The Isolation Trap

We are naturally social beings, it is literally part of our DNA to come together in groups, it is the foundation of our society. Human connection is key to our wellbeing. A hug of fifteen seconds or more releases oxytocin in our brain, which makes us feel good. Being with each other is good for us.

And yet, when we are going through a transition or a trial of some sort, we often become isolated. This not only negatively affects our well-being, it impairs our cognitive abilities and makes us more prone to depression and anxiety. So why do we do this?

Working with people who are leaving the corporate environment, I know that this can simply be a case of circumstance. There is no office to go to, there aren’t any meetings you have to be at, there are no longer a group of people who are expecting you to show up. So you end up on your own, probably sitting in your spare-bedroom-come-home-office or at the dining table, trying to work things out by yourself.

Added to this are feelings of vulnerability and shame that are associated with going through this transition. When we are changing our role, changing our appearance or our position in the world, we often feel challenged. It’s a sort of existential crisis, we know we are not the person we were but we don’t yet know who we are to become. At times like this we can withdraw from social contact because it is too difficult to explain what is going on in our lives. Besides, most of the people we speak to won’t understand even if we could explain it because they’ve never been in our situation.

So, as well as physical isolation we add social isolation. We think we can figure things out on our own and we avoid meeting people until we’ve ‘cracked it’.

Tied up with this is the image of the heroic leader, the intrepid explorer, the lone maverick. Entrepreneurs are glorified as individuals who are the authors of their own success, using their unique and individual talents to forge new opportunities. These popular mythologies are reflected back to us our culture and media, so trying to do it on our own ‘looks’ right.

The problem is that these are myths and the reality is that very few, if any, do it by themselves. They succeed because the join with others, they help and are helped by other actors. Even in the hero’s journey, the basis of many stories, the hero is assisted along their journey by other, often mythical and wise, characters.

What’s more, whilst you are one your own you are ‘stewing in your own juices’. Your imagined failures and problems feed upon each other and grow, each negative thoughts adding the earlier ones and pushing you into a downward spiral. Once you get amongst others you realise that they have very similar problems and you can talk about the issues. It’s amazing how much smaller a problem is when you have spoken it out loud and exposed it to the cold light of day.

You also get the chance to help others with their problems, which makes you feel good and boosts your self-esteem. It’s also surprising how often you find your own answers as you solve someone else’s problem.

So, basically, isolation is counter-productive. We need to have that connection with others and to reach out for help. However, it’s important to find the right groups and people to be with. Whilst it undoubtedly better to get out and meet people, any people, to staying in your bedroom office, if you are only spending  time with people who have no experience of your situation, no empathy for you and no understanding of your challenges, then you can still feel on your own in a crowded room. (although, just to be clear, that’s still better that being completely on your own!).

There a lots of groups that you can go and try and experience. It is a case of experimenting and looking for the places where you meet people that you click with, where you feel comfortable and that feed your curiosity. It’s good to have a mix, so go to some events that feed your mind, others that you enjoy and yet others that give you the business connections that help you.

They don’t have to all be dry business meetings, either. Doing activities that you enjoy with people really builds deep relationships and you may find opportunities flow out of those because of all the people that they know. Go to art clubs, writing groups, drama societies, macrame clubs – whatever floats your boats. If it makes you happy, then people will see you at your best and will imagine you being that good in other areas of your life, like your business.

Don’t fall into the isolation trap. Get out and meet people. Only good can come of it.

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