September 18th, 2019
Many people who come to therapy struggle with isolation. Some may stay close to immediate family, others may have a friend or two or a romantic partner, but don’t venture outside of a small, familiar circle. Still others may spend virtually all of their time alone. While some who isolate feel lonely and desire more connection, others appear to prefer their solitude, though they may experience a general dissatisfaction with their life.
Isolation has its roots in our beliefs about ourselves and other people. These beliefs are informed by past experiences, especially very early experiences with important others, especially our primary caregivers, when our minds are still developing. If being with people and attempts to seek connection regularly or traumatically led to being hurt, betrayed, or abandoned in some way, then a person may learn to be wary of approaching people in the future. In an attempt to prevent themselves from getting hurt again, they may adopt the belief that everyone is likely to hurt them in the same way either because everyone is bad in this way, and/or because one blames one’s self and views one’s own badness as a just reason for the painful treatment that they received (i.e. who would want to be nice to someone like me?). Some people’s experience of being with others was problematic enough that they learned to shut off their feelings of desire for connection all together.
It can be very difficult to trust people enough to reach out again, or even allow one’s self to feel a desire for connection, when one has been hurt sufficiently in relationships. Understandably, a person may shape their life around avoiding too much contact with people, or at least new people who aren’t already known to be “safe.” Such a person may find their life quite unsatisfying, given the limitations of what they feel they can engage in safely, without risking too much contact. As the avoidance of people goes on, such a person may add to their misery by criticizing themselves for not having any friends, lacking social skills, or being “irrationally” afraid, further solidifying their isolation. Still others may surround themselves only with one or a small number of people who do hurt, betray, and/or abandon them, perpetuating their beliefs about people in general, and keeping them away from the satisfying relationships that they truly desire.
The truth is that there’s a world full of people out there and while a few of them can hurt you, many of them are good, fun loving people who are happy to make a new connection. This last sentence may cause you to scoff, and that’s OK, but what if you tested it? If the idea of testing it seems overwhelming, that’s OK too. You don’t have to shy away from these feelings, or accept them as fate; a good relationship with a competent therapist can help to make sense of them, better cope with them, and, if you want, support you in pursuing and achieving enriching relationships with others. You don’t have to stay alone, lonely, missing out, or limited in unsatisfying relationships. The road to other people may be difficult, but you don’t have to walk it alone either.
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