Quarantine has been an alienating experience for most of us. Not just physically, but also socially, emotionally, and mentally. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s good or bad.
The concepts of alienation and individualism have been derived from a well-versed, social-psychological theory, and cross-cultural comparison. Both the terms encompass historical, sociological, and psychological phenomena.
Alienation is referred to as a state of being completely separated from oneself, the world, and its whereabouts. In earlier decades, alienation was considered as something that was only practiced by a psychologically or mentally ill person. In adjacent words, being anti-social was considered to be unethical and something that only insane, or unstable people could practice. Along with that, it was perceived as a problematic association with liberal societies and liberal political philosophy. Sources claim that the concept might have its roots in Hegelian, Nietzsche, and Marxist intellectual traditions.
Today, being alienated from the world once in a while has become quite normal and even essential. With too much happening around us every day, it’s only fair to take a break from reality. Sometimes, reality can get overwhelming and it’s okay to take some time off when it starts taking a toll on your mental health.
Alienation also has an essence of spiritual supremacy and psychological insight attached to it. When you distance yourself from everything, you get time to explore your mind, passions, strengths, and delve deeper into self-introspection, gradually coming to terms with the reality that awaits you. People might alienate themselves for various spiritual reasons - meditation (in terms of human hibernation), wanting to experience what lies beyond the illusion of the world known to us, or a longing to open the third eye of insight that leads to the inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness that is popularly referred to as the seat of the soul, unknown to mankind. A reference to the mythology associated with the image of Lord Shiva with a third eye symbolizing a state of enlightenment.
At times, alienation can be a response to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When someone goes through something unfathomably devastating, a part of that person’s psyche breaks in a manner that is extremely challenging to reverse. As a consequence of which, that person might choose to separate their existence from the rest of the world. How a person deals with their brokenness is a matter of personal choice that can never be questioned or debated upon. Whether they decide to alienate themselves to seek support from within or become more social to seek external support, it is their journey towards healing.
Social anxiety plays a substantial role in an individual resorting to alienation. Every so often, large gatherings and frequent social interactions can make a person anxious. It is not the social environment that makes them uncomfortable, but the constant paranoia of being judged by masses.
Today, the world spins around social media. Socializing, posting, sharing your whole life with the outside world has become so significant that it has become a toxic space for people who cannot put themselves out there as much as others. Competing with influencers, and gloriously aesthetic feeds becomes exhausting and causes a social burnout. People who choose to stay low-key, and away from the toxic facets of social media, are often bullied and ridiculed. Yes, this is the kind of social world we live in.
A concept similar to alienation is Individualism. Although both the terms are quite alike, a fine line lies between them. As the Oxford Dictionary defines it, Individualism is a social theory that favors freedom of self over collective control. This simply implies choosing oneself over any group – be it a small society or a larger community (country, religion, culture).
Now, the concept of individualism varies in different cultural ambiances. In Asian societies, especially Indian, the values of teamwork, group-cohesiveness, and the importance of community over self have been imbibed for centuries. In traditional families, signs of individualism are simply tagged as ‘selfish, faulty behaviors’ (If I had a penny for every time it has been said to me, I’d be a millionaire). I guess it’s safe to say that ‘personal choice’ is still an alien concept to traditional families. However, in contrast to this, individualism is a frequently accepted and even appreciated concept in western culture. Since birth, children are taught to be self-dependent and self-reliant. Community, religion, and society always come second to the personal decisions of the individual.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what brings you peace and makes you happy. If you feel like you’d be better off being alienated from the world practicing individualism, then that’s okay even if the world tells you otherwise a thousand times. Not being socially active is not the end of the world.
You matter even if you decide to stay low key and don’t put yourself out there on social platforms. You are not alone.
If you are someone who’s facing social anxiety, here are some helplines that you can contact if you feel the need to talk to someone –