How to overcome social isolation created by adverse childhood events

social isolation
Photo by Fabian Mardi on Unsplash

In my previous post, I wrote about the link between social isolation and childhood trauma. Now, we’ll look at how to overcome this common consequence of unresolved adverse childhood events.

The loneliness of someone who’s experienced ACEs is different than situational loneliness because it’s chronic. Rather than external forces like a pandemic, the social isolation of the ACEs sufferer comes from within.

The key elements of this type of social isolation are shame and feeling less than. We feel ashamed for not putting ourselves out there. But when we do go out, we experience social anxiety from feeling not good enough.

That makes us behave in ways that can repel people, like wearing a mask or fawning to win acceptance. We anticipate rejection and use counter-productive methods to try and avoid it.

And so the shame spiral continues, our fears become self-fulfilling prophecies, and we self-isolate once more. So, how do we get out of the damaging cycle and enter life fully engaged and open?

1. Acknowledge your loneliness

Growing up, we learned to suppress our emotions, so simply acknowledging them can feel foreign. Instead of giving ourselves compassion over how we feel, we criticize ourselves for feeling that way!

Shame about our social isolation overrides the primary feeling of loneliness. Rather than caring for our primary feeling, we’re pouring shame on top and dealing with that instead. Shame only makes us want to hide and prevents us from reaching out to others.

2. Remember you’re not alone

It’s easy to tell yourself you’re the only one who struggles with social isolation. Remember you’re not alone in your feelings. Loneliness is on the rise for everyone.

It's easy to tell yourself you're the only one who struggles with social isolation. Remember you're not alone. Click To Tweet

Even before the pandemic, people reported a decrease in loving relationships. See yourself as part of a larger whole, filled with many others who feel exactly as you do.

3. Reach out

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It takes courage to change, and that means reaching out to someone you trust. Tell them the truth about how you feel instead of pretending you’re okay. You may be surprised how your honesty prompts them to open up about their own insecurities.

If you have no one you can safely share with, consider talking with a therapist, or joining a group online with whom you can unpack your feelings anonymously.

4. Get out each day to combat social isolation

The movement of walking and being outside in nature serves as a balm for your mental health and improves your mood. If you live in an area where you can mingle with strangers, interact with someone in a low stakes way like petting their dog.

You might to set goals for yourself, like speaking to one stranger every day. It could be as simple as making a friendly comment to someone in line at the store.

5. Journal during social isolation

Take this time to journal your thoughts and feelings. Writing for even ten minutes this way can yield surprising results. It will help you understand yourself and what you really want.

If your parents never gave you feedback or encouragement, it’s up to you to understand yourself. Make a list of your strengths and remind yourself of them often. Improving your sense of self will prevent you from abandoning your own needs for the sake of others’.

If your parents never gave you feedback or encouragement, it's up to you to understand yourself. Click To Tweet

6. Set boundaries

Practice setting boundaries with others rather than avoiding them. If you tend to let people monologue at you, make a commitment to volunteer more information about yourself.

Change the subject or extract yourself from one-sided conversations. You’re not obligated to listen to someone ramble on. Remind yourself that your needs matter, too, and it’s your job to protect them.

7. Take baby steps to combat social isolation

Many experts will tell you the best way to beat social isolation is through exposure therapy. That means throwing yourself into social situations over and over again. The idea is that the more you do it, the more comfortable you begin to feel.

While this may be true for some, it can backfire on someone whose social isolation is caused by childhood trauma. Instead of improving our social skills, we may experience multiple rejections and failures that make us even more fearful of putting ourselves out there.

Rather than jumping in the deep end, put your toe in the water. Start with the lower risk interactions mentioned above and give yourself credit for courage rather than performance.

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