Isolation as Trauma, for Those with Primary Attachment Insecurities

I would like to think that one of the positive outcomes of all that is swirling around us during this global crisis is our sense of determination not only survive but to focus on ways we can care for others as well as ourselves, ways we can deal with physical separation so it does not become emotional isolation.

As human beings, we are social in nature, something neuroscientists like Dr. Bruce Perry, Dr. Sandra Bloom, Dr. Louis Cozolino and Dr. Peter Levine stress in their books, YouTube shows and podcasts. We are more than social beings. We are pulled together in groups of various sizes to accomplish tasks we cannot do alone, to work, play and otherwise engage with each other. We are relational. We build meaningful connections that create bonds that are more than merely social. We grow and nurture our experiences of closeness, shared stories, compassion and ultimately love.

It is in the context of those relationships that we can preserve and protect our sense of safety, of being valued, appreciated, understood and bonded. Over time we can maintain and strengthen our mental and emotional health. We can change and heal in the context of healthy, safe relationships. We can be conduits for healthy changes and healing. In times of imposed physical isolation, we can find ways to ensure ongoing, safe and loving relational connections that promote our determination to not only survive but find greater meaning and love for life. Together we can promote our own resilience and that of others.

There is an additional consideration for those with trauma histories, especially the trauma of insecure early childhood attachment. These are people who experienced profound emotional and relational insecurities during critical periods of early childhood who often have no idea that they are in this category because they only know and feel what they learned in early childhood. Perhaps they learned that they did not matter as much as others, that they were not as deserving, they were a problem or disappointment, or that they had little or no feelings of being securely attached and cherished. Insecure attachment is an insidious form of being traumatized.

In times like this where we have been restricted in terms of physical contact with others, there can be a connection between those restrictions and the many ways this is symbolic of being isolated and rejected as a child. Those of us who deeply experienced insecure attachment probably have a heightened sensitivity to the isolation that is being imposed on us. If this resonates with you as you read this, it could be the beginning of a journey you need to take to learn more about your early childhood experiences and their contributions to your attachment template that exists deep within you.

It is important to recognize also that the physical isolation of these times does not have to result in trauma as we practice relational bonding. We can access our innate abilities and drives to be in safe and healthy relationships that are not defined by physical proximity. We get to decide how we are going to respond to the current crisis. We can choose to build and protect our relationships by nurturing emotional connecting. We can embrace the many ways we are learning how to stay emotionally and relationally connected. If we are finding that this isolation is causing extreme feelings of anxiety we might consider the possibility that it is related to underlying issues around deep-seated insecure attachment. It can be a valuable new awareness of work we need to do to free us from the tyranny of the unresolved trauma of insecure attachment.

We can look forward to knowing this will eventually pass where we can again add physical closeness to our many ways of sharing safe and loving relationships. I encourage you to claim your power to embrace this hope.

Invitation for Reflections:

  1. Notice how physical isolation in these times is impacting you emotionally. What sensations are you experiencing that are troubling and difficult for you? Try to get in touch with some of the beliefs you have and consider the possibility that if you are having extreme reactions, you might be connecting the isolation we are experiencing with a history of insecure attachment that began in early childhood.
  2. Consider ways you might be able to overcome some of the beliefs, thoughts, feelings and sensations that could be related to experiencing this time as one of toxic isolation. Remind yourself that physical isolation does not mean we are emotionally and relationally disconnected. We have the right to experience the connections we can nurture with family, friends, colleagues and even strangers we are now meeting through social media.
  3. If you think that being isolated might have something to do with deep underlying insecure attachment, commit to working on that through therapy or other avenues that can allow you to better understand yourself and be given opportunities to embrace security with the attachment figures you have in your life.

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute