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Motives for Social Isolation
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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
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?
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
♦ #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?
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
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."
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
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
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