In my counseling practice, I often have clients who tend to isolate as a way of protecting against their fears – especially their fears of rejection and engulfment. They are so afraid of being disliked, disapproved of, attacked or having demands made on them, that they choose to avoid relationships, rather than learn how to deal with these challenging situations.
These people have never developed a loving Adult self, who knows how to take loving care of them when others are angry, rejecting or demanding. They believe they prefer loneliness over the challenge of relationships.
Yet, time and again, I see the devastating effects of constant loneliness. We are social beings, meant to live within the safety and connection of family and community. While, to people who isolate, it seems safer to avoid relationships, the research shows that a lack of community has a very negative effect on health and wellbeing. Far more single people are unhappy than married people, and people without friends die earlier than people with friends.
“People in long-term marriages are much happier than people who aren’t….People who have more friends have lower stress levels and live longer.” The Social Animal, David Brooks, pp196-197
If you are a person who isolates, can you learn to feel safe without giving up being with people?
Yes, you can. You will feel safe when you learn how to take loving care of yourself, especially in the face of others’ anger, disapproval and demands.
This means that you need to learn a number of very important things:
- You need to learn to define your own worth, so that you are not reliant on others’ approval to feel good about yourself.
- You need to learn to not take others’ behavior personally. While others’ blaming, attacking, disapproving, rejecting, demanding or needy behavior can hurt your heart, it is very important to know that it is not about you, and not about there being anything wrong with you.
- You need to learn to manage the loneliness and heartbreak of others’ unloving behavior. It’s one thing to feel lonely when you have chosen to isolate – since you are in control of it – but quite another to feel the loneliness of others’ closed hearts and accept your helplessness over their choices. Yet closing your own heart is not the answer.
- You need to reach a point in your life where you know that being open-hearted and loving with yourself and others is why you are on the planet, and that there is no way of avoiding the loneliness and heartbreak of loving someone who is not open-hearted with you. This is why learning to manage the very challenging feeling of loneliness and heartbreak – and your helplessness over others’ choices – is so important. Without knowing how to do this, you will likely be too afraid to love.
This is where the Six Steps of Inner Bonding come in. Practicing Inner Bonding is what will heal the fears and false beliefs that keep you isolated and afraid, by developing your loving Adult self, who is capable of taking loving care of yourself in the face of others’ unloving behavior.
This is what will free you from isolation.
It takes great courage to learn how to take loving care of yourself – to speak your truth and take loving action in your own behalf, risking others’ disapproval and rejection rather than giving yourself up to control how others feel about you, or isolating to avoid the challenge.
Do you have the courage to open your heart and learn how to love yourself? Do you have the courage to open your heart to others and risk rejection or loss? No one can ever make it “safe” for you to do this; truly loving is, in a sense, one of the least safe things we do on the planet. It is also the most fulfilling and joyful experience we ever have.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a best-selling author of 8 books, relationship expert, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® process – featured on Oprah.