We’re living in a time when isolation has become more common. Even before the health scare, people reported higher levels of loneliness and less in-person interaction.
For some, however, isolation is a self-imposed state brought on by fear of interacting with others. That could be due to pain from past experience, or the feeling that it’s just easier to be alone.
This is not an introvert/extrovert distinction. Though introverts may crave more alone time, they are often better at cultivating deep connected relationships. They do not isolate out of fear and pain unless something else is at play.
That something else could be unresolved childhood trauma. Chronic feelings of loneliness and a tendency to avoid social interactions have been linked to adverse events in childhood.
Here are 5 reasons abuse or neglect in childhood impacts our ability or willingness to connect in adulthood.
1. People trigger you
You might decide it’s easier to be on your own because of how other people trigger you. If you grew up without learning how to handle your emotions or resolve conflict, dealing with others can feel like walking through a field of landmines.
It’s not other people you’re avoiding, but your own reaction to what they might say or do. We can’t predict how others are going to behave and can easily become dysregulated by a comment or opinion.It's not other people you're avoiding, but your own reaction to what they might say or do. Click To Tweet
That’s why being around others is not relaxing or comforting but challenging and counter-productive. It feels easier to be on your own where you can rest safe in the knowledge that nothing and no one will “trip you up”.
2. You have poor boundaries
If you grew up in a home where you learned your needs don’t matter, you’ll develop poor boundaries. No one taught you the importance of setting limits, standing up for yourself, or having your needs met.
In fact, many families teach the opposite. You learned to suppress your emotions, pretend to be okay, and never ask for help. This makes it difficult to cultivate authentic relationships.
You believe you have to earn love and acceptance and the only way to do so is abandon yourself and give to others. That leaves little incentive to get involved in relationships. What’s in it for me? you might rightly ask.
3. Attachment issues cause isolation
Unmet childhood needs cause insecure attachment. That means your parents failed to bond with you properly. As a result, you have trouble bonding with others. (For more depth on attachment, read my series starting here.)
Want to know your attachment style? Take the 2-minute quiz here.
You will look to get those needs met in adult relationships. But another person can’t make up for your parents’ failures. So, you feel the hurt and disappointment all over again.
We gravitate to people who are bad for us because they remind us of “home”. For example, a woman with a distant father will be attracted to emotionally unavailable men.We gravitate to people who are bad for us because they remind us of "home". For example, a woman with a distant father will be attracted to emotionally unavailable men. Click To Tweet
This ensures she continues to be re-traumatized until she finally decides relationships are too painful and goes into isolation instead.
4. Weak sense of self
Healthy parents help their children understand who they are and develop their strengths and weaknesses. They give them continual feedback and offer praise and encouragement for a job well done.
If your parents ignored you in childhood and made you feel like a burden, you will develop a weak sense of self. You will struggle to understand your likes and dislikes or what you’re good at because no one offered you any guidance.If your parents ignored you in childhood and made you feel like a burden, you will develop a weak sense of self. Click To Tweet
Without a strong sense of self, you lack the core values that help you choose the right people to connect with. You begin to feel like you have a “broken picker” and mistrust your own instincts when it comes to judging character.
5. Social anxiety causes isolation
Suffering through abuse or neglect crushes a child’s confidence. Combined with the poor sense of self, that low confidence makes social interactions fraught with difficulty.
We anticipate rejection because we received so much of it. As a result, we tend to view neutral faces as disapproving. We were never sure what we needed to do to win acceptance, so we default to over giving, agreeableness, and people pleasing.
Instead of showing up as ourselves (because we’re not sure who that is) we try to become what we think others want. This backfires as others sense our dishonesty and that makes them mistrust us.
The world’s advice for social anxiety is exposure therapy. But each interaction seems worse than the last and confirms our fears rather than alleviating them. Fed up with repeated humiliation, we settle for a life of isolation.
In the next post, we’ll look at ways to overcome the isolation brought on by unresolved childhood trauma.