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Exhausted and detached.
This had been me for a few months now. I had no desire for connection and my stress levels were palatable. I did not want to write. In fact, there were no words to draw from. I had completely flatlined.
As human beings, we have a natural tendency to avoid pain. Why would we not? It makes absolute sense that we would do all we can when we are struggling to avoid painful contact. We detach to protect ourselves from the pain. The pain caused by harsh interactions, our own thoughts and feelings, and the situations we feel cause our distress.
It is impossible to go through life without challenges. It is life after all. It is a perpetual cycle of seasons, ebbs and flows, storms and sunshine.
We break up, we get divorced, we blend families, we cope with parenting challenges, we deal with death and anticipation of grief and loss, we struggle with work-life balance, we often are faced with major impactful decisions, we worry about our loved ones, we get sick, and those we love do too, and sometimes, there are simply some really, “what the f*ck” days.
Whilst we can do a lot to increase our own suffering, we often do what we can to cope in the best way we know how. This is often why we withdraw into our caves or wombs. We all engage to a lesser or greater degree with detachment and detached self-soothing behaviors.
In Schema Therapy, we learn that we all engage in ways that assist us to disconnect from our feelings that are too painful for us to really sit with and experience. These activities distract, soothe, and stimulate (activate) us, and assist in offering us a way to numb and zone out.
While we all engage in some form of disconnection, the real difficulties occur when we engage in these behaviors in an addictive and compulsive way.
These are some detached self-soothing behaviours that can lead us down the path of a repetitive pattern of avoidance:
>> Workaholism (paid/unpaid)
>> Dangerous sports/Adrenalin junkies
>> Promiscuous sex
>> Drug abuse
>> Gaming (Computer games)
>> Internet porn
>> Watching television
>> Excessive time spent on social media
>> Excessive “duvet/doona” therapy
>> Talking intellectually and excessively
>> Excessive exercising
I was mindful of my own detaching and self-soothing. My tried and trusted self-soothing in workaholism, comfort eating, and watching mindless TV series (some on fast forward, I might add). I know that the challenge is to ensure that it does not become a pattern that will interfere with my mental health, the quality of my life, and my relationships.
Detachment through protection and self-soothing can rob us of the connection and sense of belonging that we need to sustain healthy living. So, we start to dig a hole for ourselves, and the truth is, we can feel too exhausted to claw ourselves out of this hole.
Our detached soothing provides immediate gratification but long-term exhaustion. Detachment leads to our anguish and our loneliness in our time of suffering. The longer we are in that hole, the less likely we will have the motivation or the will to get out and support our connections, with self and others.
Here are seven ways to find connection and belonging and replace our sense of detachment that creates loneliness during our struggles:
1. Accept negative/painful feelings
We spend so much time resisting and avoiding these feelings because we feel that if we experience them, we might be destroyed by them. Yes, we might know this is irrational, but emotionally we are not willing to take the chance of letting those gates open. Making room for all our feelings allows them to not have the same painful charge. They become emotions we do not have to fear and the pain will eventually ease and subside.
2. Accept help from others
Sometimes we feel unworthy and ashamed of asking for help because we do not want to burden others and we consider others’ needs and happiness above our own. However, by withdrawing, we can feel empty and disconnected and even pessimistic, hopeless, and cynical. Reaching out to even a few close connections can help to allow a sense of validation and acceptance of others who “get it.”
3. Get back to the basics of self-care
This includes balanced nutrition, good sleep hygiene, treating medical illnesses, getting active in a balanced way, and getting important day-to-day tasks completed and appointments made. We can feel a sense of accomplishment when we focus on the fuel to kick-start our systems.
4. Cultivate true self-nurturance
This is not about that bubble bath, wine, and fine dining. This is deeper, behind the scenes work, so to speak. This can include inner child work, trauma healing, letting go of attachments, having difficult conversations, feeling all our emotions, learning about our triggers, and our unhealthy coping strategies.
5. Finding our people
We need a tribe of close connections in times of struggle. We are not meant to drain them. We are meant to share, connect, and grow together. When we connect deeply with ourselves, we develop a sense of consciousness/awareness. It is this that draws powerfully toward a collective/shared consciousness. We find our tribe that shares our beliefs and our values. They might be filled with old and new people but in the moments when we reach within ourselves, we also connect outside ourselves.
The trouble is when we struggle, we are so busy avoiding ourselves and we feel lonelier. I have often felt exhausted and have little energy for connection, but I also know that I have been spending too much time detaching and avoiding myself, and hence am more exhausted than renewed. My desire to withdraw and feel lonely has more to do with my state of disconnection, not that there is nobody to connect to. I have always been blessed in my life to find the most awesome human beings who show up in many ways in my times of struggles. This is the gift of our tribes.
6. Practice acceptance
I think there is no purer virtue than to accept. Acceptance is the ability to understand that we are not victims to our circumstances and that life simply unfolds. We have choices. I am the first to say, “Universe, enough already,” but it is so important to look at life’s challenges as opportunities for our learning and our growth. We do not grow when things are easy. Resisting and fighting against life’s challenges only increases the suffering. Acceptance is a state of being and, in many ways, it also allows us to experience a state of contentment.
7. Trust the big picture
With acceptance comes trust. There is a peace when we learn to trust the bigger picture. We are so anxious and always feel that we will fail or we will be alone or experience great heartbreak that we will never recover from. With the acceptance that life is simply happening, we can also learn to trust that the negative experiences are not a curse or punishment.
We can trust that if we follow the path toward our own health and the health of our relationships, the universe does the rest of the work for us. This is certainly a leap of faith but when we do our part, the rest does flow. The issue is we expect everything to flow smoothly and according to our plans. Unfortunately, it simply is not that straightforward. We just need to know that the path will flow toward our higher good.
I am resurfacing from my detachment. I think it was an important period for me to feel my pain, and I learnt that I am connected to the collective consciousness that is about doing good and being of benefit and using our struggles to dig deeper within and form connections that assist ourselves, our loved ones, and others.
We are not alone in our struggles, although we might want to wallow in our loneliness at times. Clawing out of the hole is important. We can shake off the exhaustion, truly renew, feel energised, and allow our creativity to problem solve to flow. There is nothing that lasts forever, especially not our lonely, dark times.