What is alienation?

Alienation occurs when a person withdraws or becomes isolated from their environment or from other people. People who show symptoms of alienation will often reject loved ones or society. They may also show feelings of distance and estrangement, including from their own emotions.

Alienation is a complex, yet common condition. It’s both sociological and psychological, and can affect your health and aggravate existing medical conditions. Treatment involves diagnosing the cause of alienation, and following through with treatment.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms, types, and causes of alienation and what the next steps are.

Feeling distanced from work, family, and friends is a common symptom of alienation. Other symptoms include:

  • feeling helpless
  • feeling that the world is empty or meaningless
  • feeling left out of conversations or events
  • feeling different or separate from everyone else
  • having difficulty approaching and speaking with others, especially parents
  • feeling unsafe when interacting with others
  • refusing to obey rules

There can also be symptoms of depression that include:

  • having a poor appetite or overeating,
  • sleeping excessively or having insomnia
  • being fatigued
  • lacking self-worth
  • having feelings of hopelessness

Alienation is a complex condition that affects many people. There are six common types.

cultural estrangement feeling removed from established values
isolationhaving a sense of loneliness or exclusion, such as being a minority in a group
meaninglessnessbeing unable to see meaning in actions, relationships, or world affairs, or having a sense that life has no purpose
normlessnessfeeling disconnected from social conventions, or engaging in deviant behavior
powerlessnessbelieving that actions have no effect on outcomes, or that you have no control over your life
self-estrangementbeing out of touch with yourself in different ways, mostly being unable to form your own identity

Alienation can have many causes, from psychological disorders to social situations.

Health-related causes

Alienation can be the result of a mental or physical condition. Possible health-related causes of alienation include:

When alienation has health-related causes, there will typically be other symptoms that persist for more than a few days. Talk to a doctor if you’re concerned about any symptoms.

Social causes

Social causes are typically defined by how you, or someone you know, feels disconnected from other people, their environment, or themselves. For example, a change in your environment, like changing jobs or schools, can cause alienation.

Job-related causes

Work alienation occurs when a person feels estranged from what they produce in the workplace. This disconnection may cause dissatisfaction and a feeling of alienation from:

  • the work they do
  • their coworkers
  • the environment
  • themselves

Causes in adolescents

Alienation is common among teenagers. It can also be a side effect of:

  • attachment to a parent or caregiver in early childhood
  • big changes in their comfort zone
  • bullying or peer victimization
  • growing up

As children grow, they may begin to distrust adults or the values they were raised with. Teens can often feel isolated from their parents, teachers, and peers. They may feel anxious about their social skills or physical appearance. Teens can even feel isolated from their own identity. This can happen as they discover themselves and think about their future.

Adolescent alienation is only considered a symptom if it accompanies other disorders, such as a phobia or a personality disorder.

Parental causes

Parental alienation is a term that broadly describes negative, alienating behaviors displayed by a parent, like not being present. Parental alienation syndrome describes a psychiatric disorder in children, particularly in the context of divorce. Sometimes it can be an explanation for a child’s refusal to visit a parent.

Rejection of a parent has multiple factors. These can include interactions from both parents and feelings of vulnerability from the child.

This is not the same alienation that a child may feel toward a parent who is abusive, particularly if the child severs ties with that parent as an adult.

To treat alienation, the cause must be identified. People who experience psychological pain because of alienation may benefit from seeing a mental health professional. Gaining a feeling of empowerment may also help a person battle alienation.

For adolescents, a sense of purpose is an asset. But searching for that purpose can induce stress. Researchers suggest that parental support can help teens who experience alienation due to feelings of purposelessness.

Research also shows that a strong parent-child relationship can help a child cope with bullying. This is another possible cause of alienation during childhood.

Feeling alienated can lead to many different social problems that include:

  • drug or alcohol abuse
  • truancy
  • criminal activity
  • poor school or work performance

Alienation may also increase symptoms of mental and physical disorders that can include:

  • psychological pain, including anger and depression
  • health effects from drug or alcohol abuse
  • eating disorders
  • attempted suicide

While alienation can increase feelings of powerlessness and estrangement, it’s important talk to someone, especially if you’ve recently had thoughts of suicide.

Seek help or advice from a mental healthcare professional if you’re concerned about alienation. Alienation may be a symptom of an underlying cause. Sometimes it can be a side effect of a new experience or environment and will pass with time.

It may also help to open up other avenues of support. If you feel comfortable doing so, talk to your friends and family. You can also show support for someone you know by reaching out and spending time with them. In cases of parental alienation, your next steps may involve counseling sessions.