Isolation Fatigue
August 30, 2009 5:54 PM   Subscribe

What happened to my ability to trust in and connect with people? How do I regain it?

These anonymous questions regarding social malfunction tend to be oversized. I will be as brief as is possible, but here's what's going on:

A couple of years ago, there was a Great Disaster in my personal life. The person I thought to be the love of my life and the person I thought to be my best friend ran off together. Most of the time, I consider myself to be "over" that experience, good riddance to them both. But lately, I've come to suspect there may yet be some residue from this event still clogging up my processes.

A catastrophic depression marked the months that followed the Disaster, which I overcame through a course of therapy, exercise, medication and a rededication to that which had interested and moved me in times past. I endeavored to break my isolation by reestablishing contact with old friends and getting out of the house to meet new people whenever possible. I even resumed dating and have engaged in relationships both casual and serious.

However, there seems to be a remaining difficulty. The "inner sanctum" of my person is still largely unavailable, inaccessible. I have made a wealth of new acquaintances, but no new deep and lasting connections with anyone, including even those I've been intimate with. As for my old friends, it has been a joy to be in contact with them again, but aside from a couple who have demonstrated saintly patience, I've not shared my inner world with any of them nor heard tell of their own. I dread becoming a burden to anyone, both those who I've connected with in a genuine way in the past, and those I potentially could today. At some point, it seems as if I've just slipped into reruns - yes, you're lonely and anxious, what else is new? I cherish these people and I don't want to be a bother to them, I don't want to do anything that would risk our relationships. Adding to the difficulty is that all of my old friends are scattered throughout the country and many of them have quite different lives than they did when last we were in each other's company regularly.

In a former life, I was a rather open person. I made friends easily, had many visitors and went visiting often. I've lost this instinct so gradually and so completely that I scarcely recognize who I used to be. Today, I meet many interesting people that I suspect would be fun to spend time with, but I feel as though I've no way to suggest or initiate such a thing without being an obnoxious bother. Many of my local acquaintances have friendship potential, I feel, but I'm at a loss as to how I might cultivate these connections - once, it was easy and natural, today it seems impossible. I feel like opening up to them or trying to get them to open up to me would drive them off. Much is heavy on my heart these days, and people have a natural preference to spending time with cheerful people, I think. And again, I'm so grateful for the connections we do have that I am loathe to gamble with them. Also hobbling efforts to spend more time with the people I'm just getting to know are severe handicaps in terms of transportation, disposable income and scheduling - I work nights, typically six of them a week.

Have you ever been in such a predicament, or known someone who was? What did you try in order to break free? Did any of it work? I suspect another round of therapy will be a component in my eventual (one hopes) success in this area, but this is not possible for another month or so. In the meantime, there are an awful lot of crushingly quiet and lonely days and nights ahead. I would like to address this as soon as possible, need help to do it and am afraid to ask for that help.

So I put it to you anonymously, AskMe - How do I relearn the art of making and keeping friends? halfc0ckedj4ckshaftoe@gmail.com is the throwaway e-mail for questions, clarifications, replies you'd prefer to keep private and any other matters.

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
People are going to tell you to volunteer. You should take their advice.

Specifically, find a group that does something social and time-limited. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, after school tutoring -- anything where you can interact with other people in a very minimal way (ideally around some central project) for a set period of time, and then go home. That way you get to hang out, interact with people, maybe work on something fun, without being too exhausted and overwhelmed, and without having very much at stake.

I was amazed at how much this helped me. It didn't get me over the "fuck, I can't talk to the people I thought were my friends" bit -- but it did remind me that I'm a likeable human being, and that given the right set of circumstances, I can be a lot of fun to be around. I suspect that this is probably true for you too.
posted by puckish at 6:16 PM on August 30, 2009


I don't really know what to advise, but I can tell you that when the love of my life ran off with my best friend, I was so determined not to end up in a position like the one you now find yourself in that I made it a personal goal to keep both those people as friends.

I did this by steadfastly refusing to assign blame for what had happened, instead reminding myself over and over that this kind of thing has been happening everywhere people are, for as long as there have been people, that it doesn't have to be anybody's fault, that both my best friend and the former love of my life were still the same people I'd come to know and love in the first place, and that their friendship was something I'd be far the poorer for losing.

Most of the time, I consider myself to be "over" that experience, good riddance to them both

Is it possible that what you've wished good riddance to there might be more baby than bathwater?
posted by flabdablet at 6:20 PM on August 30, 2009


Sometimes you just have to meet a lot of people to find the few good people that you click with. A great way to meet people and see what they're like is to get involved with groups and volunteer for short-term projects or committees. If you don't connect with anyone in the group by the time the project is over, move on and try another group.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:24 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe you've spent so much time getting over your Disaster that you forgot to take the time to mourn your losses.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:29 PM on August 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've never been in this situation before, but when I found myself isolated and alone without any friends left except a few that live in different zip codes, I spent the majority of my effort helping others. Just being as nice and as helpful as I possibly could. This not only made me feel better but it lead to me finding my new group of friends.

I still felt the same way you did, though. Like I couldn't trust these people. These people earned my trust when one of them hauled ass to the hospital on a mountain bike to make sure I was okay after one of my siezures. That helped.

In short. live a life in service of others. Hang-out and help-out your acquaintences as much as you can and most importantly, accept their help.
posted by Pseudology at 7:02 PM on August 30, 2009


You do this by understanding that the hurt you have experienced is a measure of your love and humanity, and by understanding that you will never connect with the next person who will love you and change your life if you don't risk it all again. You have everything to gain.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:14 PM on August 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


What happened to my ability to trust in and connect with people? How do I regain it?

A couple of years ago, there was a Great Disaster in my personal life. The person I thought to be the love of my life and the person I thought to be my best friend ran off together. Most of the time, I consider myself to be "over" that experience, good riddance to them both. But lately, I've come to suspect there may yet be some residue from this event still clogging up my processes.

In a former life, I was a rather open person. I made friends easily, had many visitors and went visiting often. I've lost this instinct so gradually and so completely that I scarcely recognize who I used to be. Today, I meet many interesting people that I suspect would be fun to spend time with, but I feel as though I've no way to suggest or initiate such a thing without being an obnoxious bother.


Let me suggest that you do not want to quickly gain back the ability to trust in and connect with people. A rather open person, who made friends easily, was betrayed. What replaced that person was some one who is protecting themselves. That's a good thing. You will need to wait for your animal senses to stop ringing on this one and let them find the place where your boundaries need to be. In other words, feeling hurt and mistrustful can be a good thing. The world is not filled with altruistic people who think like you do. You must act accordingly.

Today, I meet many interesting people that I suspect would be fun to spend time with, but I feel as though I've no way to suggest or initiate such a thing without being an obnoxious bother. Many of my local acquaintances have friendship potential, I feel, but I'm at a loss as to how I might cultivate these connections - once, it was easy and natural, today it seems impossible. I feel like opening up to them or trying to get them to open up to me would drive them off. Much is heavy on my heart these days, and people have a natural preference to spending time with cheerful people, I think. And again, I'm so grateful for the connections we do have that I am loathe to gamble with them. Also hobbling efforts to spend more time with the people I'm just getting to know are severe handicaps in terms of transportation, disposable income and scheduling - I work nights, typically six of them a week.

This is all your animal senses expressing themselves as unsolvable dilemmas and strange anxieties which you don't understand. That is because you are afraid. And it is good that you are afraid because some people hurt you.

To paraphrase St. Alia of the Bunnies, your animal senses don't figure out where that line needs to be drawn until you mourn what you lost--love, trust, friendship, innocence--all things incredibly hard to lose on their own, but a "disaster" all at once. Mourn those losses. The hurt, pain and sadness are your animal emotions finding the new boundaries between you and people and learning to go slower in getting closer to people. We cannot escape those feelings, and it is best to get to feeling them now.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:42 PM on August 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


That's not true, I care.
posted by citron at 9:30 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don't be afraid of "bothering" people. Ask away. Of course you don't want to risk anything anymore--something was taken from you by someone you would have never believed would take it. You were betrayed doublefold. It's okay to feel like this, but please don't make it a regular thing. Give yourself time to mourn, and move on. Help people. It's okay to distrust, but do notice that those people you're distrusting are not hurting you anymore.

This will make you a stronger person. Good luck.
posted by cobain_angel at 9:56 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


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