Most of my life I have been pretty distant, fairly aloof. I did not want to feel the pain that came from human connection. I developed tools and methods to keep people at arm's length. This felt like the best way of doing things, I was safe and they were safe from me. Underlying these actions were deep and powerful beliefs about safety and about my worthiness. On the surface these behaviors and beliefs point towards someone afraid of connection, scared of the closeness inherent in human relationships. Though on the surface this may be true the deeper issue is a fear of disconnection.
This is an important distinction. Many people who have trouble with other humans think they, themselves, are broken, flawed in some deep way. They believe they are incapable of connection; they are too wounded, or that they are dangerous and will only hurt those closest to them. The body responds in all sorts of alarming ways when someone is getting close: a tightening in the belly, shortness of breath, diarrhea, panic, dissociation, closing of the throat. It seems obvious that something about that person getting close is the issue; so keeping everyone away seems like the best option.
The problem is that we are wired for connection. Our bodies and minds on one level fight for survival and set off these powerful body alarms when someone is getting close because we have been harmed in the past. But on the other hand we can only really survive in groups and through connection. This is one of the major paradoxes of life for some people – how to maintain a personal sense of safety while surrendering to loving connection with others.
For some who fear connection, yet long for it (ambivalent attachment style) there is a lot of shame and self-loathing for being unable to connect. But this only makes a hard situation worse. Have mercy on yourself! You came to this way of being because of circumstances outside of your control. So the radical idea is to make room for disconnection. Disconnection is going to happen, you are going to get scared, you are going to feel afraid of love and connection. Not because you are allergic to closeness, but because you are terrified of the disconnection that happens after the closeness. That experience of the going away, the abandonment, wondering if the love will ever return is what keeps us from ever getting into the pool in the first place.
So the practice begins in this very moment. When you sense the fear of connection, that feeling of “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” or your body recoils from someone you care for, just name it what it is: “disconnection.” Let there be room for the experience to happen while naming it clearly. Those who have healthy “secure” attachment styles learned that when the person they are connected too goes to work, takes a trip, or there is conflict, that the relationship is strong enough for reconnection and repair. If you are ambivalent in relationships then normal natural disconnection is deregulating and confusing on an internal level. Begin to normalize disconnection rather than demonizing yourself for it. Call it what it is with some compassion for yourself and how you came to this painful place in your life. You don’t have to continue to run from what you learned growing up, and actually by becoming curious about your history and patterns there is a strong likelihood you will no longer be prey to these strong reactions.
And of course seek some therapy! Especially if you have strong body reactions a body-centered psychotherapist with a background in trauma work will do wonders for you. This is hard work that takes place over time; it is not an overnight matter. The dance between connection and disconnection with yourself and others will take on a less drastic feel as you practice making room for the disconnection along with the connection. Trust the process as it unfolds and give it a shot! What do you have to lose? What you have been doing stopped working a long time ago; you deserve another opportunity at love and connection.