Social Isolation or Voluntary Solitude?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

When I was in high school, I dreamed of traveling the world. But in the last 10 years or so, I’ve found that I much prefer to be at home. I don’t like to sleep away from home. I can do it for a few days, but then I become extremely homesick. I would probably have better luck finding a job in a larger city, but my family all live here and I don’t want to leave them. All my local friends are married with children and I am single with a cat. I socialize some and I really don’t have a problem spending time with people; I just want to be at home at the end of the day. Even when I am in a relationship, I prefer to sleep alone at home. I’m not sure that I even have an issue here, but it concerns me that I think that. I have dealt with depression for at least 25 years and was recently diagnosed Bipolar II. My psychiatrist thinks I’m isolating. But I’m not sad or lonely when I’m alone, so is this isolation or just a personal preference? I don’t think it’s a phobia because I can go out if I want to. I just don’t want to.

A. Is your social isolation related to your depression or is it simply a personal preference? This is a difficult question to answer because you have depression (and a bipolar diagnosis). It is difficult to know what you would be like without depression because you have had it for the past 25 years. I suspect, like your psychiatrist, that your desire to isolate may be a symptom of depression. It is not uncommon for individuals with depression to want to isolate and to be alone. I addressed a similar question by a Psych Central reader a few months ago.

On one hand, the desire to isolate is a symptom of depression but on the other hand it can be a sign of a psychologically healthy individual. Abraham Maslow, who studied self-actualizing individuals (those considered to be the most psychologically healthy) found that they “positively like solitude and privacy to a definitely greater degree than the average person.” He found that self-actualizing individuals did not need others. They were well liked and had friends but did not feel compelled to be with others out of loneliness, clinginess and for other similar reasons. Viewing it from this perspective, solitude as a personal preference could be considered psychologically healthy.

To give you the most thorough answer I would need more information about your history and rationale for why you would rather be alone. If you did not have depression I would be more inclined to view your preference for solitude as positive. Given the fact that you have had depression for many years, my sense of the situation is that your desire to isolate may be partly or fully related to depression. That may not be the case but until you eliminate your depression it will be difficult to know for certain whether your desire to isolate is a symptom or simply a personal preference.

I’m sorry that I am unable to give you a more precise answer. You mentioned that you are in treatment with a psychiatrist. Is he or she providing you with psychotherapy? If not you may want to also consider psychotherapy. Therapy might help you resolve the issues that have caused you to suffer with depression for over two decades. Here’s a link to a website where you can search for therapists in your community. Thank you for your question. I wish you well.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Jun 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). Social Isolation or Voluntary Solitude?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/06/20/social-isolation-or-voluntary-solitude/