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Section 3
Motives for Social Isolation

Question 3 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed the Relationship Inventory technique.  The three types of relationships are pre-trauma relationships, relationships during the trauma, and post-trauma relationships. 

In this section, we will discuss Feelings of Isolation.  In my practice I have found that there are four basic reasons grieving trauma survivors experience feelings of isolation.  These reasons for feelings of isolation are difficulty participating in social gatherings, perceived outcast status, blaming the victim, and the "Just World" philosophy.

Three Reasons for Feelings of Isolation

♦ #1 Difficulty Participating in Social Gatherings
As you are aware, grieving trauma survivors may experience difficulty participating in social gatherings that other people take for granted.  I explain to my clients who have survived trauma that events involving crowds may commonly make survivors feel claustrophobic or paranoid. 

I also state that loud noises and quick movements may resemble the chaotic nature of the trauma, causing panic, and that it is also common for people who are experiencing grief often to find it difficult to enjoy themselves in a social atmosphere due to the extent of their emotional disruptions.  Clearly, clients who are physically or mentally handicapped as a result of trauma may also experience difficulty participating in social gatherings due to their limited capacities.

♦ #2 Perceived Outcast Status
Mary, age 24, was an incest survivor.  Mary experienced grief frequently as a result of her trauma.  Mary’s feelings of isolation occurred due to perceived outcast status.  Mary stated, "I feel like I’ve lost my life.  Everywhere I go, it’s like I’m walking around with a big sign that tells everyone what happened.  Nobody wants to be seen hanging out with someone like me."  Clearly, Mary experienced feelings of isolation because she believed she had a perceived outcast status.  Also, Mary did not attend any family functions. 

She stated, "I can’t go home for Christmas, or any other holiday.  And I certainly don’t have anyplace else to go."  Through no fault of her own, Mary was emotionally isolated from her family.  As you know, perceived outcast status can be real or imagined.   Would you agree that Mary’s perceived outcast status was imagined, or have you found, like I have, that grieving clients often are avoided by their peers who do not want to face the reality of their own vulnerability? 

An example of feelings of isolation due to a real perceived outcast status may be seen in gay and lesbian trauma survivors, and may be actually magnified for the gay and lesbian community.  Grieving clients may be separated from their families due to their sexual orientation.  As a result, their feelings of isolation as a trauma survivor are only increased by the outcast status of homosexuals in society.

♦ #3 Blaming the Victim
In addition to difficulty participating in social gatherings and perceived outcast status, blaming the victim can also result in the grieving client experiencing feelings of isolation.  I have found that trauma victims can be divided into two major groups.  They are natural catastrophe victims and man-made catastrophe victims.  Because natural catastrophes are often seen as ‘acts of God’, these victims generally receive less blame than clients who suffer grief from man-made trauma.  Do you agree that feelings of isolation can occur when clients are blamed for the result of the trauma or the trauma itself? 

Mary, who had an imagined perceived outcast status due to abuse she received as a child in the form of incest, was blamed for what happened.  Mary stated, "When my mom found out, she was so mad.  At first I thought she was angry at my dad, but she wasn’t.  She was mad at me."  Mary’s mother blamed her, when she was actually the victim, for her trauma.  I asked Mary, "Why was your mother mad at you?"  Mary stated, "She blamed me for seducing my own father.  She said that if I hadn’t acted like such a tease, he never would have done what he did."

Where is your traumatized sexually client regarding victim blaming? Is victim blaming something you need to address in your next session?

♦ 3-Step "Does Your Trauma Show?" Technique 
To help Mary overcome feelings of isolation from her perceived outcast status and blame, I decided to use the  ‘Does Your Trauma Show?’ technique.  My description of the technique as follows applied to Mary and helped her realize that others could not see her trauma and therefore that she was not an outcast.  If your client has an altered physical appearance which is the result of trauma, consider using the ‘Does Your Trauma Show?’ technique to help your client come to terms with their appearance.  The ‘Does Your Trauma Show?’ technique is a visualization technique as well as a journaling technique. 

--In the first step, I asked Mary to visualize a social situation.  Mary visualized an office party and identified her feelings of anxiety, her reserved behavior, and her decision to leave as soon as possible.

--The second step consisted of Mary answering the following question in her journal.  "Which of the feelings, thoughts and anxieties you visualized are related to your trauma?"  Mary stated, "All of them, I think."  We discussed her feelings regarding her antisocial feelings and behavior.

--The third step allowed Mary to write freely in her journal and share only what she wanted with me.  I asked her to list the things she did not like about herself as well as those things that others did not like.  I also asked Mary to explore what aspects of herself she was afraid to let others see.  At a later session, Mary stated, "It’s weird.  I always thought maybe I just seemed dirty to people or something, but I guess unless I tell them what happened, no one really has a way of knowing."

♦ #4 The "Just World" Philosophy
In addition to difficulty participating in social gatherings, perceived outcast status and blaming the victim, the "Just World" philosophy can also cause clients to experience feelings of isolation.  As you are probably aware, the "Just World" philosophy contributes to blame placement.  According to the "Just World" philosophy, the world is basically fair and people "get what they deserve." 

Clearly, the fundamental assumption is that if you are careful, moral, and competent, you can avoid misfortune.  Thus, traumatized clients who are experiencing grief are somehow to blame for their fate.  As you are aware, even if clients aren’t directly blamed, they may be accused of causing their own suffering by being weak or ineffectual.  Are you treating a client who suffers from blame because of his or her "Just World" philosophy?

In this section, we discussed Feelings of Isolation.   There are four basic reasons grieving trauma survivors experience feelings of isolation.  These reasons for feelings of isolation are difficulty participating in social gatherings, perceived outcast status, blaming the victim, and the "Just World" philosophy.

In the next section, we will discuss Shattering Assumptions.  As you may know, grieving clients may be forced to reconsider three assumptions about themselves.  They are the loss of invulnerability, the loss of an orderly world, and the loss of a positive self-image.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Beller, J., & Wagner, A. (2018). Loneliness, social isolation, their synergistic interaction, and mortality. Health Psychology, 37(9), 808–813.

Delelis, G., & Christophe, V. (2018). Motives for social isolation following a negative emotional episode. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 77(3), 127–131.

Elmer, T., Geschwind, N., Peeters, F., Wichers, M., & Bringmann, L. (2020). Getting stuck in social isolation: Solitude inertia and depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. 

What are the four basic reasons grieving trauma survivors experience feelings of isolation? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 4
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