What Causes an Adult Child’s Need for Isolation?

Connecting with others-or at least attempting to do so-after emerging from a dysfunctional, alcoholic, and/or abusive upbringing that subtly taught you to distrust and maintain what you considered a “safe distance” was sometimes the equivalent of grabbing a live wire. That may at least have explained the explosively electrocuting sensation that was generated in your brain when you tried to do so. The reach, because of traumatic replay, did not achieve the anticipated comfort, but instead an emotional crumble, transforming you into an adult child.

“When children have been injured by alcoholism and cannot find relief from their pain,” according to the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 357), “they are forced to deny their reality and to withdraw into isolation. The experience of being powerless to control the events that damage us as children leaves us with a deep feeling of alienation, not only from others, but from our own openness and vulnerability.”

Isolating is one of the numerous dichotomies associated with the disease of dysfunction: it is painful to be alone, but it can be even more painful to be in close proximity to others when you do not entirely trust them and they inadvertently generate feelings that may progress from uneasiness to anxiety to out-and-out fear, initially causing you to ward them off and finally forcing you to leave to turn them off.

One of the strategies employed to avoid those feelings is attaining a significant degree of independence. The more you know and can autonomously do, the less you need to rely on others, thus avoiding potentially unpleasant interactions.

Despite what may be perceived as admired capabilities of those in high, leadership and management positions, for example, may actually be deficits resulting from the skills honed and knowledge amassed so that such people are able to reduce their reliance on others.

“Many of us exposed our facades of self-sufficiency for what it was,” again according to the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (p. 219): “a camouflaged isolation in which we were terrified of asking for help. We were hiding in plain sight from ourselves and others.”

So self-reliant and distrusting of others can a person become, in fact, that if a lightning bolt-like pain struck his heart, he may elect to take his chances for survival with it than risk the danger of reaching out to someone to help him out of it.

In certain ways an adult child was created by the fact that he could not seek aid from those who should most have rendered it-his parents. Ironically, they were the primary reasons he needed it in the first place. Why then, he assumed, would those in the outside world, who neither knew him nor particularly owed him anything, serve as substitute parents and supply the help his real ones were obviously not able to give?

Indeed, he may well believe that they would only deliver additional damage over and above that which sparked the need for that help. His definition of “parent” quickly became different from those who emerged from safe and loving childhoods.

“(We may) have spent a great amount of time avoiding others,” according to the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (p. 342). “We have isolated and run from ourselves and from life. We always took time to isolate.”

Isolation, which cannot be restricted to the traditional realm of the word’s definition, is not dependent upon the number of people currently in your circle, but the number with whom you can connect. Because of the negative circumstances associated with your upbringing, that may constitute a low to zero figure. You could, for example, stand in Time Square on New Year’s Eve, awaiting the annual descent of the lighted obelisk; yet theoretically feel as if you were alone. Isolation therefore results from a lack of an emotional and spiritual link, not necessarily a physical one.

Attachment disorders were bred by your unstable and sometimes detrimental upbringing. It was your parents who pulled the plug on you, despite all your attempts to have inserted yours into them. Indeed, every time you tried to do so, you most likely found their sockets empty and rejecting. Even if they did not meet you with danger, they certainly did with abandonment, leaving you to conclude that you were an unwanted burden who was not important or valuable enough to whom to devote their time and attention.

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