As people grow cautiously optimistic about returning to some semblance of social interaction, many of us may be more concerned than we are divulging. We may be feeling a bit more comfortable with our aloneness. We may have grown accustomed to a slower pace. We may have even liked the idea that we had an automatic boundary when it came to the toxic people that never seem to go away. Opening our lives back up to others might be feeling a bit ominous. How long before we are losing ourselves to the preferences of others? How much time will it take to be totally burned out from requests we can’t turn down? How do we make sure the simple and quiet still have a place in our lives?
If you are feeling like that, you are not alone. You are likely sensing an inner part I refer to as the isolator. We all have the isolator. This inner part develops from experiences of relational trauma. We may have experienced betrayal, manipulation, abandonment or rejection. But it would have left us with an isolator who is sick and tired of the pain caused by other people. The isolator is most interested in living an authentic life. As a part of their ungrounded survival skills, they have learned that other people are generally not conducive to our most authentic life. To some degree, this is true. With others come opinions, pressure, boundary-invasions and even more abuse. These things will trigger our other survival skills which push us toward erasing self. Let’s talk about some of the reasons the isolator loves to keep a distance from others and why they might be a bit nervous right now.
Childhood taught us we had no control over our lives. We learned in childhood that our attempts to stand up for ourselves would be met with horrific results. Asserting our needs and desires could have invited insults, invalidation, humiliation or even violence. We put our needs on the back burner in an attempt to keep the peace and find the approval we needed for survival. But in the process, we completely lost ourselves. Our controller, karma kid and love seeker (the trifecta) came out and ruled our decisions. All authentic parts of self were locked away. When we reached adulthood, we were lost. We were completely at the whim of everyone around us. If we wanted alone time, it depended on how many people asked for our time. If we wanted to rest, it depended on the needs of others around us. If we wanted to eat our favorite dinner, it depended on what others wanted to eat. We had no boundaries. After enough of this torture, the isolator steps forward so we can explore our own authentic selves. The isolation of this pandemic has provided opportunity for that. And the isolator isn’t so sure about letting that go.
Childhood taught us our family of origin would always control us. One of the biggest themes in our abusive family relationships is control. Abusive families rely on their ability to control their children, even after they have become adults. The forms of control can run the spectrum from extremely covert to obviously overt, but we are always taught to see them as normal or to blame ourselves. Once we reach adulthood, the control continues. While it doesn’t necessarily require physical access to us, proximity does help. The control can be almost anything. It can be financial control. It can be guilt. It can be threats. The family can even use our own adult partners to continue controlling us. There is also the possibility of access words, phrases or codes. I know that may sound like something out of a Marvel movie, but I promise you, this is far more common than we want to believe (and pretty easy to set up in children). The isolator is aware of all of these tactics and loves the time away from controlling people. The pandemic has provided a breakaway opportunity and the isolator is afraid to lose all that gained ground.
Childhood taught us we needed others for protection. Abusers want us to internalize the message that we need others. In childhood, this is true. We do need others to make sure we are fed, clothed and housed. But the message doesn’t stop there. The message might become about our ineptitude at living in the world, our inability to survive financially or our need to be physically protected by others. Unfortunately, this doesn’t bring the best people into our space. If we are connecting with others because we need security, there is an issue with the power dynamic. The other person might not be safe for us. The isolator knows these beliefs aren’t true and deeply wants us to find our own way in the world. The pandemic has made it harder for us to seek these people out for protection and safety. And the isolator is fine with that.
Use this time of transition as an opportunity to take a step back. Was this isolated time all bad? Or did you learn a little bit along the way about who you are and what you want? If you did, look for ways you can protect those authentic finds. Don’t let the crowded world around you come in and erase all the gains of your isolation. Yes. Isolation periods always have gains. You deserve to keep your connection with self. You deserve to make choices for you. You deserve boundaries. And you deserve safety. Take your time in diving back in. That doesn’t make you weird or unusual even if others say it. You are simply protecting yourself in a sea of self-interests. The world needs the real you.