What does isolation teach us about ourselves?

We feel trapped…in ourselves. If we feel imprisoned in "isolation", something inside ourselves stops us to be able to live with ourselves. What is that thing?

We are used to live paying attention to external factors – when we feel agitated and uncomfortable we often choose to ignore these feelings, to repress them by going out, engaging in all sort of activities for our attention to be distracted.

But when we are left alone, we can’t continue to run away from them. And precisely then these feelings start to overwhelm us. What we have repressed, what we have hidden from ourselves, maybe some dissatisfaction with ourselves or with others (our partner, parents, close persons), certain older wounds that we run away from when we engage in dynamic activities, are now starting to surface. Therefore, these repressed emotions, dissatisfaction or wounds can now be triggered in this unwanted situation of isolation that we perceive as stressful.

When this happens, let’s take one thing at a time and ask ourselves:

What do we feel? A state of apparent emotional numbness ("I feel nothing", "I’m fine") can hide a repressed anger, but also a deep sadness can hide a repressed anger. A profound anxiety can denote a lack of self-worth, a lack of confidence in ourselves and a lack of trust in life.

An anger that we assume is caused by our partner (it’s caused by the way we relate to our partner) can highlight older problems, certain expectations we have created so far – are they realistic or not? Did we lie and deluded ourselves or not? Therefore, if we spend a lot of time with our partner, we can find that older problems can emerge, which we have ignored so far. If these problems remain unresolved, they can be triggered by common factors such as "why didn't you buy milk?" and can escalate by creating other conflicts. But instead of amplifying these conflicts, we can address those particular issues that are at the core of these new conflicts that have arisen. What aspects in our relationship did we choose to ignore? What things did we choose to see differently than they really are? How long are we willing to continue like this and at what cost?

Why do we feel this way?

 What are the thoughts that lie behind? For example, if we feel angry, we can think "it’s unfair that this is happening to me" or "I don't deserve this", which amplifies our feeling of powerlessness, because we can’t control how long we will remain isolated. But we can control what we do during this time. It’s up to us what we focus on and how we use our energy. Our thoughts are up to us.

 What are our beliefs? Do we believe that we are victims? Do we believe that the world and the people around us are dangerous because this is what we have learned in our childhood and we reinforce these beliefs when we face difficult times? It’s interesting to observe what beliefs do we have. If we see ourselves as victims, we will feel like we won’t be able to control not even the things that are in fact in our control. For example, even if we face this pandemic, it’s up to us to protect ourselves, it’s up to us to wash our hands, to avoid crowded places, it’s up to us what we choose to eat - healthy food or junk food, it’s up to us our daily schedule - do we start to sleep and eat in a chaotic way because we stay at home or we discipline ourselves and we organize our day in a constructive manner that gives us the feeling that we are in control of our own lives?

 What do we choose to do next? Once we realize what we feel and why we feel that way (what thoughts and beliefs we have) we can choose to amplify our negative emotions by repeating the same harmful inner dialogue or we can take a step outside the vicious circle.

In the first scenario, things can go like this: I feel angry because I think it’s unfair I have to stay so many days at home, because I don’t accept that my life has changed for the moment, so I rebel against it and I leave the house, I go to the mall, to the playground with my children or I visit my friends and to justify my choice I tell to myself "it can’t happen to me", "people are exaggerating" or I call a friend and we start complaining to each other, which amplifies the negative feelings we already have. We become even angrier, and if our partner makes a gesture that didn’t bother us before, suddenly we quarrel over this or we lose patience with our children who are already starting to get bored indoors and they seek our attention with greater interest. We are, in fact, repeating a dysfunctional pattern of thinking and behavior.

In the second scenario, things can go like this: I feel angry or anxious because of my thoughts, but I choose to temper my emotions by working with my body (by doing physical exercises or breathing exercises) and working with my mind - I change those thoughts - "it’s unfair what is happening", "it’s catastrophic" becomes "it’s unpleasant, but it’s not the end of the world", "nobody wanted this, but I have the capacity to adapt", "it’s a period of time that will pass easier if I look after myself and my health, if I look for activities that I enjoy. ” By changing our thoughts, we also change our emotional state. We become calmer, more centered, more rational and we make better decisions. This way we can be of help to others, we can offer them moral support or any other kind of support. Overcoming our panic, anger or frustration we can access and see not only the bad side, but all sides of the problem.

In addition, stress and anxiety make us feel bad, weaken our immune system, cause us sleep disorders, headaches and other such problems.

We don’t solve anything if we fight against what it is or if we worry too much, if we start to have unhealthy or dangerous behaviors due to stress and anxiety. In these moments it’s necessary to think about how we can better adapt to the new reality, not how to run away from it, pretending that nothing is happening or becoming angry or complaining. We are the ones who can change the narrative of our mind and implicitly the way we will behave in the future.

Do we take responsibility for our choice, whatever that is? As in, do we continue to live in anger and non-acceptance, but we keep complaining that we feel bad? In this case, we don’t take responsibility for our choice, because if we did, we wouldn’t complain, because we would assume the consequences of that choice (that is our bad mood).

Do we continue to blame others and start having antisocial or xenophobic behaviors ("ah, those Chinese and Italians" or "ah, our health care system and the government and the doctors who did this and the other and didn't do this and the other) or do we focus on solutions, prevention and what lies in our power?

Isolation and having to spend time with ourselves can prove to be a bad dream or an inner awakening because we have the opportunity to discover many things about ourselves. For example, we may discover that we have a great need for controlling external factors or those around us because due to certain childhood wounds, we have lost our trust in the world and life or because we feel we can’t control certain aspects of ourselves (emotions, feelings) and then we shift this need for control on the outside. In the current situation of isolation, the fact that we can no longer control what is happening outside ourselves can trigger us anxiety or  restlessness and irritability.

Let's observe what we feel is coming to the surface now - maybe older emotions, memories, thoughts about ourselves or others. For example, if we still have many childhood wounds, due to stress and uncertainty, we can regress to our child ego state.  In other words, our wounded inner child is triggered and we begin to see reality through his eyes - we feel insecure, in danger, we don’t know how to manage this uncertainty, we "freeze" as we did when we were children and we felt in danger, we look for comfort and maybe we use different substances or eat excessively to calm ourselves down, because we don’t know how else to alleviate our anxiety. But now, as adults, we can become aware when we do this and we can reassure ourselves through positive inner dialogue, meditation or breathing exercises.

We can see that some thoughts about ourselves arise in the forefront - "I am weak", "I am incapable of managing the situation", especially if we don’t have enough confidence in ourselves, and in such cases it’s necessary to replace these thoughts that are putting us down with other neutral or positive ones - to think that we have overcome other hardships, to think how have we managed to do that (even if at that moment we had the feeling that we won’t succeed). Let’s not believe all our thoughts - for example, if we think "I will get sick", let’s change this statement with another one like "I think I will get sick", a thought that can be false after all.

We can even note in a journal all these observations regarding our thoughts and emotions and notice what these emotions are trying to tell us about ourselves. Maybe we need to heal some older wounds - for example, if we live alone, we may feel abandoned if we no longer have the opportunity to meet our loved ones (a childhood abandonment wound is triggered).

Maybe we need to make some changes in our thinking and behavior, in our perception. For example, if we notice that we are victimizing ourselves or we tend to complain too much, let’s notice if and in what way this helps. Maybe we feel better at the moment, but in fact, by repeating this behavior, we reinforce our belief that we are powerless.

Let’s free ourselves from what is no longer of any use to us (dysfunctional thoughts or beliefs, repressed emotions and so on) so that we no longer feel closed-off, trapped in our own lives - for example, beliefs like "I can't", "I will not be able to overcome this" or a thought like "everything is catastrophic" make us feel completely powerless, they limit us, restrict us, and all these feelings contribute to our general feeling of "captivity".

Let’s have confidence and patience and use this time for our own good!

Dr. Ursula Sandner


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