longer benefit from the distance placed between you and these entities.

Emotional Isolation: When a person feels they have no one they can talk to or confide in. Perhaps they have relationships that trigger negative feelings and thoughts so they withdraw as a defense against feeling stress, betrayal, pressure, shame or guilt. Emotionally isolated individuals may evolve to a point where they keep their feelings to themselves and they feel totally despondent about communicating with others or receiving their emotional support.  One may be emotionally isolated despite having friends and family because they keep their relationships on a superficial level.   In this way they might be surrounded by people, yet still feel lonely and unable to relate to or bond with others.  

For grievers, this might occur when they feel others aren’t tolerant or accepting of their grief.  They may also cut themselves off emotionally if it seems like people are uncomfortable with their expression of grief related emotions or if others react to their feelings in a way that minimizes their grief or pushes them to move on. 

Loneliness: One’s perception that they don’t have the amount or quality of social interaction they desire. The perception of feeling lonely is relative to what you feel would be personally fulfilling. One can still feel lonely even when surrounded by family and friends because they’re missing the type of bond or amount of contact they feel desirable.

Loneliness and isolation have the capacity to erode both your emotional and physical well-being.   Feeling alienated and isolated from social interaction can trigger a spiral of negative thinking about oneself – I have nothing to offer others, I’m not interesting, I’m different – and about others – everyone lies, they are all so fake, all anyone ever does is pressure me.  When you’re lonely your brain tries to make sense of why and sometimes the answers it comes up with are less than logical.  For example rather than thinking – I’m going through a tough adjustment period – you think – I don’t fit in anywhere.  These assumptions become confused with facts and the next time you work up the courage to leave the house you are more inclined to see the world through this negative lens.

As if the emotional toll weren’t enough, one only needs to Google ‘loneliness’ to find that it’s also linked to a whole slew of physical maladies such as hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, inflammation in the body, problems with learning and memory, lower immune system, increase in the stress hormone cortisol, lower quality of sleep, and premature aging.  Yikes!

Isolation is an actual health risk so it’s important to pay attention to how your coping in the weeks and months following a loss, especially if you’re someone who tends to withdraw into oneself.  If you see yourself slipping into isolation, it’s probably best to try and find a few small ways to connect. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Recognize negative thinking and the stories you are telling yourself – I’m not likable, no one wants to spend time with me, everyone else is happy, everyone else has someone they can talk to, I don’t fit in anywhere.  Refuse to buy into these stories and look for evidence to the contrary.  For those willing to see a therapist, Cognitive Behavioral Therapists are especially helpful when trying to combat negative thinking.
  • Intentionally place yourself in social settings.  If your not ready to join a group, start by simply going to public places like the mall or the park.
  • Look for evidence in your environment that you aren’t in fact alone.  Remember, loneliness isn’t the same as being alone and one can feel lonely even when surrounded by family and friends.  Check out our activity on Support System Superlatives, you may realize you have people you can count on afterall.
  • Avoid toxic relationships.  These relationships can affirm your worst fears about people and increase the likelihood of emotional withdraw.
  • Step out of your comfort zone – accept an invitation or initiate plans with someone.
  • Write an email, send a Facebook message, text a family member, send a letter, or phone a friend.
  • Read our post on maintaining relationships with family and friends after the death of a loved one,
  • Say hello, smile, or make eye contact when walking down the street.
  • Volunteer somewhere where you’re likely to have contact with other people.
  • Join a club where people have similar interests to your own.
  • Resist the urge to cancel plans or no-show.
  • Ask people about themselves.
  • Look for similarities in others, rather than differences.
  • If one group doesn’t work for you, try another.
  • Ask for help.
  • Try a support group.
  • Try individual or group therapy.
  • Make the best of your alone time; do something constructive, cathartic, therapeutic, or good for your health.

Have a suggestion for combating loneliness and isolation?  Share it in the comments below.  Also don’t forget to subscribe to receive our posts straight to your email inbox and check out our growing library of print grief resources.

April 12, 2017

21 responses on "Grief and Isolation"

  1. Bethany HildebrandJuly 19, 2016 at 6:02 pmReply

    Beth, I’m in the same boat, my boyfriend/best and only friend committed suicide 11 months ago. He had recently stepped down from a position and then quit entirely, he then got hired at a different company and quit. I knew he was depressed and stressed out about a job and being what he would call a success, but I didn’t think he was that bad off. I came home and found him dead. At first I just thought he was asleep, I thought “wow he must be worn out” and I thought I’d just take a shower and wake him up and we’ll go get Chinese food. When I came over to him to “wake him up” that’s when it hit me. It was as if I completely lost my mind. I was still trying to wake him up by giving his arm a little shake. I see it over and over again since then. Not only do I have no friends, none that live near me that I can talk emotionally to (I inherited his two best friends that live in different states) but since we weren’t married I had no rights and his family trampled over me. We didn’t really care about getting married, we just loved eachother. Those years with him i was the happiest ive ever been. As long as Paul was in my life and for me to come home to I could handle anything, even our two failed pregnancies. Now without him I don’t know who I am or what I’m going to do. We both suffered from depression but we propped eachother up, or so we tried. Not only is it more pain than I ever thought I could feel, but the lack of support and regognition takes it to the next level. It’s a constant feeling of emptiness. I’ve gotten the “you’ll find someone else, you’re young and pretty” or “he was just your boyfriend, you’ll move on” I just want to ask those people if they loved their spouse before they got married or after?

  2. I lost my dearest friend who was also my boyfriend in January of 2015 to his battle with depression and anxiety. This article was so very relateable. I feel so “off”–not here, and it is so unnerving. I am a bit of an introvert and have my own struggles with both depression and anxiety. We could relate to several issues, and I felt that all the pain of the previous years of struggle had brought us together….he meant the world to me, and I feel so completely alone and lost. We were supposed to have a future together; I felt that God brought us together….and just when we were getting started, everything fell apart, and now he is gone. All I feel is grief; it doesnt matter how much therapy I’ve done, how healthy I eat, how much sleep I get…..I feel only great loss and pain. I have lost interest in any previous hobbies and interests, and although I do not enjoy being alone, no one in my very small world can understand what I am experiencing emotionally and mentally.

    I am so afraid that it will always be like this–that I will never see color again nor experience joy.

  3. My wife passed on 04/10/16. I am now always alone too. I work alone and now I live alone. My wife and I were each other’s whole lives. I didn’t mind to much working alone before her death because we would email and text during the work day and I could just think about her. Just doing those things made me so happy during the day. We met in middle age after each of us having traumatic lives prior to meeting each other. It took us years to fully trust that neither of us would abandon the other. I finally gave my complete heart to her in 2015 after multiple losses prior to meeting my wife. Now my wife is dead. More abandonment issues. Alone at home, alone at work. How do I ever start over?

  4. I lost my dad in October 2007 to suicide. Shortly after, the demise of my marriage. My mom just passed December 2014 then just a few months later, my best friend’s husband suddenly died. I live alone, I am a hermit. I have zero if any ambition to go out and socialize and I know that I am doing it so I don’t have to feel any more. Add to that, at work I am the only one in my state that does what I do so I also work alone. I find that the rest of the team, in San Antonio, does all kinds of team activities which I cannot do because of where I am. That alone makes me feel isolated. So I am alone at home, alone at work and don’t know how to change anything. Since my mom passed, my rating at work has reached an all time low. I wish I knew what to do or even can get myself to do something. Not sure where to go from here.

  5. Dearest Judy, my heart goes out to you. I know that your life will never be the same but I do hope that you can forgive yourself for anything causing your feelings of guilt. I know that you must have loved your daughter very much and she knew that too. That’s all that you can do – love your children – You couldn’t have known what troubles she kept inside. God bless you and your sweet daughter.

  6. Unfortunately, there is no place where bereaved fathers can get together in my town.

  7. Since the passing of my boyfriend, I’m experiencing great loneliness. Steve & I did not live in the same town; however, all of our friends were where he lived. Since his passing I’m back full-time at my home. The silence is deafening know that I will never receive a phone call or text messages. And being there alone can be unbearable because my brain & thoughts never shut down. I’m not alienating or distancing myself from friends or family because I do go out; however, I do find that I don’t feel like I can talk to people because they don’t understand how I feel. Steve was my everything, so I am struggling with “who am I”, it was pointed out that I could be struggling with my identity. Could you provide a post about losing your identity after the loss of a partner or loved one. I have actually considered moving back to where he lived so that I could surround myself with his family & our friends so that I feel like I talk with those who knew him.

  8. My daughter committed suicide 5 yrs ago on October 12, 2010. She had a 9 yr old son & twins that were 2 yrs old at the time. She was 34 yrs old, a single mom & her ex husband wanted their 9 yr old son, this was why she killed herself, she knew her son wanted to live with his father, he had money & no other kids. It broke her heart, as she told me, mom the dad’s want my family & I can’t afford to go to court anymore, the dads have money for expensive lawyers & I don’t. The night before she committed suicide I was driving home from work & she called me & thanked me for everything I had done for her. I said, Renae you sound depressed, why don’t I pick you up and we can go out to eat. Her very last words to me were, No mom, I just want peace & quiet, I thought it was because she had the 3 kids all weekend & wanted to rest, I found out that night she shot herself in the head. She was a beautiful daughter but kept so much in, wouldn’t open up. I have so many guilt feelings of things I should have done, I miss her and love her so much. I think of her everyday, I don’t want to go anywhere, I have to make myself cook & clean. My life will never be the same.

    • Judy – I’m so very sorry for your loss. Just know that you are not alone! We all have regrets when we lose a loved one; things we think we should’ve done, but try to imagine if things were reversed: Would you want your loved one blaming them self? No, we would beg and plead with them to live a happy and fulfilled life! We are always so much harder on ourselves than we are on other people! Please start loving yourself as much as you love your daughter! You are equally as worthy of love as you are capable of loving!

  9. @Eleanor, oh yes please. Please do an article (and a podcast?) on dealing with trauma after a death. Two days after the funeral, I experienced a horrible crime…

    @Anonymous C, I’m thinking about your comment…sometimes you never know. You never know, maybe if you had pointed in the correct direction, maybe on that particular day that way might have been longer, or might have ended up being a bumpy route for your father. You never know. But, you were with your father during that time. I’m sure he was grateful for your presence and love during those moments. Humans are not perfect. I wish you well and I’m very sorry for your loss.

  10. Loved the cartoons! Just to offer a different perspective: Will someone please address the concerns of people who, when they step out of the house, are hurt by other people? I recently had my keys stolen and the next day someone who threatened me waved at me. Last year I was physically assaulted. Earlier this year I brought flowers to a sick friend and was screamed at to stay away. And the widows group I tried to join asked me to stay away from “live events”, including meetings. You gals are so sharp; do you think you can help some of us tackle this?

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Hmmm thanks for this suggestion and I’m sorry you’ve had these traumatic experiences. We’ll have to think about it and see if we can come up with something…I’m sure we can.

      • I’m sure you can! You always have such a wide variety of examples of people experiencing grief, and then when you give solutions you really get creative and offer a large number of those, too. Thank you for replying to me.

  11. Profile photo of Litsa Williams

    Masatoshi, I am so sorry for the loss of your wife. I am sure that has been incredibly painful on its own, not to mention the stress of being a single father. It is very unfortunate to hear that in Japan they make a distinction between the pension of a survivor based on gender. Have you considered attending a support group for widows? You may find other individuals there who are struggling with the same challenges of grieving and single parenting. I hope that you have found some helpful articles on our website. We do have a number of posts on helping and supporting grieving children, which may be useful.

  12. Thanks for the new post.

    I really can’t get rid of the negative thinking, because I pointed a wrong way for the driver that made us in a long traffic jam as we went home with dying father in a hot day. How hot in a car, my father’s face seemed like a fish without living water…I always think I make father very very painful in his last time, I can’t forgive my wrong decision, no one will forgive me.

    Sorry I shouldn’t write this terrible comment with poor English(I’m from other country). I should consult a local therapist. Edit or del it as needed…

  13. LISA ROSENBAUM JONESOctober 14, 2014 at 4:22 pmReply

    lost my mom 5/5/2014

  14. lost my wife 2/2/2014

  15. I feel a lot of the things that you have suggested.

  16. This is so good. Thank you, Eleanor. Love the graphics, too. You two are amazing.

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