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6 common effects of social isolation

6 common effects of social isolation
Not being allowed social contact could also work as a trigger for feelings of existential loneliness

The imposed social isolation and focus on the negative news surrounding the COVID-19 virus spread may work as triggers for the fight or flight response. If you have a history of unresolved childhood trauma, you may feel even more vulnerable and experience the following effects of social isolation:

Fear: a nagging sense of collective fear may put your body in a state of hypervigilance, which, in turn, makes you more susceptible to feeling stuck in an excessive worrying and anxiety loop.

Abandonment feelings: not being allowed social contact could also work as a trigger for feelings of existential loneliness, rejection and abandonment. Even if these feelings do not make sense rationally, they do emotionally for those who have suffered abuse and/or neglect and, therefore, deal with the effects of their childhood trauma.

Anger: anger tends to follow abandonment feelings because it serves as to regulate them or give us back a sense of “self-esteem” and personal power. Being forced to isolate and cope with the negative emotions that arise from it without much emotional support can make you feel disappointed, resentful or even very angry for no apparent reason.

Lack of motivation: when the air is filled with negativity and there is little movement and fun in our lives, it becomes harder to find the energy to complete the simplest of tasks.

Lack of concentration: having your body on high alert for most of the time makes you limbic system or “emotional brain” hyperactive. As a result, our brain areas interconnected with the role of attention – as the pre-frontal cortex – do not get a chance to operate properly.

If you identify with the above to some degree, increasing self-awareness and keeping a very strict personal care routine could safeguard your emotional health during this challenging period. Practices that enable you to achieve that include nurturing the inner child via meditation and visualisations, daily exercise or physical activity, contacting friends and/or family and eating a healthy/low carb diet based on plants and whole foods. Reducing considerably or even avoiding the news while keeping an objective and positive outlook for the near future, as well as avoiding contact with pessimistic and fear driven people who refuse to see beyond an extremely biased and negative outlook may go a long way to making you feel more centred and calm. In addition, watching comedies, reading inspiring literature or watching uplifting talks and videos tend to put a smile on our faces and do wonders to improve our mood.

3 signs of fear addiction

3 signs of fear addiction
Making sure that days are filled up with a thousand activities is one of the signs of fear addiction

Is it possible to become addicted to an emotion? When we think about the effects that emotions like anger and fear have on our bodies, the answer is a definite yes. That is because the fight or flight response, or the fear that originates from our perceived sense of danger, for instance, triggers dopamine reward receptors in the brain (dopamine has been connected not only to pleasure, but also to reward seeking and avoidance behaviours), as well as adrenaline. The combination of those hormones makes us feel physically and emotionally charged, which produces a “rush/high” that has potential to become quite addictive. Here are 3 signs of fear addiction to help you gain greater understanding of the role that fear has played in your life:

1- You have built up a personal narrative around fear

For those who have an addiction to fear, their personal history is construed by adverse events. So much so, in fact, that they allow themselves to be entirely defined by their negative life experiences. It is a well-known fact that trauma makes the brain biased towards the negative as an evolutionary measure to self-preservation, however, fear addicts refuse to move beyond that. Even when aware of that tendency, they struggle to adopt a balanced perspective and not see the world, people and the future through their extremely rigid belief systems and all-or-nothing attitude. Since the emotional discomfort that arises from not feeling afraid or anxious is too great for fear addicts, they feel safer when seeing their own selves as faulty and their lives doomed to misery and disaster.

2- Your lifestyle choices reinforce your fear

Any type of addiction is high maintenance by default. Fear addicts keep themselves in a fear state by creating and maintaining habits that reinforce their addiction. Therefore, what they do, consume and experience will be reflective of that principle. Making sure that days are filled up with a thousand activities, feeling (secretly) proud of being always busy, listening to podcasts or watching true crime documentaries, being addicted to the news and controversy, reading books that tell stories of violence, abuse and trauma – be them technical or biographical in nature – as well as drinking great amounts of coffee and eating foods which are high in refined carbohydrates – such as white bread and pasta – give fear addicts their beloved adrenaline rush and “help them” keep their stress baseline at a high level.

3- You gravitate towards people who reinforce your fear

Positive, emotionally mature, zen and centred people are uninteresting for the fear driven. Unless they feel consciously overwhelmed by their own addiction, they choose to be surrounded by individuals who add to their drama and reinforce their fear. Those who hold a negative outlook, struggle to see beyond worst case scenarios and think and act in ways that do not reflect objectivity make for their perfect match. In addition, people who display maladaptive behaviours, have mental health problems, “difficult personalities” and/or come from toxic backgrounds and, for those reasons, feed (even if unconsciously) a dysfunctional relationship dynamic, give fear addicts a great array of reasons to feel anxious and keep worrying excessively.

If you feel ready to overcome your fear addiction, I recommend practices that calm the nervous system and stimulate the pre-frontal cortex, such as breathing and relaxation exercises, mindfulness meditation and raising self-awareness through challenging negative thinking diligently. The more you activate that region of your brain, the more in control of your impulses you will feel, which is key to ending any type of addiction.

How to process emotional pain

How to process emotional pain
Most mental health problems are intrinsically connected to a resistance to fully feel and process negative emotions

Most mental health problems are intrinsically connected to a resistance to fully feel and process negative emotions. When we come to understand that our trauma and emotional pain remain in the body even when we try to deny them in our minds, processing them becomes a natural course to healing. If you agree with that premise but find the whole process daunting, here are four simple steps on how to process emotional pain:

1- Connect with the body without fear

If you were raised in an environment of emotional neglect like the most of us, your tendency is to repress, deny or avoid negative emotions. In order to start feeling them, move the attention inward in a mindful way. Resist the habit of attempting to distract yourself from them and connect with the negative bodily sensations deeply.

2- Ride the wave of emotion

As you start connecting with the emotional pain, you will notice it more and feel it more intensely. That is totally OK. As emotions are fleeting, they will come and then go. Trust this truth, stay with them and allow them to ebb and flow. Feeling emotional pain is not pleasant, undoubtedly, but it is manageable. As we were all wired for feeling and processing it, remind yourself that you can stand that emotional (and at times even physical) discomfort.

3- Challenge irrational thinking

Negative emotions usually follow negative thinking. Therefore, you can feel stuck in your emotional pain or extend its life by not questioning dysfunctional thinking. Because most negative thoughts are biased and irrational, they fail to explain reality objectively. Consequently, they corrupt your perspective of yourself, the world and others, triggering fear, sadness, anger and shame. When riding that negative emotion wave, ask yourself “What was I thinking just now?”, consciously question irrational thinking and identify cognitive errors.

4- Focus on the positive

After you have allowed yourself to feel, ride the emotional wave to completion and challenge negative thinking, it is time to frame the situation differently, in a more realistic and empowering fashion. Give meaning to your suffering and allow yourself to re-organise your narrative from a personal growth angle. The very fact that you had the courage to feel your emotional pain and be yourself in an authentic way is already so remarkable, that deserves your full appreciation.

Learning how to process emotional pain, as outlined above, may not be easy, but it is certainly adaptive and rewarding. As you start building a different relationship with your body and emotions, you feel more whole and connected, not only with your own self but also with life and others. Furthermore, as your emotional maturity and autonomy develop, your relationships tend to flourish and become more fulfilling. I hope you have the courage and willingness to see beyond your pain and enjoy the benefits of embracing it and fully processing it with acceptance.

What is a dysfunctional relationship?

What is a dysfunctional relationship
Dysfunctional relationships do not favour true intimacy, emotional health and personal growth

No relationship is perfect, but some are more functional than others. If that is a fair reflection of reality, what makes certain relationships less healthy or more dysfunctional than others? The answer lies on the quantity, intensity and frequency of the dysfunctional behaviours that shape and define relationships as such.

As a first and universal principle, dysfunctional relationships do not favour true intimacy, emotional health and personal growth. One’s needs, wants, vulnerabilities and negative feelings are not expressed clearly and with confidence for a fear of rejection and abandonment. Therefore, the authentic self does not flourish in the presence of the other, but it is hidden behind a facade of togetherness created to comply with his or her expectations.

Even though such expectations have a major influence on the dynamic and health of any relationship, in the dysfunctional modality they tend to be high and unrealistic. As they are not openly talked about, negotiated democratically and with reasonable compromise, they do not correspond to individual differences, needs and limitations of the authentic self. Failure to live up to one’s own idealised standards or the other’s expectations culminates in feelings of not being good enough, incompetent (fear of making mistakes/not pleasing the other or “getting it right”) and unlovable. The permeating inadequacy brings about a tendency to fault finding, blaming and holding grudges.

Due to emotional neglect, dependency and immaturity, emotions are not processed autonomously or through the empathic presence of the other.  As a result, behaviour is largely motivated by unconscious feelings of fear, shame, anger and anxiety that have great negative impact both on an individual and relationship level. Lack of adequate emotional support, validation or willingness to listen and change one’s behaviour leads to a building resentment that makes one seem to explode over “nothing” from time to time.

In dysfunctional relationships, boundaries are not clear or respected, as well as one’s wishes, likes and dislikes. As values and personal roles are rigid, the dynamic is highly uneven and favours a dominant/active and submissive/passive dyad, which is frequently kept through denial and in an unconscious fashion. In such scenarios, the relationship is used as a weapon of manipulation and control. Refusal to conform with the dysfunctional dynamic and play its rigid roles is followed by threats of abandonment, be them overt/verbal or covert, through emotional distancing and passive aggression.

In cases where there are attempts to address problems and solve them, motivation is weak and tends to wither over time. For that reason, the trajectory of dysfunctional relationships is marked by ups and downs. While one takes on the responsibility of the relationship wellbeing, the other refuses to fully acknowledge the effects of his/her attitude and quickly reverts to a habit of denial, neglect or resistance to change. Because dysfunctional relationships are made of two highly independent units that do not work cooperatively, they are also filled by feelings of powerlessness, shame, discontent and isolation.

If you would like to refrain from feeding a dysfunctional relationship dynamic, be it with your partner, relative, friend, colleague or boss, self-awareness is key. While it should not be anyone’s responsibility to carry the wellbeing of any relationship solely on their shoulders, by addressing and changing your own behaviour you can become a model of self-esteem and emotional maturity.

How to model emotional maturity to your partner and children

How to model emotional maturity to your partner and children
By improving the connection with your own body and emotions, you become an example of integrity and centredness

The best way to influence your partner and children is through modelling self-esteem and emotional maturity. By improving the connection with your own body and emotions, you become an example of integrity and centredness. As what we see has greater impact on us than what we hear, the way you treat yourself has the potential to affect your children’s and partner’s relationships with their own selves, as well as the one they keep with you. To become a healthier archetype, here are four simple ways on how to model emotional maturity to your partner and children:

Be emotionally congruent  

Due to their emotional intolerance, emotionally immature individuals have a need to repress and deny their emotions. To give an example of wholeness and promote wellbeing to your loved ones, allow yourself to be the way you feel. Denying your sadness or forcing yourself to smile, for instance, are behaviours that perpetuate shame and emotional neglect. Contrary to popular belief, repressing our anger, sadness and fear, or pretending they do not exist does not help us feel better, but robs us from our power to process them in a healthy manner and connect with others through vulnerability. Feeling one way and behaving another sends out the wrong message, as if our true feelings were unacceptable and should be rejected.

Talk consciously about feelings

The simple exercise of naming how we feel helps us regulate emotionally. Telling your partner or children “When you ____(behaviour), I feel ____(feeling/emotions)”, allows you to express how you feel and address a problem without sounding aggressive, which may help you avoid lengthy and unproductive arguments. Noticing your partner or children’s anxiety, for instance, and asking questions such as “You look anxious, is there something bothering you?”, can help them connect with their feelings and feel comfortable sharing them with you. When initiating such conversations, remind yourself to act in a non-judgemental way, give them your full attention and listen to what they have to say.

Tolerate negative emotions

Emotional maturity is all about self-acceptance and intimacy. You cannot accept yourself and have a fulfilling, intimate relationship with anyone (even yourself), however, if you reject negative emotions. When you repress and deny them, be it in yourself or others, you neglect and alienate. All emotions are parts of who we are and deserve to be honoured. Emotions also exist without apparent meaning, they just are. Resist the temptation to rationalise them, learn how to tolerate discomfort and allow them to just be.

Give emotional support

Emotional support is not problem solving. When you focus on a solution to what you perceive as “a problem” (i.e., a negative emotion), you lose connection with the emotion. Therefore, when you notice your partner or children feeling affected by negative emotions, display a curious and accepting attitude. Resist the antagonistic urge to tell them they are OK or shame them for feeling angry or cranky, and openly validate the way they feel. To show empathy, mirror the way they feel by making simple statements with emotion and feeling words, such as “I can see you are angry” or “It is OK to feel sad”.

All the above require courage and patience and rely on your ability to tolerate emotional discomfort. To succeed reproducing in practice what you have read here, do not give up or switch back to your older self when feeling awkward and inauthentic. Trust that those feelings will change with time. Emotional freedom and tolerance are quite addictive, and once you have managed to introduce such positive habits in your own life and start feeling their benefits on your physical, emotional and relational health, you will wonder why you have not changed your attitude earlier.

Perfectionism beyond the stereotype

Perfectionism beyond the stereotype
You do not have to constantly strive for super high standards in everything you do to be influenced by perfectionism

Although perfectionism tends to be conceived in all-or-nothing terms, as an exaggerated focus on high standards, its scope goes far beyond that.  Because we are individuals of a complex nature, the very meaning of a “high standard” varies from person to person. Before becoming a vegan, I used to make a vegetarian pizza on a weekly basis. For it to taste good, it had to contain 150 gm of cheddar cheese, the equivalent of a single package from my local supermarket. That was my standard. When I would get excited about making that pizza but find there was less than 150 gm in a package left in the fridge, I would get extremely disappointed, not make it or force myself to drive to the supermarket to get a new package. After trying to cut down on cheese and having realised that I could bend my own rule and reduce that quantity, I was surprised to find out that my pizza tasted as good as before! As a perfectionist, my experience had been limited by a rigid rule which caused stress that could easily have been avoided by a small change in perspective.

You do not have to constantly strive for super high standards in everything you do to be influenced by perfectionism. As any vulnerability, perfectionism fits your personal views and values, whatever they are. You can be a hippie, an academic or a footballer and still act in a perfectionist way. As long as you behave as a slave to a rigid set of rules which you believe to reflect a high standard or goal, perfectionism is at play. It is important to highlight the significance of individual perspective to perfectionism. As much as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perfectionism is in the brains of those who struggle with low self-esteem. If you value physical appearance and find a sporty look glamorous, you may become a perfectionist and invest time and money in the way you look so to achieve that standard. Your house can still reflect you lack of care and be disorganised and dirty, and not bother you half as much as looking as good as you think you should on the outside, in order to feel good enough on the inside. When you need a new mattress to help with your back pain, but you have your eyes on those trendy sneakers that cost a fortune, you forget all about it as soon as you picture yourself walking around in them, looking good, feeling great and getting praise and attention from others.

Perfectionism is all about holding inflexible conditions of worth which – even though may have never been challenged – have meaning on an individual level and must be kept at all costs. Therefore, if you have standards of quality that remain constant over time and do not adapt to the changes in you and your life, you may find that perfectionism is one of the main reasons why you struggle to feel balanced and reach a state of personal contentment and fulfilment. Due to its flexibility, it fits “perfectly” with any low self-esteem attitude of conditional worth and wellbeing. Perfectionism in action can be observed in every parent’s obsession in making their children’s experience as pain free as possible, for instance, as if feeling negative emotions would permanently damage their development ((unaware) emotion phobia being one of perfectionism’s most common features) and compromise his or her ability to act as a good mom or dad. While that may be true in abuse, neglect and childhood trauma cases, most children – those who are exposed to good enough parenting – do quite well with some share of unconditional love and attention which do not require their parents’ struggle and suffering.

If you have identified with the above at some level, be aware that your perfectionist attitude does not affect only you, but also those around you. As the emotional cost of perfectionism is high, it tends to be intrinsically related to relationship problems, as well as a great array of psychopathologies such as eating disorders, depression and anxiety. You do not have to be fully aware of how much of your struggle to keep centred is a result of your perfectionism, or the extent to which affects your co-workers and family, for it to be damaging to all of you. The irony here is that the struggle to keep a fixed standard going so to guarantee wellbeing and happiness is the very cause of emotional health problems and misery! To get out of the perfectionist trap, start challenging rigid beliefs – whatever their meaning and application – consciously and proactively, while playing with not feeling bothered by the idea of being “below average” or even “lousy”.  Additionally, increase emotional connection and wholeness by allowing yourself to feel bad every now and then and around others. The more self-acceptance and unconditional love you bring into your life, the more you will tolerate the imperfections of others. The more comfortable they feel around you, the stronger your connections become, as well as the benefit of your influence.