Loneliness NZ

Meaning of emotional isolation

Being emotionally isolated is when your defence mechanism kicks in, and to protect yourself from emotional distress, you stop naturally communicating with people. When you do communicate with them, you keep the communication to a superficial level.
So you might have a wide social circle yet you probably show little interest in their feelings; and in that way you avoid intimate relationships altogether. You might put barriers in the way of deepening relationships; and you might socially isolate yourself from people to avoid getting hurt.

Most importantly you keep your feelings entirely to yourself, and you are not able to receive emotional support from others. You might even repress or suppress your own thoughts, feelings, opinions and beliefs. You might feel as if you have shut-down or feel numb.

Triggers of emotional isolation

Emotionally isolated people may have people who would choose to be close to them (and very likely even have people who love them) but because of the way they have mentally processed an incident or series of incidents in their past they are not able to confide in people.

Emotional isolation is triggered by social isolation, infidelity, abuse, fear of abandonment and other trust issues where emotional bonds have been broken.

Examples include:

Social isolation

...a teenager who moved to a new school where he was bullied.


...a spouse in a marriage where a previously intimate partner betrayed them.


... a younger child constantly being physically hurt by a sibling.

Fear of abandonment

...a child who lacked having an emotionally available parent figure after divorce.

Other trust issues

...a young girl who was raped by a family member.

Depths of emotional isolation

Being emotionally isolated creates self-centredness, and insensitivity.

Emotional isolation can start at any age, and with help be turned around. However many elderly, who are prone to become emotionally isolated when they lose the people who they shared intimacy with (partners, friends and family), have fewer opportunities of building up new relationships with the necessary meaningful connections.

Being emotionally isolated is unhealthy, as it prevents you having meaningful attachments in your life. Loneliness NZ helps people who feel emotionally isolated to understand themselves and those around them, and to work to improve their healthy interactions with people. For more information, see ‘I’m feeling lonely‘. 

Related terms

One way to further understand what emotional isolation means is to explore related terminology (by selecting one of the coloured rectangles below).

These terms may or may not overlap with the meaning of emotional isolation, but give further insight into the nature of loneliness, other types of isolation, and solitude.