Connecting with others feeds our souls

Thank you for your last column about life being scary for us all. I have been a strong independent person and woman all my life. I believe that I don’t need other people and especially don’t need a man to do things for me. I am a health professional, a medical doctor, and I am proud that I did this all on my own. I find that more recently I have been struggling with loneliness and tend to end relationships quickly because I don’t like to be dependent on a man. I find that this puts them off very quickly. Being alone all my life is what scares me now.

It is admirable that you worked hard to achieve your goals and did this, as you say, on your own and without anyone’s help, including your family it seems. It takes being very focused, committed and hard-working to be able to do this.

We can all get very carried away with achieving our goals to the point that we forget about ourselves and our needs, including connecting with others.

It may be that fighting for your independence is something of a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, it has made you go the extra mile to obtain professional and material success, but it may be that throwing yourself into your work is an old pattern of escaping from feeling scared, alone and insecure.

This is human; we develop all kinds of defences to be able to deal with painful realities including problems with our families of origin, our histories, and significant caregivers who may not have been there for us when we needed them most, in our childhoods.

During this time, we may have decided unconsciously that we would never again allow ourselves to depend on others who can be “expected” to behave as our original caregivers did, including acting in unloving and rejecting ways.

These unconscious decisions made many years ago as a child or young person later become automatic protective defence-mechanisms, which we may defend by telling ourselves or others, “This is just the way I am” or “ek is so gemaak en gelaat staan”.

However, this can unwittingly become obstructive and disruptive in adult life, especially in more close and intimate relationships.

Recognising these attitudes is key in shifting them so that they are not repeated, only with different partners/people each time.

This cannot be done thoroughly by oneself as it takes an objective trained mental health professional to be able to help you to recognise these, work through the reasons for why you needed to develop these protective mechanisms and in this process, help you to resolve them and let them go.

Learning to unravel these protective defences and patterns takes commitment to a continuous and ongoing therapeutic process but the benefits for your life and relationships can be long-term and enduring.

I am often anxious about life out there. I was always very shy at school and often felt different to other people. I was often teased for being different and called names by my classmates. Now that I am older and working I still don’t feel I fit in with others and prefer my own company or just being with my family. I enjoy reading and watching TV or playing computer games and not partying or socialising with others. I am not sure if I have some disorder or if this is normal?

It is difficult for me to give you an informed response as I would need to assess what are the underlying and other contributing factors that have led to you feeling different to others and preferring your own company as opposed to being in social settings.

I also refrain from using the terms “normal” (or “abnormal”) as this is relative. I will attempt to make an educated guess, however, as I write and emphasise in every column, my responses cannot be viewed as a replacement for a proper psychological intervention with a qualified mental health practitioner, if you require this.

Through what you shared, it may be possible that you have a social anxiety problem or something similar which had been present from a young age already.

As with most psychological issues, their roots often start in the formative years of our development, including that there may be a genetic predisposition to certain problems that run in the family.

Anxiety of any kind is very terrifying to experience for anybody and so it’s common that people will try to deal with it by finding ways to avoid the situations and people who provoke anxiety.

Avoiding those who hurt you and preferring to be on your own as a child are ways that helped you to cope with very painful situations.

As mentioned previously, our coping mechanisms don’t simply go away when we become adults but instead continue, mostly unconsciously, in ways that obstruct our lives and relationships.

Although you may have gotten used to doing things by yourself and keeping your life safe, the down side of this is that your world gets smaller and smaller, which often exacerbates the anxiety.

As adults living and loving in the world, we often have to deal with different people and places outside of the safety and familiarity of home, whether this is through work or otherwise.

There are people who just enjoy their own company and there is nothing necessarily wrong with this. But it seems you are wondering yourself about the sense of feeling very isolated and that you are questioning your tendency to withdraw from others and the world.

There seems to be a cognitive dissonance, meaning that this is starting to feel uncomfortable and perhaps you are wanting more for your life besides being with your family.

Connection with others feeds our souls. As much as human relationships are messy and conflict-filled, it’s still very satisfying and pleasurable to have friends and share our lives with others. Maybe you could make an appointment with a psychologist in your area who will help you to explore this more deeply, and this may open your life to greater possibilities and joy.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.