There’s a question that comes up from time to time, in my work as a coach, about the difference between the need to self isolate and the need for solitude.
This is a topic very dear to my heart because self isolation is, unfortunately, my default mode when things are difficult or I’m struggling. It’s a wound I’ve been working with, personally, for a long, long time now. I know there are many of us out there who can relate. It is not always instinctual to seek support or lean on other people when we’re hurting. Some of us tend to section off instead.
When we self isolate in our pain it’s generally because we harbor a belief that says: I’m not acceptable when I’m hurting. I should be by myself when I’m crying or angry or struggling. People only want to be around me when I’m happy or easy breezy or fun.
Many of us grew up being sent to our rooms as punishment when we were acting out. This happened a lot in my household as a kid. There was rarely any kind of meaningful conversation around why my sister and I were upset or fighting — very little investigation of what’s going on that’s making you behave the way you’re behaving.
The message was simply: go away until you can pull it together and behave the way you’re supposed to. Go away and rearrange your feelings so the messy, difficult ones aren’t spilling out anymore. Put the cork in the bottle.
There’s so much a child infers from these kinds of experiences. Especially when they happen over and over again. The understanding becomes ingrained: I am not supposed to have messy, difficult feelings. When I act out (which means when I EXPRESS) my messy, difficult feelings, I get in trouble. I become unacceptable and I have to go be by myself until I can shove it all down and act nice again.
In other cases, a child might grow up with caregivers who have very short fuses, very low thresholds for being able to deal with the myriad complex feelings of the children they’re looking after.
Or they may be fragile themselves and broadcast a signal that says: I’m not even ok with my own feelings, I certainly can’t take on yours.
Different messages — but they have the same effect: the child feels unsafe sharing their struggles and…