Depression and Isolation


“Misery loves company.” We hear it often...people who are suffering seek the company of others who are also suffering. But what happens after those people get together?  Does their level of misery change? If you take a moment to compare times when you felt miserable (“sad”, “unhappy”, or “depressed”) versus when you’ve felt happy, what’s been different? If you’re like most people, you may notice a difference in the kind of company you have in each case.

Many people feel happiest and at peace when they’re in good company. The kind of company that treats you with acceptance, respect, dignity, kindness, and compassion. We feel connected, included, valued, and a part of something. On the other hand, those who feel the least happy (or most miserable) are likely existing in a very different in which they feel isolated, alienated, lonely, judged, misunderstood, unappreciated, disrespected, and mistreated or abused.

For many of the people I see in therapy, circumstances like these are common for those living in unhappiness and discontent. So this begs the question...does misery really love company? After all the conversations I’ve had with people struggling with various degrees of misery, I lean toward the opposite: misery actually hates company.

Misery Thrives in Isolation

A lot of people I talk to who say they struggle with depression note that when things are at their worst, they are persistently isolated and feeling very much alone. Although this can be seen as a “chicken and egg” problem, it’s fair to say in a lot of contexts that the intense sense of dissatisfaction that often comes with depression may be a response to isolation, alienation, or social exclusion.

In fact, there’s a recent theory of addiction being prescribed that suggests the reason many people turn to substances like drugs and alcohol is because they feel disenfranchised.  They’re struggling to feel that satisfying sense of connection that is often present when we’re feeling happy, and they use substances to cope. On top of that, when we look at how many people recover from substance abuse and addiction, we see how important supportive groups and communities are in that process. Twelve step programs like AA and NA can offer an accepting, positive social experience that stand in stark contrast to the sense of alienation and isolation that often accompanies substance use.

Social connectedness (or lack of it) is a good predictor of where we fall on the happiness/misery scale. The more we feel we belong, the more content we’re likely to feel. The more we feel alienated or excluded, the more likely we are to feel miserable and at odds with the world around us.

Why We Withdraw

When people have had negative social experiences, it makes sense for them to pull away from others. At first, isolation may seem like a preferable alternative to the hurt that could potentially come from getting close with others and have it end. Emotional pain never occurs in a vacuum...  it’s always a response to something, and very often related to our interpersonal relationships. When we isolate ourselves from others, we diminish the likelihood of being hurt more than we already have. Our mind will tell us fear-provoking stories in order to protect us from harm. In therapy, people have described how they’ve withdrawn for a whole range of reasons:

  • They’ve been hurt too many times by others in the past;

  • They’re fearful of being judged or misunderstood;

  • They’re concerned for other people’s wellbeing, not wanting them to feel burdened by their suffering;

  • They anticipate rejection from others, and choose not to chance it;

Social withdrawal usually serves us in avoiding negative responses from others... like beating others to the punch. Pulling away from those who might do harm or exploit our vulnerability before they get the chance to do so. In this way, isolating serves to maintain our dignity and preserve what sense of emotional safety we have, without it being further damaged.

The Downside of Isolation

People who withdraw from their social relations often describe feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, if they go out on a limb and take a chance at reestablishing connections and social supports, they risk further rejection, judgment, or abuse. On the other hand, if they remain withdrawn, they’re left to deal with the sense of loss and sadness that comes with exclusion and longing for connectedness. Many people carry on functional lives despite their withdrawal, but can’t shake the feeling of longing for something more. We have no control over how other people treat us, which is part of the reason why many people withdraw. Seeking out a therapist in these times is brilliant because therapists are far more likely to meet you with compassion, acceptance, and understanding (and if not, you don’t have to look far to find one who is). The relationship people strike up with a therapist can be pivotal in helping shift away from isolation toward exploring the possibility of finding safe, meaningful connections with others.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with feeling isolated and want help in working through the process described above, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

Depression: Why Do We Push Those We Love Away?


When we struggle with depression, we often find ourselves withdrawing from our loved ones and sometimes pushing people away. We don’t always know why, and it’s not always a conscious thing either. But it can be confusing, painful and unsettling to us. It can be confusing for those around us, too, because if we don’t know why we’re pushing them away, they won’t know why either. The following are some potential reasons that those that have depression try to isolate and push others away:

1. We Don’t Think People Want Us Around

Depression leaves us feeling worthless and useless. People will tell us that they want to be around us repeatedly, but we won’t necessarily believe it because it doesn’t match the story in our head that we tell ourselves. We can’t understand why anyone would want to spend time with us because we believe that we have nothing to offer or that we will bring them ‘down’. When people do invite us to things, we tell ourselves that they are ‘just being nice’, asking us out of a sense of obligation or charity. And we definitely don’t  feel worthy of their time.

2. We Struggle With Concentration

It takes a lot of concentration to follow conversations. Anxiety can increase quickly when we worry about looking silly or rude, or losing track of what’s going on. The fear that we won’t be able to keep up can make us freeze or shut down. Faced with that fear, it’s easier to push people away than worry about having to do things that we don’t feel able to do. We don’t want to be anyone’s disappointment.

3. We Have No Energy

Lacking in energy is a major byproduct of depression and it can be tough when we’re alone, let alone when we are around others. We’re expected to talk. We’re expected to smile. We’re expected to join in and participate. We push people away because we don’t have the energy to be around them. Life can seem as if it is a never ending effort to determine what is worth spending energy on, and being around people can be unpredictable and causes us to retreat to safety.

4. We Get Easily Irritated

Depression can lead to a low tolerance level for things (the illness alone is overwhelming), and we might get easily irritated and annoyed. We might lash out at those around us, especially if they do unexpected things, or change things without warning. Sometimes the fact that we get irritated and lash out, can feel as though we’re pushing people away which feeds into the guilt we already tend to carry.

5. We Feel Like a Burden

Depression can fool us into feeling like we are a burden to those around us. Having no energy, struggling for motivation, and having low self-confidence can lead us to feel as if others take on a lot when they are in relationships with us. We don’t see ourselves as bringing any value to our relationship(feelings of worthlessness). We don’t want to share our misery with them for fear that it will worsen their mood. We see ourselves as a drain on those around us and we push people away because we don’t want to burden them.

6. We Don’t Want To Upset or Hurt Others

Sometimes, when our loved ones hear how awful we’re feeling, it can upset them, because they care about us. It can be hard for them to see us hurting or in pain. If we begin to feel suicidal, and share that with a loved one, we see the pain and worry in their eyes. We see them wondering what they’re not doing enough of to help. Our loved ones might struggle to understand why we feel the way we do. It might hurt them, and we don’t want that, because we love them. So we push them away. What they don’t see can’t impact them.

7. We’re Fearful of Getting Hurt

We’re scared that people will get sick of us and leave. If we push people away, they can’t leave us, because we’ve already left them. It’s within our control. Sometimes we’d rather be isolated than constantly worrying about when people will get fed up with us and leave.

8. Sometimes, It’s Just Easier

Sometimes we push people away because it’s easier than having to pretend we’re okay. It’s easier than having to confront how far we’ve fallen from the person we once were (shame). When we’re by ourselves, we can often fool ourselves that we’re ‘okay,’ but being around others can be an abrupt reminder of the fact that we’re far from it.

If you’re struggling with depression (or you know someone you love that is) and this list resonates with you and your internal struggle, feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.