Lonely Madness: The Effects of Solitary Confinement and Social Isolation on Mental and Emotional Health

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Biology 202, Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
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Lonely Madness: The Effects of Solitary Confinement and Social Isolation on Mental and Emotional Health

Carly Frintner

By Carly Frintner
Paper #3 for Neurobiology and Behavior, Spring 2005
Professor Paul Grobstein

I began to research the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners' behavior while thinking about the ways in which we isolate ourselves from others, or are isolated by others in our daily lives. I cherish and am very protective of my own chosen moments of solitude, but I also know that long periods of time alone can send me into a depressive state, or make me feel like I'm going crazy. More specifically, a kind of panic sets in when I realize I'm alone with my thoughts with no one to affirm or deny the validity of what I'm thinking. When I'm by myself for too long, I start to question my own understanding of reality—of who I really am and what the world is really like. I need interactions with other people because they are such a significant part of how I understand and enjoy my life and my reason for living. All people seem to depend on varying amounts and intensities of social interaction to keep them happy, stable, and sane. This is not surprising given that human beings are social animals by nature.

Human beings are also naturally curious. Drastically reducing the amount of "normal social interaction, of reasonable mental stimulus, of exposure to the natural world, of almost everything that makes life human and bearable, is emotionally, physically, and psychologically destructive" (2) because it denies us the ability to ask questions and seek reasons and information to form explanations that allow us to understand ourselves as well as our world and our place and purpose in the world. It is logical that we feel less stable and secure overall when the things that our brain and body rely on to connect to and understand our surroundings are taken away from us.

In class, we have occasionally discussed how we check in with other people to get an understanding of ourselves. In one extreme example, we recalled a final scene of the movie "A Beautiful Mind" in which Professor John Nash asked a student to verify that there was a man standing there talking to him. Because Nash's schizophrenia often caused him to hallucinate, he relied on other people to assure him what he was seeing was not just his own reality, but the reality of the world (including other people). We all do this to a certain degree, though probably to check much less subtle information than whether a person is or is not actually a hallucination.

Out of the more than 20,000 prisoners in the United States, about 2% are currently living in "super maximum security ("supermax") facilities or units. Prisoners in these facilities typically spend their waking and sleeping hours locked in small, sometimes windowless, cells sealed with solid steel doors. A few times a week they are let out for showers and solitary exercise in a small, enclosed space. Supermax prisoners have almost no access to educational or recreational activities or other sources of mental stimulation and are usually handcuffed, shackled and escorted by two or three correctional officers every time they leave their cells. Assignment to supermax housing is usually for an indefinite period that may continue for years." (2)

I have sometimes gone for hours and even days with very minimal human contact. As a result, I experienced anxiety, depression, and a feeling of being disconnected from the world around me, even though I had complete freedom to go wherever I wanted. Prisoners who are isolated for prolonged periods of time have been known to experience "depression, despair, anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, hallucinations, problems with impulse control, and/or an impaired ability to think, concentrate, or remember." (2) Studies have also shown that isolation can cause "impaired vision and hearing... tinnitus [(ringing in the ears)], weakening of the immune system, amenorrhea [(absence of menstrual periods in women)], premature menopause... and aggressive behavior in prisoners, volunteers and animals." (1)

Previously healthy prisoners have "develop[ed] clinical symptoms usually associated with psychosis or severe affective disorders" (2) including "all types of psychiatric morbidity." (4) Many have committed suicide.

Individuals do vary in how well they can deal with living in isolation, however. (4) For prisoners with pre-existing mental or emotional disorders, living without normal human interaction, physical and mental activity and stimulation can aggravate their symptoms to levels equivalent to torture. (2), (3) In one complaint filed against the Connecticut Department of Correction in August 2003, social isolation and sensory deprivation drove some prisoners to "lash out by swallowing razors, smashing their heads into walls or cutting their flesh." (3)

It is difficult if not impossible to pinpoint the exact reasons why social isolation and sensory deprivation in solitary confinement situations causes mental and emotional breakdown in prisoners. However, in addition to the stimuli and interactions they are denied, we might also consider how people's minds are affected by others controlling every aspect of their lives, from where they are and how long they will be there to how much food they get and when, to light and noise levels, to what possessions they are allowed to have, to when or if their clothes, bedding and rooms are cleaned, to when and if they get to have fresh air.

How does the absolute denial of freedom, the denial of any kind of personal power or influence over one's life, affect the way he thinks, feels and acts? Certainly the impact is different for each person. But are there patterns across cultures and time in how slaves, prisoners, people living under a dictator, and children grounded by their parents react similarly to the denial of freedom? Are the patterns in reactions solely human, or do they extend to other animals, for instance, animals that are caged or otherwise restricted in pet stores, zoos or circuses? Do all animals, including human beings, feel and understand injustice on some level and therefore react to it similarly? Or are humans reduced to more stereotypically animalistic behavior when they are trapped and controlled? "In some states, the conditions are so extreme-e.g., lack of windows, denial of reading material, a maximum of three hours a week out-of-cell time, lack of outdoor recreation-that they can only be explained as reflecting an unwillingness to acknowledge the inmates' basic humanity." (2) Can people retain their humanity without the constant affirmation of their humanity through positive contact with other human beings? How do human beings' behaviors and thought processes shift when the human beings around them refuse to accept their shared humanity?

I am thinking more about the brain's needs based on my research on this particular topic. The physical, mental and emotional effects of living in solitary confinement seem to be beyond the control of the person experiencing them. It seems that the brain needs a certain quantity, quality, or type of stimuli to help regulate, direct and prioritize thought processes and other brain functions properly. It could mean that without certain (or enough) stimuli, the level of random activity in the nervous system increases—such as brain activity that causes hallucinations.

When inputs are all coming from the same place, parts of the unconscious experience the same inputted information differently because they are all interpreting the information with different randomness. The randomness helps us make connections between sets of inputted information and our own prior knowledge to ultimately create a story that explains our situation and surroundings. This story informs the "I"-function, which allows us to experience and understand the situation/surroundings personally. (5)

In an environment with very minimal stimulation, such as a prison cell, the randomness with which the unconscious explores the environment continues, although it is unclear whether randomization increases when fewer stimuli are reaching the brain. Perhaps the brain attempts to compensate for stimuli it is missing by creating stimuli of its own, that is, by increasing random activity. Either way, when the brain is not receiving much input from the environment, there is little information based in reality that the unconscious can focus on or try to interpret. The story reported back to the "I"-function is more likely informed by more random connections than real facts about reality because reality is not offering enough stimuli to make a coherent story. This helps explain why people often experience mental and emotional breakdowns and psychotic episodes when in solitary confinement for extended periods of time.



1)F-Type Isolation Prisons in Turkey

2)Supermax Prisons: An Overview

3)Lawsuits Attack Isolated Prison Conditions for Mentally Ill , Mental Health Law Weekly; Prison Health. April 2, 2005.

4)Isolation and Mental Health, NHS National Electronic Library for Health.

5) The Brain's Images: Co-Constructing Reality and Self , Paul Grobstein. May 2002. (And conversation May 2005.)

6) Isolation, Breakdowns and Mysterious Injections. , Vikram Dodd, Richard Norton-Taylor and Rosie Cowan. January 26, 2005. From The Guardian (UK), via Common Dreams News Center.

7) Mental Issues in Long-Term Solitary and "Supermax" Confinement., Craig Haney.



Comments made prior to 2007

If mankind can be identified as a social animal, it seems absolute that involuntary social isolation from whatever source can be deemed cruel and unusual punishment, whether in a home under a parent, spouse, in a work environment with overly regimented rules that ignore human needs, or in institutional settings where what is seen, heard, felt, etc. is all controlled by someone else. To be sure, it isn't autonomy, and one would expect that adverse physiological and mental effects would be the outcome of that environment. Consider for example, the isolation of girls or boys in trafficking or prostitution where they are not allowed out at all.


Much different from self imposed isolation, but perhaps not free from ill effects; consider the Howard Hughes case where fear prevented him from social engagement.


In theory, the principle of R&R for the military is to reduce the high intensity concentration of rigid over-regimentation that is required in wars, and therefore, requires some consideration of the human features of physical and mental requirements of humans.


Humans are universal in these needs, but humanity sometimes doesn't recognize these basics, and act accordingly, or permit ourselves the humanity to insure that this facility is respected, and acknowledged in order to make that possible.


To the best extent of our capability, the concept of being human is rarely discussed, planned for, etc., and quite often, humans are left to their own devices without sufficient liberty insurance to help themselves. What is inhumane or not is not a matter of perspective but what is universally recognized as necessary, as it would be for any other primate, or animal.


To suggest that community health is a community affair would not be wrong in that case, and it applies regardless of circumstances. Humans, like all other animals have needs, and perhaps, as much, if not more than other animals ... Pat, 10 May 2007


Serendip Visitor's picture

Solo sailor

Most days I don't talk with anyone . I'm anchored out , can't afford marina/ dockage . It was supposed to be my retirement in the Caribbean . I retired from a job I liked , working at a maritime museum about a year ago . Sailed south . Had passages as long as two weeks offshore out of sight of land solo . Time in the western Caribbean was nice , but lonely . I had a difficult , lonely trip back to New England this summer . The tenants moved out of my house in Maine . I've been trying to sell it but apparently it has gone downhill , needs work I can't afford and is costing me money now , that I don't really have . I'm still in southern New England and it's starting to get chilly , soon it will be downright cold on the boat . If my house doesn't sell I will need to hire someone to drain the pipes . The trees need to be removed from around the electric wires . There are structural problems that need attention before the winter or the house will be really decrepit by next spring . As a negative cash flow it will jeopardize my ability to to provide for myself on the boat . I need to re register the boat , but even if I register it again in maine the registration expires December 31 . Which means I won't be allowed in Foreign countries after the registration expires . I go for days not going to shore and when I do I am in a strange place where I don't know anyone . No car . No physical address . I am not by nature a loner , I had lots of friends at work , and am normally very social . Now I find myself not talking with anyone for days at a time , spending day after day on the boat alone with ever increasing anxiety about the house , knowing the boat needs work before undertaking the long trip south . Getting more and more depressed , indecisive , isolated , with winter approaching . I have almost zero family . I have a son 25 who grew up with his mom mostly , since he was five . The major thing keeping me from ending my so called life is that I would leave him ( and others ) such a mess to deal with . They'd have to haul my boat out somewhere far from his home in Maine and he'd have to deal with that , the house and trying to piece together the details of my life / finances . I am definitely clinically depressed but I think most people would be in my position . What would you do ? Spend what little money you have on a house that may not sell for months , years ? And then at a fraction of what it should be worth . Find a place to Haul the boat out and do all the maintenance necessary to go south again ? Many dollars more . Try to deal with various paperwork that needs doing , without a physical address or shore connection . Even if I weren't depressed it's a lot to deal with on a micro budget . I know things are getting worse ( colder ) every day , the depression and anxiety more overwhelming and I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel . What would you do ?

Serendip Visitor's picture

What I would do

"What would you do ?"

Given the circumstances you describe, I'd first make the decision: boat or house. And since my sailing experience hadn't convinced me unequivocally that nomadic single-handing was how I wanted to do out the rest of my life, I'd decide on the house.

But before making that decision, I'd pay a licensed inspector to do a survey -- that is, if I were in any doubt about the foundation or about other potentially fatal structural defects that might make the house not worth repairing. I'd weigh all that against the value of the land sans house. Assuming no fatal structural defect...

I'd sell the boat. Might haul it and pay for storage this winter, might get what I could for it now -- depending on finances and depending on what the spring v. fall market is for sailboats in Maine. Might barter it in exchange for something of use to me. A sailboat can come to feel like an albatross. I'd do what I could to make it work for me as an asset. The internet will connect me to people and opportunities.

Then I'd circle the wagons. Move into my house, tap a home equity loan, buy needed tools and materials, and do enough at least to winterize it. Something to keep me occupied, something to give me a sense of accomplishment.

Frame of mind. Since I'm depressed and since I'm a social person, I'd hook up with someone, preferably a stranger and ideally someone I could interest in the house project, maybe in exchange for an equity interest. With the right other person, things are sure to seem less bleak. And since I'm depressed, I'd continually remind myself that the objectively my situation isn't nearly as desperate as (subjectively) it seems. I'd resign myself to being somewhat dependent on others over the short to medium term. Might do things like attend church, even if I had no interest in religion or things spiritual.

Money. Home equity would probably be my first choice. I'd eek out what I could doing odd jobs in the informal economy - chopping wood, whatever. Almost zero family isn't zero family. But borrowing from them wouldn't be an option for me except under truly extraordinary circumstances.

What does not destroy you makes you stronger, as they say. Best of luck to you.

Ragarnoy's picture


I could write so much about this. 18y old Constant isolation, i've been isolated for 4 years now, i forgot how human touch feels, i forgot how affection feels, seeing people being happy makes me sick, but i don't feel depressed, depression would be nice right now, as this, This is hell on earth. I forgot what i was thinking about, i forgot a lot, but my brain feels smarter, almost like i'm thinking a lot faster now, almost like i rewired my brain, but it doesn't matter, because i never knew a long lasting friendship in my life, i never knew love and never knew any of the things that come with social interaction, i can always perform well enough now that i've started studying again but something feels broken and i cannot interact fully with anyone, i feel like i'm treated as a ghost, i'm here but not quite, people would talk to me and forget about me just as we would finish speaking, everyone would forget my existence which is frail. Everything is going so fast and so slow at the same time, i can't quite describe it.

Serendip Visitor's picture

You are interesting. You

You are interesting. You remind me of myself, how i emote most of the time. My difference from you is that I am not completely isolated. I have a job that requires me to see people, and I talk to my neighbor whom i spend time with sometime so that she may not be without a friend like person. I have family whom I see occasionally, but I know that they do not need to know me as I am. If there is a scale on how isolated a person can be, you may be further on the list. My reactions I assume are as a result of how I was raised. I wasn't isolated or confined to any room, but reactions, words and actions resulting me in thinking as if I had. Whenever I do socialize I simply mimic the person. People like who are most similar to them. I usually group people by their tone of voice and how/what words they use in order for them to feel that they are comfortable with me. This took many years, but you realize most people are similar, its very rare to have that one completely different human who doesn't fit into any social circle. After socializing, I panic and become very nervous. I have learned to let out my shakes and hyperventilating when no one is around, that way I do not cause a stir or concerned faces.
I am able to understand what you are describing (reminds me more of my thoughts while growing up), though it seems that you may be starting to get into depression rather than form around it.
The way you are feeling though, your thoughts of people around you and your personal existence is just the brains way of coping with the situation. Your brain is not getting enough simulation so it is basically picking on you since you're the only person you know.
I am a happy anxious person because I cannot get rid of my anxiety (it seems nearly ingrained due to my ancestors experiences), but I let myself aka brain feed on things it wants to go on with the day.
Usually no interaction causes one to experience in depth thought, perhaps what you are calling "smarter" but it is not physically increasing IQ.
I don't interact online due to not wanting an over concerned or annoying person cross my path (comment, post) and conflict it in things I don't like, whether they are helping or not.
I haven't shared many of my thoughts to anyone, but I have now and there it is.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Not Animials

Humans are not Animals as you claim. Humans are humans and have totally different needs & understanding of life as compared to animals.

Your entire view of life is inaccurate as a result of believing this deception.

Xavier's picture

Ignorance is No Excuse

Your Ignorance of the Definition of Life is Offensive.

Also Your Assumption To Apparently Read Into The "Mind" Of Other Creatures and or Plants.

I Believe Scientifically That Plants Are Even Considered To Be Living Creatures Due To Their Ability To Perform

The Basic Functions Of "Life" ---1 Response To Outside Stimuli "Sunlight / Music/ Defense Against Insects etc."
2 Acquirement Of Food Stuffs IE Water / Minerals. 3. Reproduction / Propagation

So Open The Mind

lisa's picture

Read a book. We aŕe animals!

Read a book. We aŕe animals! And other animsls have many of are same needs.

Serendip Visitor's picture

The Effects of Isolation and Lonliness on Humans

I know animals and people need the company of others. I feel like I am going crazy. My isolation due to the daily pain I live in is torture to my mind. I am gregarious by nature. Other animals like elephants and dolphins to name only two display head bashing and rage when left alone and get bored. We are animals. Keeping people in maximum security for weeks at a time is so cruel. I can go anywhere I want but the depression is there all the same. I am going outside for a couple of hours alone. Come home and sit and think, I'm alone again. I used to have a life. How can people be so ignorant to treat animals and other people with this kind of cruelty. I think of humans, Homo Sapiens as just conceited apes. I am living in physical pain but the mental pain is overwhelming. Karma is a bitch.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Torture and pain

Im the same way. I have PTSD and Chronic Transformed Daily Migriane. I am stuck in bed in a dark room either screaming my agony or passed out from pain and exhaustion. I cant learn the language of the country I live in. The drs said I am too ill to learn easily so I try and try and have little positive results. I don't often see anyone but my husband and even he had to move out to the guest room in order to sleep because I scream my pain in my sleep. My friends left me. My family left me long ago when I became very ill. They don't write or call unless they want money which I don't have so they will soon stop calling. I live on SSDI and my husbands good graces. I have a cat and we have livestock I can play with if I can get outside. I usually cant. It hurts to walk, sit up, lay down, be in the light, and breathe. I am amazed I have lived 14 years like this getting progressively worse as the years go by. I used to work 80 hours a week and be fit and fairly healthy. My ex husbands decided that repeated head injuries would do me good. They were wrong. The torture I suffered at their hands was worse than what I deal with now but only because they didn't stop with just head injuries and tried breaking my spine, ribs, limbs ect. Why am I still alive?

Heidi's picture

Effects of Isolation +loneliness on Humans

So, Serendip Visitor, you say your place of living in isolation is largely karmic in nature?

I, am at a place in my life also which is resonate in the words. Karmic isolation is a bitch.

Care to dialogue on the experience?

Rocky's picture

Affect of long term incarceration on the perception ideal beauty

My wife and I have I recently been talking about how long term incarceation would affect a person's Ideal of beauty as a perceptual reference in judging the physical attractiveness of people during intra-social interaction. Would long term loss of referants; social, physical, perceptual, sexual, and cultural strip away pre-existing internalized ideals of what the norm of beauty is, leaving behind a kind of 'blank slate' upon which an entirely new ideal of beauty would be built up? Is there any 'study' literature on this subject?

Serendip Visitor's picture

Feeling alone again.

I'm a 20 year old female. I've posted here before about my solitary confinement and how I was betrayed by my friends and lovers. But I recovered and found somebody who my soul loves... A 22 year old male, he is in the US Navy, so I'm in AZ and he's in VA. It did t become hard untill recently... I stopped seeing people and I push away the people that care about me because I feel like all I need is him and when we get married ill have what I want. But it's hurting me. I have no friends. The only person I spend time with is my mother and she is very worried about me for being social. I recently bought a new car and at the dealership me and my salesman connected and are still in contact and he makes me feel good. I haven't hung out with him because I don't know if I should or if its wrong. But I think the reason he makes me feel good is because he fills the void that my sailor can't fill because he is not here. I don't know what to do about it. I'm so confused in everything that I do. I'm constantly lost in life. I don't have anyone to turn to for help. I want friends so bad but I'm scared to have friends. Someone give me words of advice/encouragement. Thanks.

Azee's picture

Seek the TRUTH you will for

Seek the TRUTH you will for sure find peace in life. And plus I promise you that I will inform you of the only one person who will never betray nor leave you alone even if you are in you room alone. And he is the one who let you move you limbs while he made some people paralized as an example for all humanity. He is the one god who will meet you soon after life. please seek the truth you will find peace. I wish every one in the world knew the treasure that I have found. People seek for peace and they think that they will find in wealth, relationships, friends and enjoyment like music but it brings nothing but stress. The only person that I return to is my god. THE ONE GOD WHO HAS NO PARTNER. make him your friend and the person who you return to in calamities. My dear sister don't be sad and seek a path to bring peace in life. My dear prophet muhammad ( peace be upon him ) has advised me to love for others what I love for myself. So I love peace so I wish for you the same and for all mankind. I promise this is the only way to SUCCESS

Serendip Visitor's picture

Hey hun, I know you wrote on

Hey hun, I know you wrote on here like 6 months ago, but...

I am 29 and married, my husband is in the Air Force, and I used to be in the Air Force myself. So I can identify with you being in a different state than your significant other.

As far as pushing the people who care about you away because all you need is your sailor -- I am sure he is a wonderful person, but it is wrong for you to put that kind of a burden on him. One person can be all you need romantically, but you cannot expect one person - or any other person for that matter, to be the end-all be-all that will make you happy. How would you feel, if someone told you that you were all they needed to be happy (might make you feel nice at first), but then cut themselves off from everybody else and obsessed over you? That's a huge responsibility, to have the weight of someone else's happiness all depending on *you*, isn't it? I mean, what if you make a mistake? What if you have a bad day?

There are spaces in our hearts for different types of relationships -- parents, siblings, children, other family, acquaintances, casual friends, close friends, coworkers, and lovers. One person cannot possibly fill them all, and there will be a void left there if any one of those spaces are empty. It is not fair for you to expect your sailor to be all you'll ever need, and to cut yourself off from the other people in those other categories who care about you. It's not fair to your sailor, it's not fair to the people you're cutting off (they don't know what they did wrong that you're dropping off the face of the planet) and it's not fair to yourself either. You are setting him up to *fail you*, because he can't possibly be everything and everyone to you. No one person can. It is an unrealistic expectation to think that he could, so don't put that kind of burden on him, and don't set yourself up to be disappointed. He is a lover to you, and hopefully a friend. But there are lots of spaces for friends in our hearts. And he will never be a parent or sibling or casual friend to you, so don't expect him to fill all those empty spaces.

It's an impossible task to boot, because no one person can make another person truly happy, and your sailor cannot make you truly happy either. He can *help* you be truly happy, and he can *enhance* how happy you are, but he can't *make* you happy. And he is not perfect. He will make mistakes, and do things that upset you sometimes, and you will to him too. Happiness is something you decide to have within yourself; it is not something someone else can give you (although others can *help* you find happiness within yourself, or *temporarily* take it away from you). Happiness is not a destination, it is a way of life. It is not a feeling of constant bright joy or elation or smiley-ville all the time. That is not real life. True happiness is being content and at peace with your life and those around you *in general*. Things may happen in your life that temporarily make you upset or angry or sad or dissatisfied, but overall, deep down -- if you knew you would die tomorrow and could think "I had a pretty good life, and I know I was loved, and the people who I love know I love them, and I am satisfied and know that my soul has grown from this life experience" -- that is happiness.

As far as a void that needs to be filled because he isn't here, if you're worried about cheating on him... Think of how you will feel when he returns. If you think you would not regret being with the car salesman and letting the sailor go his own way when he returns, then cut it off with your sailor and pursue the car salesman. If you think you will regret it if you don't wait for your sailor to return, and if you want to be with him when he gets back, then wait for him. You have to decide what you truly want in your heart, and then have the conviction to decide to make that outcome happen to the best of your ability. No one can do this for you, you must decide what you most want yourself. It is hard to be away from your significant other when they are deployed or on TDY. It is a fact of military life. It is lonely and hard, and sometimes you might have fearing for their life piled on top of it. Know that is what you are in for if you choose to be with this sailor, and accept it, because he will not have a choice in the matter. He will have to do what, and go where, the government tells him to. Regardless of how you or your future children or anybody else feels about it. It is a tough reality, and that is how it is. It is up to you to decide whether you think your relationship with him is worth that. No one else can tell you that, you must decide it for yourself, and then stay faithful to your own decision.

You say that you are scared to have friends - why do you feel that way? It is important for you to think about this, because it will be a lot easier for you to overcome your problem if you know where it is coming from. Are you afraid people will reject you? Are you afraid you'll be back-stabbed again? Why are you afraid to make friends? Just because some people may have turned out to be jerks or untrustworthy doesn't mean everyone is like that. Think of what your ideal friend would be like, and then think of where you might find somebody like that. Seriously, get out a piece of paper, and draw a line down the middle. On the right side, write all the things your perfect friend would be like. Then circle the 15 things on that list that are the most important - because no one person is going to be able to be everything you need. Then, when you're finished with the right side, on the left side, write all the things that you *don't* want in a friend. Then circle the 15 things most important for you to avoid on that list - because nobody's perfect. Then you'll know what you want and what you're looking for, and it's a lot easier to find what you're looking for when you consciously know what it is! :)

Then, think of where you might be likely to find someone with the good traits your "perfect" friend would have. For example -- If your perfect friend would be able to identify with your loneliness when your sailor is gone, try making friends with other military spouses. If your perfect friend loves reading, try making friends with people you meet at the library or book store, etc. It's a lot easier to make friends when you have common ground to start from, so think of what *you* like and then think of where you go to do or get those things you like to do or get. Then you're 10 times more likely to start with common ground with anybody you meet there.

Likewise, for example, if you *don't* want your friend to have a drinking problem or be too focused on partying, then *don't* look for friends at bars and night clubs. If you don't want a friend who's too religious, *don't* look at church. Etc. Look for friends in places that match what you want, and avoid looking for lasting friendships in places where people you don't want to be around might like to hang out. It might take a little longer to find somebody who'll stay in contact with you by looking in logical places, but it is more likely to create a real and lasting friendship if you start out knowing at least one thing about this person is already what you want - if you start with at least one factor on common ground. This doesn't mean you should avoid greeting people and interacting with people who you meet randomly (like in line for a coffee or other random places), it's just a suggestion for when you are consciously thinking about looking for places to try to meet people.

And don't let yourself feel too awkward or nervous. You'd be surprised how often other people are willing to take a few minutes out of their day to talk to you if you start out your greeting with a smile and a compliment - even to a random person. Asking them something about themselves can get a conversation going -- for example if you see someone at the gym who doesn't have headphones in their ears, you could smile and ask how long they've worked out there, then what their fitness goals are, tell them your fitness goals and ask if they have any pointers, and if you've made it that far with good responses, it's easy to ask if they mind being a fitness pal with you and you could encourage each other to do better and stay on track. Then voila, you've got a reason to talk to them again in the future and get their contact information. (Just an example.) A conversation, about almost anything really, is all you need to get things started.

Don't take it personally if someone doesn't want to talk to you -- you don't know how that person's day or life is going right now, and you don't know why they might not want to talk to you. Maybe they're having a bad day and need to be left alone for a little while. Maybe they're sick. Maybe they're surrounded by noise and crowds all day and want some quiet alone time. Maybe they are introverted themselves and are freaked out that somebody wants to randomly talk to them. You don't know what's going on in their life, so don't take it personally. Just accept it and move on. Eventually you will find people who are also ready and wanting to make friends, and they will talk to you. And practice makes perfect.

I hope you can feel grounded in your life and find contentedness and peace. I hope you can think about what you truly want from your life - what's *really* important to you, so that when you see what will make you happy, you can recognize it and not let it pass you by. :) Take care.

C.j's picture

Same here

I am exactly the same. I shut out new people, because I feel like they won't like me or I won't know what to say to them. Being alone for so long has made me afraid of people, or getting close to anyone.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Don't be alone.

Write me, I am lonely too.

Nathan's picture

Drifting Away

This was a good article. I was curious as to the furthest extremes isolation could take you. Obviously it won't go that far with the freedoms we do have but I do still wonder how far it actually will drive us as people. I've always been an isolated person, the outcast so to speak, I might of had a friend or two here and there growing up but then as a teenager I totally cut everyone off, discovered text based role playing online and have done it for nearly ten years. I stopped this year and have gone nearly a year without it and it's been hell for me. For one I was diagnosed with AvPD (Avoidant Personality Disorder) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, toss in severe depression and bipolar and you got a pretty nice mix of mental disorders already set in and as a result make it pretty impossible to socialize as it is and to top that off as I've discovered over this past year is that aside from the agonizing loneliness that will hurt me into numbness a majority of the time I feel like I'm going through an identity crisis just because of my past because I never formed an identity because I did the text role play so obsessively that I spent more time making characters than discovering my own self and doing different things to define me and so I utterly feel like a blank canvas. I don't know what to do but to be isolated, I don't know what to do with myself otherwise.

Serendip Visitor's picture

No point. Last hour's input gone. N2 gas cylinder needed.

Previous input totally absent despite correctly "proving" I'm human not computer.

Serendip Visitor's picture


As a child I learned that isolation seemed to protect me from my mother. Then as a teenager I used drug which gave me the same feeling of isolation while being around people. When I was 18 I was sent to jail for the first time. The first 2 weeks I was isolated, later I found out that was to get me to talk with out a lawyer. However,I felt comfortable in isolation for the 2 weeks. At the age of 19 I was incarcerated for 4.5 years. During the 4.5 years I was in isolation for a total of about 6 months. Something had changed about being isolated I began to feel many of the thing the paper talked about. I have spent much of my life (I am now 54) in various forms of isolation mostly self imposed or because of my circumstances. For a number of years my job and caring for my son left me feeling isolated. I was restricted to work, travel to and from work and caring for my son. Don't get me wrong it was my choice to care for him and I would do it again, however I see the effects this has had on me and his life also. My main coping skill seems to be isolation, which lead to more difficulties dealing with others and life in general. I work at not being isolated, but as I said it is my way of coping. Today I have been general isolated for 9 months because of an auto accident that has left me unable to walk. I am concerned about my over all health but do not know what to do to get more social interactions. I mean I can not even go out due to the pain. I don't have an answer, I had hoped I would think of something by writing this out. But it appears the need to have someone physical present, talking is an important part of problem solving for me.

Also my son, who was an only child seem to have the same tendencies. He lives alone and does not talk to me or any of his uncles or aunts. It would be easy to say it's inherited which in part I would agree with. However, I think the tendency is trained because of my relationship to isolation and how I lived in general isolation while raising him.
If the post/blog/paper interested you at all you might want to look up early american prison or Quaker prisons. They completely failed because of the effect on the mind/body/spirit isolation has.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Physically disabled, living alone > 14 years

50 year old male, living alone in ~ 220 sq. foot bedroom w 3/4 bath. On SSDI & other LTD benefits, which were recently terminated due to apparently not utililzing cane sufficently enough for ambulation. The $633 per month benefit that enabled me to meet financial obligations is gone due to 4 days of insurance carrier surveillance that coincided with Functional Capacity Evaluation ordered by same. 150 seconds of observation over 96 hours revealed I was able to negotiate two steps from front stoop & enter vehicle to travel 4 miles to FCE location. Have been on very high dose opioid analgesics for entire time. Recent "pain mgmt paradigm change" has reduced regimen 53.3% since July 10, cursor will not work with my phone for this appCrave painless termination of life functions Phone won't even let me communicate via this method. Nitrogen asphyxiation Partially responsible for nearly successful suicide attempt of woman quite fond of, though she lives > 300 miles away. Guilt unbearable. Noting recent insomnia/hypersomnia, short & long term cognitive memory deficits, anorexia, inappropriate emotional affect relative to TV stimuli. Feel like computer with crashing harddrive This isn't working All input out of order due to Nitrogen asphyxiation best option. Have lost 9 lbs in last week. Guilt, guilt Teerminating further input as it's taken me > 1 hour to enter this scrambled text. No point in continuing to have my sentences entered out of orderNo point. No point. Terminate input. If this forum won't work with 4G Androids, should state that before I wasted all this time. Realize post makes no sense if cursor keeps randomly jumping to different locations while inputting with stylus.
. Now pain back with vengenance & no longer find isolation tolerable. Emotionally .labile & am constantly thinking of nitrogen asphyxiation
2012 - 20% in last week. Have amassed 1500+ volume reference library that enabled enaboccupied my time - 99.8% non-fiction. Also have frequent kidney stone renal colic. It took 2 M.D.s 7 years to find pharmaceutical combo/dosing that enabled

Wanting to be alone's picture

Maybe I'm normal, Maybe I'm not

I'm a female, 17, with Autism. Going to graduate HS in May. Used to be social since I was a child. I've been isolating myself in my room since I was 14. I've been doing this for three (it'll be four in a few months or so) years. Parents have shown concern, wanting me to get out of my room, be social, spend time with time, etc. yet I am content with being in my room and not speaking to a single person. Parents show concern, telling me that not socializing will affect me, cause me to become less social, etc. However, I can't think of one person BESIDES my family who wants to socialize with me.

Other than that, I've been considering isolation since I was 16. People tell me I'm being selfish for wanting to isolate myself from society and the world, but look at them: they pressure everyone to get married, have kids, and so on. So who's being the selfish one here? That's what I thought. I'd rather lock myself up and be in my OWN little world where I don't have to deal with ANYONE than deal with everyone's BS. Alone is where the heart is IMO.

Also, I call BS on the whole "isolation can make one crazy". I barely socialize and I'm perfectly sane. Like it'll ever affect me.

Colin's picture

I get the isolation...but the system is very strong

You there, 17 y/o...glad to see you can see the system so early. I didn't see it for what it was until my late twenties.
You need to fight against it tho, not hide away. The rest of us need your help to to say "fuck you, this is not my ideal world, and i'm not going to buy what you think you need to slam down my throat!".
The thing is, is that you have to connect to people to make them understand...we're all born into it.
Your not going to help the rest of us or yourself, by remaining in your room.

Take care either way tho,


Serendip Visitor's picture

considering doing this...

I'm considering isolating myself from the people who love me and need me. I'm only 17, about to graduate HS in May, and I've had it up to here with everyone's drama. I would do anything to get away from them and be in social isolation. Besides, I'm more content being alone than being with people.

Neri's picture


I'm 18.I'm in college and living in isolation too, today(nov.22.12) my longest conversation with somebody was just a minute or two. I think I'm going crazy sometimes. and I'm afraid if this isolation would result to regression 'cause I have suicidal tendencies. I've just overcome masochism last year and I just don't know what to do. I'm religious now but that's not enough, I know I need a real person to talk to and not just reading the bible everyday. Im human too and I know that.

Serendip Visitor's picture


i dont know how to say this but someone once told me that when your sad, or when you have negative thoughts, just put this idea on your head, there is somebody out there to whom your presence brings joy and hapiness in their life, and also making a flowing converstion with people is quite hard at times, i remember i too had that problem sometimes back, but lets say taking it step by step helped, speaking to guys and friends we share the same intrests especially school stuff, music and the latest films ( coz they are general topics of discussion) helped me out alot, try it out, i came to learn that there is always someone intrested in talking to me but him/ her also has the same fears as i did, so try it out, even if its for a minute today, let tomorrow be two and before you know it you might be talking with ease even before strangers ok

Serendip Visitor's picture

Great Article

I found your study to be very interesting and definitely makes a lot of sense. Seems as though we should maybe focus on helping people in prison to be rehabilitated rather than ultimately making them a less stable human being. The side effects of isolation you mentioned definitely ring true to me - I've noticed if I ever spend long periods of time traveling by myself (driving, in a hotel room, etc) it takes a while for me to get back to feeling "myself" once I go back out into the public again. I've been searching around online to better understand all of this and also found that this other article gave me some clarity as well, take a look:

76691's picture

The hole

First long term hole time-584 days; three showers a week; no outside; no sun; lights in 23 hours a day; 8' x 4.5 feet; screaming and high intensity race justification.
Second long term time in the hole-24 months, three weeks, one day; all the same conditions except I beat the hell out of a piece of garbage black cook screaming "white boy" and "punk ass" at me. In the joint you must respond swiftly and violently or you will be a punk, seen as week, and victimized. I was strapped to a lowered black plastic chair, shot up with halidol and thorazine cocktails over and over for that hole time because I would lose my mind, be aggressive with staff, have SORT members rush me, pepper me, beat me (although I got at least one most of the time).
I did seven day stints here and there, a few thirty day stints, and 72-hour investigation stints.
I am permanently screwed up, rage inside, trust no one, emotionally punish any one who loves me, loss of sleep, wear ear plugs to block out the world, lost 11 jobs (have one now), and suffer every day of my life from the seven years, ten months I spent in Leavenworth.
This is just a small truth to the effects of prison, solitary confinement, and social status post-confinement. I was convicted of assault and maiming as a Marine; combat decorated, and thrown away with out rehab, vocational training, or any help at all. God Bless the Department of Defense. Beware when signing that dotted line.

Serendip Visitor, Jackie's picture


Hi guys.....

I am widowed, I'm 43......

My doctor said I haven't developed properly and he's right, I come from a very academic family, who, through no fault of their own, are unable to provide emotional support, warmth or love.

For years I wanted their love and approval, especially after traumatic events, subconsciously I started to try and get my unmet needs met in other places. Usually men, I didn't know how to form close, healthy friendships without losing myself or getting too attached.

Pure heart, non-ego love is the answer. Self compassion, giving, diet has a huge efffect on mood. I bought every natural supplement available. But, as humans, I feel we need closeness to others, to feel connection, now more than ever....we can have an impact on every person we meet, set examples, you know how you feel when someone is so nice to you?

If I could personally visit each and every one of you with healthy food, a smile, an ear to listen, a hug, to give you some hope, to help you let go of your past, whatever it takes, I would. Every thought you have, everything you write, it all creates your reality....support each other to make this world a better place.

This is not meant to sound patronising, far from it......I've had breakdowns, suicide attempts, lots of instability, I understand, not everything, I can't feel exactly what you're feeling, but.....I have so much love to give and I want to help the world be a better place.

Much love to you all, Jackie x

Serendip Visitor's picture

Agony plz let go..

41, female, social butterfly, life of the party, always laughing...now my wings have been clipped, there is no party and all I do is cry.. Ive moved with my husband to an AFB in Shaw, SC and have a 17 yr old son who is ready to finish high school and move back to AZ our home town (were ALL our family is) I have gone to having a FT job, a best friend, a full sch of things to do... to living in a town with nothing, NO job and no friends. I don't care to make friends with any of the "girls" on this base as they all have lots of "babies" I don't really care for kids, i don't want to sit around their house and listen to them bitch about their kids and how hard their life is (why did you have so many damn kids then) I also don't care to get to know them as they tend to talk about each other and at 41 i don't have the time for that. I don't drink so I don't go to to clubs and the few times I have it has lead to the women I have went with acting "less then Married" I don't cheat on my husband and will not hang out with people who do, so that scratch those girls..I don't want to go out and volunteer for anything because to be very honest as I am not hear to lie... people piss me off, and I would most likely tell someone off.. I don't want to go out there and work for free, yet the places in this town want to pay 10hr for a job i was doing in AZ at 18hr.. I am at a lost for words and find myself sitting at home mad that I have left a job, my bestfriend, my family. to come out here to a town full of nothing, willing to pay nothing. OH and the husband... deployed.. and if he is home he is playing video games....

daisylonglegs's picture

Living on a mountain....YUK!

I moved from central London to a cottage on a mountain 18 yrs ago. Had bought it for holidays etc and decided to try it full time. Realised my mistake within a month but could not get back to the city. Could not find work and husband was out all day working, daughter at school...eventually, I had a bad breakdown. My already shattered nerves could not cope when my lifeline ( my mother) died suddenly...however, she knew that I had become unwell and urged me to come back to London but I was unable to make decisions as I was so depressed and had gotten used to my cage, just as animals do. Eventually it seems a 'safe' place.
I Had stayed in the house too much and could not drive or pass my licence...It just rained and rained and rained
My nerves deteriorated so much that within 4 months, I could barely make sense of my world. The breakdown lasted around 4 months and then I came out of it. Still could not find work though.
Eventually, we opened a business together and the isolation vanished as I was seeing new people every day....now,,,
the business has gone bust, daughter is grown up and moved on and husband is back working and I find myself alone from morning to night and cannot find work around here. Feeling depressed and have had a couple of panic attacks with tetana...husband not supportive..he just wants to go out to work and then go running..............
I can drive however but just driving around aimlessly is boring.
Isolation is dangerous. I am going to give myself until the autumn to have found work and if not, I am OFF!
Am going to volunteer for something to do but find myself spending far too much time online, drifting around the net and playing online scrabble. I trained as a counsellor during my years up here and am going to give myself a good talking to!

Serendip Visitor's picture

reply to living on a mountain

Hi. I'm sad for you. I remember when I was a Northern Catholic city girl living in Southern Baptist rural Alabama. Our little girl had been hit by a car and killed. I went on to have a third little boy, but my marriage was a mess. Everything was a mess! Then on day a man on television asked us to say a prayer and I did and I was born again. That was the beginning of the healing of my marriage and myself (my husband never bonded with his father and had "issues" because of it). The one suggestion I would make is to try to run, too. Exercise is the only way to diffuse stress. I know you won't do very well at first, but just do your best each day and you will get better at it. God does care and I do, too. Love, Midg

Jenifer's picture


If you have the spare time find a place to volunteer. I work with an animal rescue group and the animals are always in need of help, being walked, etc...if you can find the time then please find a group/shelter/etc to go to daily. There are people around and you can help animals in need at the same time. I live in the states and we board dogs at a doggy daycare. We always need people to walk the rescued dogs and just give them some cuddle time. It is a business so there are people all around. Anything is better than sitting in isolation. If you aren't into animals...perhaps there is a senior center that you can volunteer at?

Falcon's picture

For those alone

I think perhaps we should all speak to one another.
If we are all alone, we know how each other feel, correct?
We understand each other, and we wish for people who understand each other as well.
Perhaps you were just making your voice heard to be able to feel like someone is listening and someone may respond. This is my response to all of you who wish for others to speak with and be with.

BraveHeart's picture

Involuntary Isolation

I agree on talking to one another. That's part of the problem, no one to really speak with. I cherish my private think time, but I also need a balance of meaningful, consistent, social interaction - emotional intimacy.
Some days the major contact is the clerk at the store. Superficial contact is better than none, but I also want someone with whom we can be emotionally intimate. No one to say, "how about a cup of coffee?" Flitting around to "Meet-up" groups, or wine bars is painful, but I try that too. Hopefully, I will find a fit. I have too many years left to live in forced isolation. No family, no friends, no job makes new connections extremely difficult. Most people think "older" women (I am a young and vibrant 64) should be comfortable with memories. I have always been active physically, socially, mentally - until now. As written earlier, I am left with only my own thoughts - no one to share with.
I had a marriage on paper for over a decade before I "gave up". We had no children. I retired early (a bad decision in hindsight) from a successful career, divorced, moved to a new state for economical reasons (i.e. loss of home, loss of the few acquiantences I had, loss of a way of life, loss of an economic lifestyle, loss of cultural activities, loss of accessible mountains and ocean, loss of weather...). The year of my divorce, I lost my mother too. In 3 years, I was settled and felt the desire for a companion. I met an old love but after 8 months, he disappeared, leaving me with a renewed desire for connection. I liked the attention, affection. I had no idea of the prejudice that exists regarding "older" women in the current dating world. Men my age want women 10-15 years younger, or more (Viagra?). Believe it! I moved to a state that is far too conservative and "down home". Born in NYC and having lived 23 yrs in LA, I am not a "Southern Belle" and that's been pointed out (I've been told I don't understand the "southern way" and will never fit in!) I've had several 1st dates - been "tested" by what I can only assume are fearful, hurt men. I tried Church, but I am not a housewife, apart of a family unit, or have grandchildren. Nor does my life evolve around church or crafts. Trying to find someone to play tennis with, or going to a museum, or car ride is like pulling teeth. I volunteered for 3 yrs as an advocate for foster children - that is an isolated job with minimal contact with the families, social workers, therapists, and court proceedings. Art classes are individual performers with some socialization. Local (volunteer) theater ended up with me arriving 1/2 before everyone for set-up and 1/2 hour later for teardown - with little interaction in between. Not the comraderie I hoped for. The gym is filled with individuals. Bunco is silly, but I try that - again, I don't fit with the moms and grandmothers. I spend tremendous wasted time on online dating sites, and looking for activities to socialize in. I am so uncomfortable with all these exercises - but I don't want to be isolated. Running around, I am losing who I am. I am getting very tired of doing things by myself. I've gone into a major depression and struggle daily with the near total isolation. Suggestions? I have considered moving, but I think the age stigma will follow. Stuck, isolated and losing my mind.

Skye's picture


Hi Braveheart,

Your current situation of "Involuntary isolation" sounds like a hell on earth. I understand how it feels to be isolated and not by choice either, although we both do have free will and there is always a solution or a series of actions that we may need to take to make a change. If i were in your situation i would relocate, go somewhere i have always loved if thats the ocean or a village in the mountains. Its hard, i need to move although i am unemployed and have no family or friends really. Everyday i am alone. I force myself to stay on task, to continue applying for work, looking for courses to do and classes to take, although it becomes so draining and i soon find myself also lapsing into a state of depression. I can't write here anymore, i am unsure if anyone will even read it. I hope everything works out for you. In terms of your concern about the age stigma following you, it will and you know what the men who reject you based on your age are not worthy of your beauty and depth of character for they do not understand or see beneath the social expectations and perceptions of "beauty". I am not the best person to be giving advice or inspiration tonight i am a neurotic mess and was reading this page as a form of self-help therapy. Stay strong and true to yourself, life will get better.

mr salesman's picture

professional isolation

I have an interesting take on this.

I am a social butterfly by nature but I currently run a small retail store. I work 11 hour shifts alone, and I can go days without seeing customers. making matters worse, the store is all white.

I have noticed that while I used to love having time to myself, I now dread it. I can start to blow things out of proportion in my head, and imagine problems where there are none while at work. I am also constantly checking email, facebook, and other forum for human interaction.

I never imagined this would be such a problem but after a year I can feel it's affected me. I've learned a lot about myself but I'm also afraid the borderline paranoia will start to leak out when I'm not at work.

Rohanna's picture

Paranoia and lonliness?

I am beginning to wonder if loneliness causes paranoia. The more time I spend by myself in my house, the more afraid of random happenings I become. At night I carry around a large object in case of anything that may try to harm me, as ridiculous as it seems to me in the morning when I wake up and remember it. I fear people and public places and will keep to the edges away from other humans as best as I can, even though I want to talk to people and be social at the same time. I wish I weren't so scared of everything, but I cannot help myself and I take things that are no big deal and make them into huge matters in my head. In the other direction, things that I should deem important seem of little or no consequence, even when I know they're important- they just don't seem to matter. How do I fix this? This is affecting my life in serious ways, and I am beginning to make mistakes that I cannot fix because of it.
Thank you.

Soundmanadam1's picture

same here

mr salesman,

I can relate. Before my office job of 2 years, I was a very sociable person, and I seemed to enjoy life a lot more. Sitting in a chair on the computer, not talking to anyone all day, has had an extraordinarily negative effect on my psyche.

As you mentioned, I too have found out a lot about myself. However, it has come at a price. Paranoia has crept into my skull, and it seems like some sort of demon beats my self esteem down because of my over thinking all of the time. My hairline is receding tremendously now, and I am losing my hair due to stress related to the confinement of my job.

It's horrible and I hate it, but I need to pay bills. I am working very hard to get out of the position. I recommend you do the same.

Also, my suggestion is to listen to positive music as much as possible. Negative music tends to worsen the situation.


Michael Bolton

Serendip Visitor's picture

Not scientific...

Gee, let me think, if I was getting dropped into a super-max and given my choice, I would PREFER solitary confinement for 30 years than one second in the general population, considering who that population defines. I found this article via Google search.

I would like to see a study that is focuses purely with social isolation, NOT clouded by sensory deprivation or loss of freedom. If subjects were dropped off on separate paradise islands, with plenty of square miles of room, complete with infinite supply of food and comfortable housing, and plenty of stimulating solo activities to partake in. The only thing missing would be human interaction. ....and for argument sake, no animals available to act as surrogates. What consequences, if any, would there be? Taking into account the diversity of subjects, one might exclude those at the socially-needy end of the spectrum as the experiment may not only be cruel but the outcome predictable. However what about those in the middle or at the other end of the spectrum? If subjects, by their very nature seek a solitary lifestyle, will their psychological health really be negatively impacted if they're effectively given that which they pine for most in life? Would it lead to madness or total bliss? Let's find out. Sign me up. 8-)

Serendip Visitor's picture

An elaboration of this

An elaboration of this experiment. Two groups on two sets of paradise islands. The first group -- call it the brain-in-the-vat group -- lives as you describe: in a theme park with "plenty of stimulating activities to partake in". Catered meals airdropped three times a day and all the rest. With this restriction: no human stimulation. No news of the outside world, no sound of human voices, no visual images of humans permitted. The second group -- call it the Robinson Crusoe group -- lives a subsistence existence, some basic materials for food production and shelter construction being provided. And because we want be generous, each person in this second group would be given his or her choice of a book...without pictures...in an indecipherable language.

Needless to say, no third-party medical care for either group. Individuals in the first group are told that they will never be retrieved. Individuals in the second group are told that they might someday be retrieved if certain unspecified conditions are met. After ten years researchers visit the islands to assess the psychological health of the individuals in each group.

Unrelated to the island experiment. A way to quantify the attractiveness of solitary confinement in prison. Select a group of recently convicted felons sentenced to identical terms. Say to them: There are x of you and x-y solitary confinement cells. You may bid for these cells. The bidding currency is years added to your sentences.

Jenifer's picture

What is to keep them going?

I wonder what reason would there be for the first group to stay alive? No hope for release, being totally isolated...why would they continue to live? There would have to still be that sliver of hope that they can find a way off or that they will be saved.

carol's picture

TV friends. Do you relate?

here's an interesting thing that's happened to me since my disturbing descent into social isolation. I've started forming strong emotional connections with tv characters, & I prefer watching series that focus on friendships & relationships (such as Friends, How I met your mother, Grey's Anatomy, The OC; rather than say CSI or Dexter). I fall in love with some tv characters, & feel emotionally close to others. Like the characters on 'Friends' often feel like my real friends. I get so excited when interesting things happen to them, as if they're real people. The doctors on Grey's Anatomy feel like my boyfriends (I fantasise about them, imagine going out with them or having conversations with them). Pathetically enough, I feel closer & more emotionally connected to my tv pals than people I know in real life. It's just that it's so hard to get close to people in real lives. I can never cross the threshold from acquaintances to real friendships. It's sad & creepy. This must be an adult version of imaginary friends. Does anyone here relate?

BraveHeart's picture

Living Vicariously Through TV

Absolutely. I know what you are talking about. I used to listen to more music. Now, I have the hated TV on because there is a voice talking "to me". I sat there the other day thinking, I am living vicariously through the unknown writers of TV scripts.

Anonymous Girl's picture


I do the SAME thing. You know how when you read a book, you become A character in that story. But I turn on a movie and I have all of the emotions of the leading character and feel the emotions of the countless others they interact with, and I become attached emotionally to fictional characters and situations, especially of a romantic nature. I tried to do Internet chat rooms to form connections with others, but I kept seeing people's genitals pop up on the videos and it was highly disturbing because I was not there for the same purpose they have. They just want me to throw my clothes off on camera so they can masturbate and that would just make me feel even more wretched if I were to follow through with such skankness. No, I just want love. I want the fairy tale. I turn on a movie to keep myself from feeling suicidal. I can be someone else for a while but then I am left wanting even more because I get so attached to a character who is actually a real person somewhere that is probably nothing like the character they portray, or, even if they are similar, they wouldn't have me even by a far stretch of the imagination. Root this all in the fact that I was always bullied growing up and overweight (and still am very overweight, because I sit around eating chocolate to try and get the same chemical reaction as falling in love, on a subconscious level), and you have one introverted, crazed person starved for attention from someone who will just throw me down, kiss me, love me all night as I need to be.

Blankname's picture

You should look up Surrogacy

You should look up Surrogacy Hypothesis i went through something similar where i would just get home every day after school put on my favorite dvd and pretend i was hanging out with the characters on the show

carol's picture

unnerving experience

I'm 23 yrs old. I'm in a new city for studies, renting a small place. I'm naturally an introvert. classes are stretched out as 5 day intensives, then we have 3 weeks off. during those 3 weeks, I'm usually alone, unless I'm able to find people to hang out with. people in my class are reluctant to hang out because they all have family commitments eg kids to look after. I was surprised to find that there's no one my age group in class. Occasionally, I might have lunch w them on the weekend, which breaks up what would otherwise be 3 whole weeks w/o social interaction. Boy oh boy, is this an unnerving experience! Sometimes I fall into a routine, & become too apathetic, disillusioned & lazy to both seeking others out, which increases my isolation. Then when I return to class, it takes me a while to get back into being able to socially interact. Like when I saw my classmates after break, I was stuttering & not properly stringing sentences together. Then after 2 days, I get back into the normal groove of interacting. The problem though, is that because I've been isolated, I haven't done anything worthwhile, so have little to say to them, which creates a vicious cycle of feeling disconnected from people.

When isolated, I get depressed, blow problems out of proportion, feel oppressed by my constant thoughts, get jealous seeing other peoples' social lives on facebook, feel anxious, keyed-up, unable to sleep, paranoid, I get stressful dreams or longing dreams (by longing dreams I mean dreams where I'm hanging out with old friends I used to know, & I wake up missing them). In fact, I've just woken up from a nightmare. I think I really need to buy an early air ticket home, see my parents for a time, cos I'm kinda losing it.
Wow. I did not expect my time abroad to be so painfully lonely. I'm very disappointed in myself. I wish I were a social butterfly who could just "own" any new place I move to.

Serendip Visitor i's picture

It seems like you have the

It seems like you have the right idea, insofar as seeing your parents or making real contact with "old" friends if possible. Sometimes, as a matter of survival, it is necessary to take risks, find support, make new friends. The world is not such an unkind place-I am sure you will find these new adventures rewarding. Step out. Go for it.

Serendip Visitor's picture


It makes me feel better when I read these stories. I realise there are many people out there who suffer in the same way from lonliness and its effects which can be severe on one's mental functioning. Often I feel I am the only one when I look around me and see families and groups of friends. I am 43 this year and would say that I have been alone on off throughout my life. In my 20s and early 30s I travelled and prided myself on my appearence and the attention it received but still flitted from one relationship to another never sustaining anything, my own fault I know. At 33, I moved to a small town for work on the opposite side of the country to where I am originally from and have been completely alone ever since. I have no real friends here, no family and spend all my time outside of work alone, progressively more so since turning 40. I spend each evening alone, my weekends alone and my holidays alone. The thing is, the isolation itself seems to have affected my thoughts and behaviour in such a way that I subsonsciously isolate myself even more. I feel miserable all the time so I look miserable which isn't inviting to others. I don't feel young and attractive anymore, I feel old and odd. My thoughts have become more jumbled and paranoid over the years. My speech and body language has become uncertain. The more I am alone, the older I get and the longer it all goes on for the more worthless I feel and the lower my self esteem plummets then the more people avoid me. It's a vicious circle. People essentially have their own lives and don't want to know. I had two very good childhood friends that I could talk to but both of them died young unfortunately. It's just the way some things go.

I simply can't think of how to get out of this situation while at the same time being aware that I am completely responsible for my own life. I don't know where to go or what to do. My job is all I have and I am €100000 in negative equity with my house. I am exhausted from joining things and volunteering. I am too tired to do it any more. Because there is absolutely no one to chat to or confide in for such a long time, I feel I have lost a sense of my place in the world and my connection to it. I don't know what or who I am anymore. I am loosing my mind talking to myself. I don't know why I am here and I don't know what I can do. I feel I am getting more confused by the year. I have visited counsellors and psychiatrists and honestly feel they have made me worse. I try to tell myself I can bare it all for another 40 years and then it will all be over but honestly I don't know if I can. I would prefer to be dead but just don't have the courage to kill myself. My parents are still alive but don't bother with me really. They don't ring or visit. They are quite closed uncommunicative people and cannot deal with my depression or anger. I believed once that God would help me but now I know it just doesn't work that way. You only have yourself and your life is purely your responsibility although some people get dealt a better hand than others. You can only help yourself. I just can't see the grass for the trees.

Hopeful in September's picture

Mutual feelings

If you are still tunning in, I know and I am feeling exactly the same way you are feeling. Yes, I do am feeling better now that I have read your message and those of others. I have been feeling so blue and it's seems to be an ongoing dreadful feeling I long to find a way out. What a waste of my life's happiness. I have had hopes of finding some meeting group or associations on the web but haven't had any real luck yet. There just has to be a way out for us. Let us keep encouraging one another through mail messages and hopefully one day we will find a gleaming bright light of hope that will reach far beyond the grass and trees that seems to be keeping us from living and finding the happiness we deserve. Thank you all so much!

Falcon's picture


I am different from these stories in the fact that everyone says I am not old enough to know much about the world, which is possibly true. My parents are very restrictive and do not let me see my friends. I am not allowed to go to social activities or meet new people. I try to entertain myself with things in my own house but nothing is working and I am sad and depressed all the time. I have a kind of paranoia and I assume that everything I do is either going to make people want to hurt me or directly cause someone to be hurt. Most of the things that I like have been forbidden by them and almost all of the internet is blocked at my house- it is a miracle in itself that I can access facebook. When I am allowed to have the computer I am constantly checking facebook because I feel that I am starved for social activity. I will sometimes have conversations with my mother that will hurt her and I won't know why, or why i said what i did, why I felt so irritated at the time. I am also worried that because of my overactive imagination I will become unable to properly understand exactly what is real and what is not, and I fear that it may already be affecting me too much. I feel like I am looking at someone else's life sometimes, and that I can play with it and not have to face the consequences. I do not know what to make of this and I am worried. There are many things I do not know because nobody told them to me- simple things like what certain often-said phrases mean, what people mean when they say certain things, and what I am supposed to do in many situations. Even now I am demonstrating my lack of knowledge about the current society because I do not watch television and I never have, nor do I interact with other people my own age unless I am at school, but even then it is rare that I am in the same class as them, and I do not get to talk. My form of reactions is archaic at best, as most of my proper reactions I picked up from books that I read about the middle ages. For example, when meeting a new person, I do not know what to do. I am not sure whether to shake their hand, or bow, or kneel, or dip my head, but whatever I do, the recipient and the person doing the introducing both usually cast me a strange look because I have not done the right thing.
I am confused.

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