Social isolation: brave the fear of the other

The summer holidays are coming but it’s not fun for everyone. Nearly seven million French people suffer from social isolation. They have no friends or family, no one to join in the summer. So, it’s the anguish of walking in empty streets, of finding yourself alone in the office while the others are having fun.

If social isolation is a fact of society, it is also a medical subject. Because when you don’t matter to anyone, you see no point in taking care of yourself. Some say “Might as well die” because they find no meaning in their lives and no one would notice their disappearance. These are called depressive ideas, a frequent consequence of social isolation. We psychiatrists are often witnesses to this on the eve of holidays.

Vicious circle

It’s sad, but that’s how it is: the richer a society, the more difficult social ties are. The race for individual performance takes precedence over what makes us human, that is to say our ability to communicate with others. We no longer know why we all run so fast, nor behind what, and we end up forgetting our fellow human beings. However, it has been scientifically demonstrated that social ties exercise our intelligence and protect against depression. We need the other, who stimulates us and nourishes us.

A patient asked me one day how to approach her neighbor whom she found sympathetic. We devoted the therapy to role-playing so that she mustered up the courage to invite him over for coffee. In short, she learned to be spontaneous again: what a beautiful oxymoron! This woman was scared. Fear of being intrusive, fear of being refused, fear of not conforming to what the other would expect of her, fear… Finally, we are so afraid of each other that we withdraw into ourselves in deep sadness. However, social isolation leads to depression and depression isolates: it is a veritable vicious circle.

Practical work

Frenzied production has confused progress, intelligence and dehumanization and has wrongly associated emotions with the primitive character of our civilizations. While they turn out to be sophisticated and complex, they are perceived as infantile, “care bears”. I no longer count the patients who ask me to teach them to be less sensitive so that they no longer feel vulnerable in the face of anesthetized “robots” and decision-makers. Of course, I tell them that I don’t know how to do it.

For some, it’s complicated to say hello to the neighbor, to offer a cake to the single mother who works on August 15 while her children are locked up in a tiny studio, to worry about a tradesman outside in the cold. However, those who take the step often understand that the other was only waiting for this attention. Sometimes, we need levels and in this, social networks and dating sites, even if they maintain generalized social phobia, are of good help.

Only, virtuality has its limits and, one day or another, you have to move on to practical work. So, if you are isolated, if you read me, know that a word, a smile, come on, let’s be crazy, a hand on your shoulder can change the course of your life. You may not go on vacation with this new acquaintance, but you will surely find pleasure in dreaming about the future good times you will spend together.


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