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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.

At any rate, they implied that you were less-than, not up to par, and not particularly loveable. At least that is the way you most likely interpreted their withholds toward you.

The way that invisible wall served to separate you and impede that sorely needed parental bond, it paradoxically also served to sever you from your true self, resulting in an internal split.

“To protect ourselves from the disorienting effects of living with confusion and pain,” according to the “Adult Children of Alcholics” textbook (p. 358), “we divide into a feeling and unfeeling self and isolate ourselves from our own vulnerability. We alternate between the extremes of wanting to escape our isolation and the need to stay securely hidden in our familiar prison of pain… We swing from the depths of isolated depression to frantic attempts to find help in the outside world.”

Dysfunctional, alcoholic, and abusive upbringings become the core of an ever-enlarging snowball rolled from infancy to adulthood and breed the survival-oriented behavioral characteristics you were unknowingly forced to adopt. Shamed, you felt inferior to others. Parental betrayal- and detriment-implanted distrust laid a weak and easily shatterable foundation upon which you rested your life. Isolated and unable to partake of what others regularly and effortlessly enjoyed amplified your feelings of inadequacy and provided additional layers of and reasons for your shame.

Squelched, squeezed, and buried in it all is the cocooned inner child, which you were forced to create in order to internally escape, at perhaps the still-infantile age of three, the danger to which you were exposed.

Although it represents your true self and its intrinsic, God-given endowments, it remains inaccessible and beyond your memory or even awareness, long replaced with the false or pseudo- self, which cannot connect with others, thus increasing your separation and isolation.

Love expands, giving you more of what you are. Shame contracts, taking away what you are. Both emanate from and are therefore reflections of what your parents have or have not. As their seedling, you either emotionally and spiritually grew or shrank based upon the frequency and nature of those extremes.

Adult children feel like the missing pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. Even if they are found somewhere on the table, they neither believe that they fit into the gaps nor deserve to and therefore provide no purpose in completing the bigger picture.

Disconnected from the whole by lack of trust and isolated by hiding somewhere in the box, they are unaware that both phenomena resulted from the replay of their original, but still-unresolved, parental-caused traumas. What was at three may still be at 53 in their subconscious minds and what may now be their adult bodies still house their time-suspended children in their psyches.