A Sense of Belonging II: The Seeds of Isolation

Feb 4, 2016

 The Seeds of Isolation

Where does the feeling of isolation originate?

Although the causes of this type of distress could surely be traced back to early years, the purpose here is to look at some causes that come up during other developmental stages, in particular, for school age children from ages 6 to 18. We want to point out some patterns that will help us understand the cultivation of isolation and the failure to attain a true sense of belonging.

To look at these patterns we recall Erikson’s developmental stages encompass the School Age Industry vs. Inferiority Stage, from age 6-11 and the Adolescence Identity vs. Role Confusion, from age 12-18.

From a social-developmental perspective the causes of isolation are explained here.

When a child gets stuck at an early developmental stage a sense of belonging is hard to attain and isolation ensues. These are some examples of WHY a child becomes stuck at an early stage.

  1. Excessive shame resulting in damaging feelings of guilt
  2. Excessive criticism, by peers, perfectionistic parents, teachers or guardians who accept their view as the only possible perspective
  3. Excessive comparisons– made by adults or even older peers- to other siblings, classmates, friends or companions.
  4. Excessive judgement- for example deciding if a creative work is “bad” or “good”
  5. Excessive praise-especially praise that doesn’t give specific of realistic feedback.

In these cases, a child will give up and not try anymore. They will believe what the grownups have said for school age children do not question the grown ups and they think for sure that if a parent or teacher tells them that they are not good or not capable that that is the absolute truth! If a child believes there is no use in trying, they wilt like a flower without water, sinking deep into the pot of isolation.

Here is an example. Mary is 10. She is in the 5th grade. All of her friends make friendship bracelets for each other. Some of the girls are exceptionally good at this craft, coming up with beautiful designs and tightly woven jewelry. Mary however does not have good eye-hand coordination. It takes her hours to even weave the beginnings of a bracelet. She sees that she is not as good as the others. And she is sad. She is afraid that if she tries to do the thing that she is not good at, people will judge her. They will not like her. Everyone will see and laugh.

That’s one place the self-critic is born. That imaginary enemy that sits on one’s shoulders and reminds us over and over that we are no good. And if we are no good, how can we be loved? How can we possibly belong?

At this point the parent, teacher or guardian has a choice. Ignore or address. In this case, Mary’s mother, attune to her struggle, had Mary invite her group of friends over to make blueberry pie and cookies. Mary is a very good cook and was finally in an environment where she could show off her skills. The lesson is simple. No one is good at everything! Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.

During the teenage years the feelings of isolation can soar to extreme heights with extreme consequences. Some common examples are academic failure, dissociation, alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, social anxiety and depression.

Without a sense of belonging this feeling of isolation can linger or manifest at any time during adulthood. This loneliness and inability to connect, even when in a crowd of people, harkens back to the seeds already sown.

We all can help minimize the seeds of isolation by following some simple suggestions.

  1. Accept a child for who they are.
  2. Show them they have talents and skills. Give them opportunities to shine.
  3. Accept that nobody is perfect and teach them that.
  4. Help them to understand both their strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Allow them to grow at their own pace and in their own way.
  6. Listen to them and allow them to speak their mind.
  7. Don’t criticize and don’t try to “fix things” that bug you about your child.
  8. Model for them.

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