Social Isolation Schema

Do you sometimes feel like you don’t fit in with others? We should have all felt this at least once in our life, perhaps most prominently during our adolescent years.

However, a persistent feeling of isolation, being inherently different, and disconnected to those whom you are close to, may be an indicator of the Social Isolation Schema. We are social creatures and have a fundamental desire to belong and be accepted. Having a Social Isolation Schema makes it difficult for you to form bonds with others but also feelings of discomfort when alone. 


Reoccurring Thoughts in a Social Isolation Schema

If you agree with most of these statements, it may be a sign of the Social Isolation Schema:

  • I feel like I don’t fit in 
  • I feel that everyone thinks I am weird
  • No one really understands me
  • I find it very difficult to connect with others
  • I feel that I am very different from others
  • It would take a lot of effort to be accepted by other people

You may also miss some of these signs that your friend may be showing: 

  • Enjoys parties, very outgoing and friendly, but actually feels very isolated and different on the inside
  • Come across as attractive and charismatic, but feels extremely self-conscious and insecure about whether others like them 
  • He/she tend to follow what others do just to fit in and suppress thoughts which they worry others might find different or strange
  • Have lots of friends and is well-liked by many but still feel lonely and disconnected from them


Cycle of Social Isolation Schema

✽   Initial Development

  • Discrimination: Feeling different and discriminated against could have stemmed from your family being noticeably different from others around you while growing up. This could be because of ethnicity, religion, or even financial status.
  • Relocation: If you often moved around a lot during your early years, you may have found it especially difficult to develop deeper friendships and connections. This may have contributed to difficulties forming friendships when you are older. 
  • Unfairness: If your parents treated you very differently from your siblings, making you feel like the “black sheep” of the family.
  • Trauma: If you had experience some form of bullying or abuse, the trauma could have emphasised the feeling of being different from others.

✽   Reaction to the Schema 

  • Surrender: Following others and suppressing your own opinions to fit in.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding social events in fear of being left out.
  • Overcompensation: Extreme extroversion, never missing any social events or engagement in substances to cope.

✽   Perpetuation of Social Isolation Schema

  • E.g. You avoid going to a party in fear of being left out. Hence, you miss opportunities to forge friendships. You confirm your belief that you will be left out as others did not get a chance to get to know you better. You continue to fear being left out and choose to steer clear of social events. 


Effects of a Social Isolation Schema

Generally, a Social Isolation Schema is likely to lead to withdrawal from social activities, thus affecting one's interpersonal relationships. However, if perpetuated or extreme, this schema can have more extreme negative consequences:

  • Mental health issues like anxiety and depression
  • Self-harming behaviours as a means of coping, or even suicide
  • Substance abuse addictions like alcohol and drugs to cope with social interactions 


Managing Social Isolation Schemas 

Schema Therapy

In comparison with standard cognitive therapy, schema therapy probes more deeply into early life experiences. In addition, it utilises experimental, cognitive, behavioural and interpersonal (object relations) techniques, which promotes higher levels of emotions in sessions and which effects are lasting. Psychology Blossom offers therapy programs tailored to individuals. The therapist works with the individual to identify the reasons for the schema and modify mindsets driven by the schema. 

  • Exploring origins of the schema and its negative effects 
  • Rehearsal of adaptive behavior in imagery or role-play (e.g. Behaviour in a social event)
  • Behavioural homework (e.g. practicing stating one's own opinion to a friend) 
  • Involvement of friends and family to reward adaptive behavior