Isolation and loneliness

isolation and loneliness

Interactions and definitions of isolation and loneliness

Compare and contrast isolation and loneliness–defining both using multiple theories/theorists. It needs to relate how both affect people (especially in the workplace).

Interactions and Definitions of Isolation and Loneliness

Interactions and Definitions of Isolation and Loneliness

Contemporary studies have postulated that isolation and loneliness contribute significantly to negative mental health that could be detrimental to individuals’ wellbeing. In some literature, isolation and loneliness have been described as being more dangerous than commonly known health conditions, further demonstrating their far-reaching implications on individuals. While the signs and symptoms of isolation and loneliness are significantly similar, the two terms are interpreted differently in psychological spheres, and their impact in individuals varies to a considerable extent. This paper aims at contrasting isolation and loneliness through the use of theories; and also demonstrates how these factors affect individuals, particularly in the workplace.

Isolation is associated with the absence of social ties with others in the society. According to Ge et al. (2017), the deficiency or near-deficiency of social connections consists of the definition of isolation. In this regard, social relationships are measured regarding network size and diversity, contact frequency and the extent to which a person is isolated socially (Ge et al., 2017). More elaborate definitions of isolation can be based on different theories that have been put forth to explain their occurrence. Wilson (1987) put forth a social isolation theory, where isolation was defined as the absence of contact or continual interactions with others or institutions that epitomize the conventional society. Isolation is thus considered a cultural condition, which results from structural constraints as established, by Wilson’s theory of isolation (Klinenberg, 2018). The temperament isolation theory aims at explaining how cultures view certain dispositions and how they interact with those with different dispositions (Rodriguez, 2014). This could lead to personality bias because of favoritism towards certain dispositions, which naturally tends to result in isolation of other dispositions.

Loneliness, on the contrary, refers to an emotional feeling by an individual that makes them feel socially isolated due to unmet social relationship needs. According to Holt-Lunstad, et al. (2016), it may refer to displeasure with the incongruity between the actual and desired actual relationships. A distinctive characteristic of loneliness is that it is possible to experience loneliness both in the presence of social isolation and the absence of it (Ge et al., 2017). This can explain why an individual may feel lonely even in the presence of people around him or her (Mathews et al., 2016). Different theories have made attempts at providing more elaborate definitions of loneliness. According to the behavioral approach, loneliness can be associated with personality traits that contribute to harmful interpersonal interaction patterns (Rokach, 2016). Such personality traits may include low self-esteem, sadness, anxiety, social inhibition, distrust and social anxiety, all which hinder effective interaction with others and the formation and maintenance of meaningful relationships (Hawkley, 2010). Individuals experiencing loneliness as explained in the behavioral approach are more unlikely to share personal information with peers, which makes it more difficult to create intimate relationships with friends. The cognitive behavior approach to loneliness points out that loneliness is associated with an individual’s overall outlook to life and those lonely individuals are more likely to be pessimistic or negative towards life (Mushtaq et al., 2014).

Despite the different definitions, loneliness and isolation are known to have overlapping characteristics, including the manifestation of depressive symptoms, psychological distress and negative self-assessment (Ge et al., 2017; Rokach, 2014). Furthermore, isolation and loneliness have been interlinked, based on their influence on each other. An example is where social isolation may cause individuals to develop feelings of loneliness (Mathews et al., 2016). Ge et al. (2017), notes that both isolation and loneliness are an indication of weak social relationships, such that it is possible to feel both isolation and loneliness concurrently. 

Loneliness and isolation can have detrimental effects on individuals, particularly at the workplace. Loneliness and isolation impact interpersonal relationships and thus influence how individuals connect with others (Ozcelik and Barsade, 2012). Shehada and Khafaje (2015) note that when an individual feels isolated or alienated at work, they are less likely to contribute or participate effectively in work-related activities. Loneliness and isolation lead to emotional withdrawal and consequently reduction in affective commitment, such that employees are likely to be less productive (Ozcelik and Barsade, 2012). Additionally, loneliness leads to surface-acting as individuals attempt to mask what they are experiencing, thus making it more difficult to be productive. Isolation and loneliness may affect teamwork capability, participation in work-related activities, task completion, interpersonal relationships, and communication. According to Ozcelik and Barsade (2012), loneliness is likely to escalate at work as co-workers increasingly disconnect with individuals who are already considered lonely, thus making the implications of loneliness even worse.

Rokach (2014) who studies the impact of loneliness on leadership establishes that leaders are more likely to be socially isolated at the workplace and this may lead to depression. This is mostly where support from subordinates is lacking or where leadership roles create disengagement with others due to busy schedules and high expectations. The consequent impact is increased depression, poor decision-making capability, irrational behavior and drug use (Rokach, 2014).

Due to their impact on the psychological well being and consequent stress, isolation and loneliness have been associated with lifestyle diseases resulting from a sedentary lifestyle, high-calorie intake, weight-gain and blood pressure (Rokach, 2014). These may affect an individual’s ability to deliver at the workplace, particularly when they are constantly out of the office for treatment.

            In conclusion, this discussion compares and contrasts loneliness and isolation, establishing that while the two factors are interrelated to some extent, they are both manifested differently in individuals. The discussion also establishes that loneliness and isolation have substantive effects on work performance.


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