Suffering and Loneliness: Experiential Isolation in Post-Traumatic Narrated Lives

Jacob Y. Stein, Rivka Tuval-Mashiach

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Psychological trauma is a metaphor insinuating a wound to the psyche. Hence, the life following traumatic experiences may serve as a case study exemplifying suffering phenomena. Loneliness, on the other hand, is an altogether different type of suffering. Thus, we have come to wonder whether and how the two coincided. That is, do those who return from war or captivity feel lonely? And, if so, what are the characteristics of that loneliness? The participants in this interpretativephenomenological study were 30 Israeli men who have endured traumatic experiences in the contexts a\bove and have told their life-story in the testimonial project of NATAL (Israel Trauma Centre for Victims of Terror and War). As for loneliness, it seems that three constructs dominate the literature. Perceived social isolation and perceived emotional isolation are most prevalent in psychology, and existential isolation in philosophy. Nevertheless, in the spirit of qualitative inquiry, we bracketed existing constructs and read the narratives open for discovery. As our readings progressed, it was indeed a different nuanced form of loneliness that emerged. We observed that for some participants their experiences have become obstacles inhibiting intersubjectivity, thus condemning them to remain experientially alone with their suffering. Hence, this consolidated the sensation that certain relational needs such as feeling understood, possessing the ability to share experiences and the need for empathy are deficient, that eventually ends up in loneliness. We termed this experience loneliness of experiential isolation. It seems that when addressing their experiences following combat and captivity, veterans may depict their post-traumatic lives as characterized by this experience of loneliness. We offer an examination of three of the themes that emerged from the narratives, thus demonstrating the various manifestations of this kind of isolation. Moreover, we demonstrate how this type of isolation may be the foundation for the manifestation of other aforementioned types of isolation.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNarratives of Suffering
Subtitle of host publicationMeaning and Experience in a Transcultural Approach
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781848883611
ISBN (Print)9789004374492
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Inter-Disciplinary Press 2014.


  • Captivity
  • combat
  • experiential isolation
  • loneliness
  • narrative
  • phenomenology
  • suffering
  • trauma


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