Kristina Cary & Bea D'Amico | The Broadview
Social isolation leads to being the odd girl out
Social isolation, self-imposed or a result of others' intentions, can cause more harm than meets the eye.
As young women maneuver through crowded hallways on their way to classes, passing by friends saying hello and exchanging jokes and laughter, some students can still feel as lonely and isolated.
“I’ve always lived with it,” junior Kayla Man said about her personal experience with social isolation. “I’ve been isolated even when I placed myself in friend groups.”
The majority of adolescent personality types fall in the middle of a bell curve, but a teenager is perceived as possessing a quality that makes her stand out from mainstream culture is considered an outlier, falling on the edges of the bell, according to licensed clinical social worker Laura Fraser.
The outlier qualities commonly consist of early or late maturation or possessing other personality traits that are seen as unconventional.
“I call myself a floater because I don’t feel close with any of my friends,” Man said. “We were a group in middle school, but then we separated in a way when we got into high school.”
“I’ve been isolated even when I placed myself in friend groups.” – Kayla Man
Although Man has chosen to be outside a interaction norm, the intentional act of inflicting social isolation upon others can be seen as a form of bullying. Adults may not see social isolation as the dire situation, it can be devastating for students.
Yet, 56 percent of adults say schools should take action if a student isolates another student socially, according to a survey conducted by University of Michigan.
“Bullying isn’t always with your enemies,” Man said. “It can be with your closest friend and you feel like you can’t do anything about it.”
Neurological changes that occur in adolescents’ brains may also result from a longing for reflection during a solitary activity such as listening to music or streaming episodes of their favorite television shows for an ordinary amount of time, according to Fraser.
Socially isolated behavior may alternatively result from external problems such as broken relationships, parental issues, or drug and alcohol abuse that push a person deeper into a cage of loneliness.
“I chose to do it to myself as a side effect of other problems I was dealing with,” an respondent to an anonymous online Broadview survey said about her social isolation. “My friends are fantastic and super supportive, but I can still feel set apart from them because of me.”
Yet teens may see their social isolation as their own mistake once they assess their situation.
“I think that my isolation was maybe my fault because I began avoiding certain people,” Man said, “but it was because I was trying to separate myself from others so I don’t have to be hurt again.”
Fraser has spent many hours leading therapy sessions in helping people deconstruct their social isolation and assisting them in experiencing a sense that they can trust friends in the future to be there for them.
“When social isolation happens in adolescent years, memory tracks get laid down more firmly in terms of what’s happening due to neurological changes,” Fraser said. “These things stick with people a lot more in that time of life.”
Social isolation is often avoidable once students move beyond the social structures of school, according to Fraser.
“People have more of a choice in terms of which groups they want to be in,” Fraser said. “They’re starting to find the things that they’re interested in and make them feel good, powerful and involved in the world”
People are oftentimes able to reflect on their situation and help others who are undergoing social isolation.
Although Man says she continues to feel isolated, she is currently assisting a younger girl who is also feeling socially isolated by her friends.
“I want her to see that becoming more open to yourself can help you realize different things,” Man said. “You can break away from this isolation and make different friends.”
The best antidote to social isolation is to try and begin redeveloping relationships, according to Fraser.
“If your friends are doing this to you, they are probably not your real friends,” a respondent of a Broadview survey said. “Reach out to people and stay strong, because isolation doesn’t last.”