It has taken me many years to find out how alone I have felt deep down inside. I remember a few years into recovery coming across the book Healing Your Aloneness by Margaret Paul and learning that the deep loneliness we feel comes when we sacrifice a relationship with our True Self to meet someone else’s need and abandon ourselves. We may also abandon ourselves by reaching to a substance or activity to sooth us when we feel any kind of feeling. All of these feelings just reflect how alone we felt as children being unnurtured or misunderstood.
There is a time when taking an action that is positive is good for us. For example choosing to leave a situation when were are being bullied, starting to exercise when we have been neglecting our health due to depression. But there are other times when we reach to an activity to fill a void or mask a pain or realisation that we need to connect with and feel to understand.
I myself have been in recovery from alcohol addiction for over 20 years but in the last few years I have realised I have a food addiction too. There are times I reach for coffee or food when really I either need to connect with someone else or with myself. I know my habit of turning towards substances began when I could not get the nourishment I needed in my home. Lately I am finding its becoming more and more obvious when I have done the wrong thing by myself in reaching for the wrong “food”. My body rebels.
In my body therapy I am only just becoming conscious of how terrified and unsafe I have felt since a young age. Having an accident at 17 and then other traumas I witnessed in my family made me feel the world was not a safe place, unpredictable things could happen to shatter the continuity of life and I had not much power or control over that happening.
One of the damaging aspects of co-dependency and lack of a sold sense of boundaries is that we try to control every aspect of our lives. If it feels too unsafe we will simply not engage with things that threaten us. There are times for sure when we should not engage, but there are other times that we really need to. If fear holds us back our world grows smaller and smaller.
After my husband left me and I tried unsuccessfully to move overseas and had a massive accident I retreated home to a house where no one could come and I had no contact with anyone much apart from my Al Anon support group for over a year. It was the deepest, darkest loneliest time of my life, but I will say one thing. It was unlike the deep dark loneliness of my addictive years because I was not numb. In fact I was unthawing. It just didn’t feel safe enough to feel with others. I had been getting consistent messages from the last few years in my recovery that my feelings were threatening to others.
Its taken me some time to find people who are not threatened by my feelings. I know I had a fine hair trigger that was hyper alert to abuse. I have just read a powerful blog about how narcissists cannot be criticised and how doing so awakens narcissistic injury and then rage. The rage is the rage at the parent who would not let them be vulnerable, made them believe they were not good enough, humiliated them and made them feel small and they side with the abuser by becoming ashamed of their own vulnerability and never appearing vulnerable again. If someone threatens to unmask their vulnerability they strike back.
I must say I can relate to this, but my problem in later years has been in being vulnerable and unmasking this around narcissists. Vulnerability in recovery is best expressed at first with a therapist or with someone who is not narcissistic themselves. Luckily in the past few years I have found safe people after many stops and starts. But I still have times when I question who is actually safe and validating. I have been invalidated so much it seems like second nature.
This weekend I had to make a few decisions to spend time alone with myself. I had been invited to several events but I was aware that sometimes when I choose to socialise I end up feeling lonelier than I do when I am alone with me. This weekend I made the decision to spend a lot of time just taking care of myself. It paid off as I have ended the weekend feeling happier. But I still have a great fear that all of this alone time is not good for me. I get this message all the time from certain people. “What have you been doing?” they ask with a heightened emphasis on the last word as if just being were a sign of some problem. I love what John Bradshaw says : “I am a human being, not a human doing.”
The point is as an introvert I am nourished by time alone and by time spent connecting with others on a deeper level than the purely surface. Then there are times when it is just great to be out in the world seeing all the vibrant life and living going on in other people’s lives. If I don’t judge myself as lacking I can see that time alone and just being does great things for me.
Sometimes it seems to me the price of growing is being alone for a time. In and through coming to know this aloneness instead of running it seems to me that I can come into a deeper relationship with myself. For so long growing up in my family the focus was always outside of myself. I don’t remember my parents playing with me much. The one time Dad did something I wanted was on holiday when we would go to the fair at the coast and ride the Cha Cha. Otherwise I was dragged around to other activities they enjoyed or left in the car while they went into the club to have a drink.
It seemed also at big family events as the youngest I was on the outside and the observer of things. I guess what I am saying is that I spent a lot of my young years and teens dissociated in some way from the family and in time I learned to dissociate from myself and my emotions which I did not understand.
I remember after my first AA meeting driving away in the car to a favourite spot near where I lived in nature and just crying my eyes out. I had for the first time felt like I belonged somewhere with people who were taking down the mask and talking honestly about their addiction. Sadly many of them spoke about feeling like aliens, alienated from life and only coming alive with the first drink or drug.
Like them I had learned to check out, in the absence of being able to relate to parents or siblings (most especially after the sister I was close to had a cerebral haemorraghe) I began to turn to alcohol. Then after Dad died I was sent overseas alone again with a bottle of Scotch from the Duty Free which I awoke from a blackout to find nearly empty following a party in London.
Yesterday when reading Peter Walker’s book on Complex PTSD I related to the chapter in which he shared about the various ways we can react to a traumatising environment or childhood. He uses the notion of the four ‘F’s to outline this : Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn. A fight response leads to narcissism. A flight response to Obsessive/Compulsive reactions, a freeze response leads to dissociation and a fawn response to co-dependence (see pp. 12 – 19)
I related most to the freeze response (as well as to the fawn response) and we can operate from a number of styles. Often we flip between two in the effort to both act out trauma and heal. Freeze states and reactions lead to a depressive dissociation from which it is difficult to feel and relate to anything outside the self. An involvement with self soothing activities which actually lock us up in isolation – eating, internet surfing, television watching, shopping etc is also a part of this state.
Realising what these states are, coming to know why we are trapped in them takes time. It also takes real courage to move out of them, to seek for a different way of being beyond the old comfortable but life squashing reactions which limit us and keep our lives small. Along the way we have to grieve for what we have lost from being trapped here within these reactions and habits, maybe for years.
The phase of intensely grieving our childhood losses can last for a couple of years. When sufficient progress is made in grieving, the survivor naturally drops down into the next level of recovery work. This involves working through the fear by grieving our loss of safety in the world. At this level we also learn to work through our toxic shame by grieving the loss of our self esteem.
Facing the depth of our abandonment trauma comes next, according to Walker along with an unmasking and releasing of self protective defences we had to keep in place to protect ourselves from injury while young.
It is interesting to me that on the path of recovery, which is long and slow, material we need often comes to us just at the right time. I feel this way about Walker’s book. It meshes with the work I have been doing in talk and body therapy, most especially at the moment as I have begun to experience just how much I have checked out and erect defences against hurt. Letting them down is slow work, fraught with fear. Being patient and kind with myself is essential. Writing and blogging gives me a way to share about it as it is occurring.
I’m not often the space where I advise or recommend. I have a respect for each person’s path and need to find their own way. However Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving by Peter Walker seems to be an extremely valuable resource on the way to recovery.
Its strength is that in the book Pete Walker doesn’t just outline what is wrong but what can be done to heal from Trauma and a traumatising childhood. His book is written by someone who has walked the path (is his surname any accident, I ask? Pete Walker has obviously walked his talk). So I am giving the book a big recommendation and will be sharing some more information from it on my blog.
12 thoughts on “Facing my aloneness”
This is very tough work. Glad to hear that you seem to be finding your way. 🙂
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Thanks Lynette … the word “seem” is probably quiet accurate…I am still in a lot of isolation at times, but I trust that things will shift in time as I integrate more and grow stronger. Thanks so much for your comments and support.
You’re very welcome.💛
Thank you for sharing the book. I think my responses were the same; fawn and freeze. I feel like I have wasted so much of my life already but I know also that it is a process and I needed all that came before to get here so it’s not a ‘waste’ at all, but a journey.And I too agree that the right things come at the right time; whether it is a book or person.
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I relate most to Fawn and Freeze. Its important to remember these are not always unhealthy, for they have healthy aspects to them too, its just when they are defences against fully feeling they are problematic. We need to find a way to fight for what is good for us, we need to take flight from that which is wounding, we may need to freeze at times in order to avoid an attack and we may need to fawn a little in order to help someone or comply to what they need at a time that is the right thing for us to do.
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Also I really relate to that feeling of having wasted so much time, but really we have been caught up in something far beyond us, until we could know what it was and that takes a lot of time, patience is so important on the healing journey, as often its two steps forward and a few steps back. I love the AA saying “progress not perfection”.
I am so stealing that ” we are human beings, not human doers.”
I am much like you, in that my alone time is time well spent and I really feel better for it. It makes me feel stronger and also refuels me for the days I have to interact with heavy, toxic people.
Great post and I will be looking for that book.
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Hi Shannon. There’s a lot of power in being introspective and drawing strength from a deep connection to yourself. Thanks so much for commenting. I am going to do a few more posts on Pete Walker’s book as its such a great guide and not everyone may be able to purchase a copy.
I am amazed at how long I was willing to igmore the deep loneliness I felt. I was raised by a mother with N traits who abused mostly with malicious words and overt control. Then I married a woman who is extremely covert in her abuse. It began on the drive away from the wedding reception. The isolation grew over the many years, while I started feeling suicidal and the depression started to include panic attacks, all before I understood anything of what was being done to me. My confidence, which was always low, I could no longer prop up by legitimate skills and knowledge because my memory and focus became so broken. My abilities were always more intellectual, so that was devastating. Finding work was hard enough after being laid off (didn’t know about narcissistic abuse, and had at least two N coworkers), but I can’t even look at my resume without a negative physical reaction — never mind that I can’t think of anything good about myself to put on it.
All of those things bring me to feel shame sharply, and my reactions result in isolation. I don’t really want to be isolated, but it is always there. I realize now that she counts on my isolation, and how it keeps me weak. Beyond my own efforts, though, my wife sees my flailing and uses the symptoms and failures to justify starving me emotionally.
I have a question coming… Having been falsely accused of abuse indirectly (she is smooth.. she pouts, plays the martyr, tells partial truths, then sits back while everyone infers the worst about this lousy husband she has), I have really awakened to the abuse, and her heartlessness. I’m looking actively for someone who will help me navigate and expose the lies and abuse. There are two obstacles. One is the fact that I’m hurting, and so few people (if they even have a clue) are willing to help. The other is that I finally know what is going on, and have some anger (not violent, ever — I rarely raise my voice except when she is gaslighting and I’m at wit’s end). So if I go talk to counselors, church elders, anyone at all, what they see is a guy with some emotional issues. They see me looking for help because I’m isolated, and (as it happened recently) I was accused of trying to manipulate people to my side so that I could control my wife. This was with my wife having very minimal opportunity to talk to these men (elders at a new church). They were biased against me because I am a man, because I wanted her to repent (admit, and make sincere effort to stop) before I would forgive, and they could see that I’m angry (mostly because they were trying to just make me forgive automaticallly).
Here is the question: How can I fix the isolation, and/or protect myself from abusive, toxic in-laws and wife, and not have people assume that I am the abuser? My wife accuses me of isolating her from her family, but she still has contact with them. I have prevented our attending about 2 or 3 specific events after they treated me very poorly again, but they are all in communication in several different ways. I can’t seem to find a way to just get validation, and a person to just back me up and say “this guy is telling the truth.” I would think that her cool, unemotional, blank expression (during times that 4-5 people are all yelling at me for how lousy I am at previous group we have left), I would think it shows that she isn’t the one that is really hurting. I would think that they would see that I have emotional/spiritual pain, and see that I have been dealing with treachery, and betrayal. If they can’t tell by looking at the abuser’s characteristics, then the persistent presence of wounds would help discover who the victim is, wouldn’t it?
I feel entirely trapped. The resources for men are few, and I haven’t found anything short of lawyers that will do a divorce. Even if I could afford it, I don’t want to lose the kids. She has a relative who hates me and is an unscrupulous lawyer. Without money, I’d pretty much get run over. Anything I try to do to get better is used against me. I can’t even tell people there is long-term emotional abuse. It is very covert (she is quiet, not a yeller or a hitter, lots of gaslighting, manipulation, deprivation), so they don’t believe it anyway, but they just don’t believe this happens to a man.
Firstly I would like to say apologies for a slow response to this…your situation sounds ectremely difficult and painful and very lonely.
I would like some time to think about how to advise you…the big problem with seeking support in cases of narc abuse is often you are not believed or your reality is minimised..and its not akways easy to walk when children are involved and you are in a situation of this kind with a manipulative narcissist as they can be oh so sneaky and cunning.
I am not entirely sure how to advise you…if possible you need to leave for your own health and sanity and you need good support from someone who understands…Kim Saeed’s blog Let Me Reach is helpful she went through a very tough separation with a narcissist and gives a lot of good advice about self care.
My heart goes out to you..I will read your comment over and give your situation more thought. ..stay strong. ..keep good boundaries within against any toxicity that is thrown your way…it can cause major health problems as you know..Deborah
One very important thing is even though as you say you have sustained damage to avilities as a result of being invalidated and undermined is to stay believing in your own goodness. You must be feeling so trapped and I do understand men in this stuation are not believed have seen this often. I wish I had more to offer…a good counsellor or friend is so necessary as is setting mental boundaries against her abuse…have you sought out any internet support in forums…by all means you can email me..firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everything you are saying is what my ex partner did to me. You need to leave, just like I did, and deal with the huge consequences. Be it losing everything. It is the only way to gain control over your self. And, yes, you will lose her, her horrible family, and maybe your children. But you can go to court for more rights in relation to the children. No one will believe you when you come forth about her abuse. But, once you leave a vile situation you will come out the other side.
But not for many years. She has destroyed your confidence and used you for narcissistic supply. You have a long road to recovery. I am four years having left a man like this, and three years estranged from my mother like this, and I thought the pain would kill me, but it didn’t. My life is so much better now. And, yes, my exes family thinks I’m the perpetrator. Let them think what they want. You will never win going up against her. You need to accept the things you cannot change and get the hell out of there.