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Loneliness

6 Signs of Social Isolation Schema

Do you find most social activities exhausting because you feel you don't fit in?

Key points

  • People with social isolation schema may have grown up feeling like they don’t belong, and like there’s something wrong with them.
  • They may avoid people and find relationships fake and exhausting, and may feel they can relax and be themselves only when they’re alone.
  • Letting go of this schema takes patience and practice and stepping outside of your comfort zone.

This post is one part of the schemas: an introduction series of 18 posts, covering each of the 18 schemas outlined originally by Jeffrey Young. I’m presenting my own take on these concepts in addition to Young’s original definitions. You can check out this post for more background on the definition of schemas, which I call the "DNA” of your personality. This series describes what it’s like to have each schema, how to notice it, and how to manage it.

 Africa Studio/Shutterstock
You can prove to yourself that you’re worth it!
Source: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Social Isolation Schema

You may have grown up feeling like you don’t belong—like there’s something wrong with you just for being you. And now you avoid people and find relationships fake and exhausting, and you feel like you can relax and be you only when you’re alone.

This strong belief that you are flawed and don’t fit in can come from two formative childhood experiences:

  1. You may have started with parents who made you feel you weren’t good enough, or not as good as a sibling, or not what they wanted. They didn’t have to explicitly say this, but they communicated it with tone and attitude, or by seeming disappointed.
  2. When you got to school, classmates started treating you poorly, excluding you, or bullying you—for whatever reason. Add social media bullying to the mix and it’s even more brutal. Different. Awkward. Ignorant. Nerd. Dork. Artist. Loser. Poor. Inept. Uncool. Not white. Not straight. Not male. Not good-looking (according to norms). Not behaving correctly. Not from the right neighborhood or country. Not from the right family. Wrong kind of body. Scapegoat. Not human. There are always words for the social rejection and labeling that happens early in life, in what can be the brutal childhood socializing and bullying behaviors reflecting social prejudice and broader institutional violence seeping into personal relations.

You may have social isolation schema if you suffered through either of the above experiences— especially if you survived both. As a result, it feels like you don’t fit in, or can’t fit in, or even that you don’t want to fit in. So you isolate, which feels like a relief from stress, but also leaves you feeling alone. Your comfort zone also feels like confinement. Does it have to be this way?

6 Signs of Social Isolation Schema

  1. You find social activities exhausting. While attending social events, even with friends, you may feel drained. It’s so much work being around people and acting the “right” way.
  2. You feel like you have to hide who you really are.
  3. Deep down, you believe if people see the real you, they will reject you.
  4. You usually compare yourself to others assuming that others are always better than you.
  5. You have a strong inner critic voice that bullies you.
  6. You tell yourself that you prefer solitude but, truthfully, you often feel lonely and left out.

How to Start Letting Go of This Schema

The first thing to know is that, like most personal growth and change, this is a step-by-step process that takes patience and practice, and, with each effort, another small step outside of your comfort zone. Let’s break it down:

  • Review the past. Try to understand your history, looking for likely sources of feeling repeatedly rejected or getting the message that there’s something “wrong” with you. Was it the way you were treated by your parents or a kind of scapegoat role you played in your family? Was it bullying in school?
  • Change your point of view. Look at your life objectively, as though you were looking at the story of someone else, like a friend or character in a novel. Is it fair or just that someone should be treated this way? List the ways it was unfair.
  • Take stock. After an honest conversation with yourself about how fair those judgments were, take stock. If you have qualities that you still believe are problematic and that are within your power to change, take a hard look at what you can do. On the other hand, it’s likely that you were unfairly treated for reasons based on ignorance and prejudice: That’s an injustice to overcome.
  • Take a sober look at things, which includes the question “What if it’s not me?” You may need to look at whether the people you’re spending time with are not actually allies or good for you.
  • Fight back against that inner critic through positive self-talk.
  • Take action. If you believe you can make some positive changes for yourself, find others with the same goals to get support. If the reasons you were treated poorly were based on ignorance or hate, connect with your people. Look for social support from peers. There may be an online or meetup group out there made up of people who can relate and advocate for you in a supportive, dignified way.
  • Start practicing. Once you have started repairing your self-esteem with the above steps, start getting more involved with people you like. Start with small exposure: Take yourself to more social activities. There may be some that are harder for you than others. Work your way up.

If you can overcome the beliefs that people won’t like you and give yourself a chance, you can prove to yourself that you’re worth it.

A challenge with social isolation schema is that you may have become “too good” at isolating, and prefer your solitary experiences to the challenge of being with people. To a degree, we all have to cope with the fact that relationships are challenging. Especially because of COVID-19, relationships can feel like a lot of work. We all have to make a decision about how much work we’re willing to do and what to expect in terms of the rewards of friendship, support, and love from others.

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