“Humans were created to be relational beings, and when we go through a trying ordeal alone, a lack of human connection can actually increase our anxiety and hinder our coping abilities...”
by RAHNELLA ADSIT
Once upon a time, most of us began life feeling safe and somewhat secure, like we understood the world and our place in it. But then some horrific things happened that shook our world and changed our lives forever.
Trauma affects everyone it touches. It changes our perspectives and priorities, our values, philosophies, and life strategies.
Social withdrawal or isolation is a normal reaction if you’ve experienced trauma. However, living in isolation over a protracted period of time is not natural or healthy – in fact, it can be toxic. That toxicity can hinder not only your own journey toward healing, but it can also negatively impact those around you.
Humans were created to be relational beings, and when we go through a trying ordeal alone, a lack of human connection can actually increase our anxiety and hinder our coping abilities.
This message was driven home in the movie Castaway starring Tom Hanks. Remember his loyal volleyball friend whom he named Wilson? It’s an extreme example, but the movie put on full display how a person can be impacted by isolation over a long period of time.
All alone on his island, Hanks’s character didn’t have many relational options — but you do. When trauma strikes, withdrawing yourself from relationships with other people, or inventing relationship substitutes like Wilson the volleyball, will always prove to be insufficient and even harmful.
When we isolate ourselves, it cuts us off from significant and meaningful relationships in our life, which in turn can lead to many symptoms that will hinder our healing. Some of these symptoms include:
Physical Symptoms — We may experience increased levels of stress hormones in our bodies, difficulty sleeping, loss of energy, and a compromised immune system.
Cognitive Symptoms — Without others with whom to share information and reactions, our minds will tend to quickly race to the darkest possible conclusions.
Emotional & Behavioral Symptoms — We may experience depression, anxiety, fear, loss of meaning and purpose in life, burnout, addictive behaviors, and perhaps worst of all, a feeling of hopelessness.
Relational Symptoms — We may start feeling all alone, that no one understands us. We may start to feel resentment toward others and feel unlovable ourselves.
Performance Symptoms — We may find ourselves unable to reach our goals. We may experience a slowing down of our ability to process information and apply it practically, which can lead to poor results in everything we try to do. And we may find ourselves failing to reach our full potential.
Sometimes, the more we hurt, the more we end up hurting ourselves and harming our relationships, which pushes us further into isolation. The more we alienate others through our behaviors, the more our healthy, right relationships are strained and damaged. Since healing from our trauma can sometimes be a very painful process, many of us will opt for alienation instead.
But choosing to withdraw socially can create a snowball effect. The more we isolate ourselves, the more we hurt ourselves, which further damages our relationships, which leads us to find ways to self-medicate that pain. The anxiety continues to grow within us, so we turn to alcohol, food, drugs, pornography, or even trust-destroying activates that purposely sabotage our relationships, thus leading us to a self-fulfilling prophecy. This snowball effect can damage our relationships with our families and friends, it can impact our employment or involvement in activities, and it can strain our relationship with God.
Through my own pastoral counseling practice, I’ve seen over and over again that people can’t heal if they’re in an isolated bubble, so I would help them build a circle of supportive connections. Here’s a diagram of the kind of circle I’m talking about.
Consider an example – a woman we’ll call Claire. She had suffered horrific satanic ritual abuse as a child, she was single, no longer had a family, and she had very few friends. Together, we created this circle of supportive connections for her.
As you can see from the diagram, Claire’s circle started with God, whom she placed on the throne of her heart, at the very center. Moving outward, next there was self, followed by a Care Team which included her physician, psychotherapist, and me as her pastoral counselor. Next, we added a few of her close friends to the circle. Then I connected her with a few strong, godly women, who then involved her in a small group at church, who then helped provide her connection to the larger church body.
What about you? Have you ever put pen to paper and written out your own circle of supportive connections? Take a moment to consider how you would build your own circle. I challenge you to list out your connections, similar to Claire’s circle above, with names and phone numbers. When you are struggling, these are your people!
We are created in God’s image, and God is a relational being. In Genesis 1:26, God said: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have been in fellowship throughout eternity. Upon the creation of humanity, God also tells us that “man was not created to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18).
We are meant to be in relationship with one another beings. We need other people — not volleyballs — around us, especially in our times of need. When you’re overwhelmed by the heartache and hopelessness of trauma, don’t live in isolation. Call in flesh-and-blood reinforcements and choose to thrive in relationships. Your health and healing depend on it!
RAHNELLA ADSIT is the International Coordinator at REBOOT Recovery and co-founder of REBOOT First Responders.