The Isolation Paradox

Hey everyone, Sneha here! Today’s article is written by a guest writer, Mrunmayi, who is one my best friends, a fellow psychologist, and the Queen of Existential Psychology. Enjoy! 🙂

A very interesting article caught my eye when this pandemic began and life as we know it came to a startling halt. It essentially spoke about increase in both, forging of intimate relationships and breaking of intimate relationships, will see a sharp increase as we emerge on the other side. The re-return to normalcy is no more a possibility and so it seems how we look at relationships. But there is another side to relationships- solitude and when it rears its ugly head, isolation.

Like every other seemingly normal individual, I have struggled enormously with isolation during this period. Being in a profession that requires human contact this sense of separateness hasn’t gone down well. But true to my nature of an introverted person, this isolation has also proven to be blessing in disguise. It has given me an opportunity to slip away the façade I wear every day, reach out to the roots of my being and find my peace in quiet. In days to come I would find myself in a paradox– wanting to be with others (virtually at the moment) and at the same time ignoring phone calls of people I love the most. In testing times, as such I did, what I usually do- turn to existentialists for some clarification! Now, I know a lot of you have your eyebrows raised and are slightly frowning, but if you really read about these beautiful human beings, you’ll realize they are actually a rather joyous lot (except for Nietzsche maybe).

Over the last few decades we have seen people become more connected with each other through technology, but find themselves increasingly isolated from their community. Hence, we have come to fear this isolation, the feeling of loneliness it brings. And when the isolation is imposed on us, as in this case of a pandemic, we experience a loss of identity that we have derived by our relations with others. Yalom, an American existential psychiatrist, has famously called Existential Isolation as an unbridgeable gap between oneself and any other being, and fundamentally, a separation between oneself and the world. We have realized, unknowingly perhaps, that we have entered this world alone and that we are to depart from it alone. And in between these two acts, we dump ourselves onto people we meet in a hope that the journey won’t be a solitary act. The existential conflict thus arises when we become aware of our absolute isolation and our wish to be a part of a larger whole (Yalom, 1980). Deep. I know.

Life before pandemic was filled with routine activities, of everyday things that kept us busy, and hid the existential isolation pretty well. We enjoyed a false sense of cozyness, of certainty, of security, of familiar belongingness. We spent our days interacting with others in our cooped up offices, on busy trains, on coffee dates, or alcohol nights until we stumbled on the bed and realized how utterly alone we are. Thankfully, the sleep would take over and we would begin each day anew, unknown that the very thing we dreaded was round the corner. And then the unthinkable happened! We were thrown into abyss and all are nightmares suddenly became true. As Yalom put it, “in the face of nothing, no thing and no being, can help us”. After all it is not easy to digest that there may be moments when no one is thinking about you. This fear is what drives many people immaturely into relationships they are not ready for. The bitter truth is that there is no relation that can eliminate existential isolation. But our aloneness can be shared and love can compensate for the pain of isolation.

“Love is the answer when there is no question”.

-Yalom

All is not lost though, yet. There is no solution to isolation as it is a part of our very existence, and the only forward is to face it and surrender to it. As much as the world has tagged existentialists as nihilistic, pessimistic, they see a silver lining in misery. They understand that dark clouds are a part of the process, and that dark clouds part to let the sun shine. Existential isolation is an opportunity for growth. It is a process of where we separate our identities from others. We go through the pain of individualization. We become our own person as they famously call it. We become independent, moving from physical dependency to emotional dependency, and gradually establish boundaries. The cost of ‘growing’ is confronting isolation. Confronting this isolation can be a cause for anxiety, but it is a catalyst for growth. “It is the facing of aloneness that ultimately allows one to engage with another deeply and meaningfully” (Yalom, 1980). Growth then also becomes an avenue to not only learn rewards of relationships, but also their limitations. There are things that we cannot get from others as much as we love them and hold them in our hearts.

Perhaps this is my learning in the pandemic- isolation and connection are the same side of a coin. You cannot value one without the other. It is not about one against the other, but to understand them both as separate and yet interlinked, feeding off each other. As Charlotte Wolff put it, “The greater part of our lives is spent with ourselves, no matter where or with what other people we may live…our imagination is the only companion chained to us for the whole of existence”

Thanks for having me,

Mrunmayi

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