Isolation. The feeling of being separated from others. Have you ever stood in a room, completely surrounded, but aching with loneliness, discomfort, and an intense desire to connect? I have. And I think it is prevalent for moms, even in the moments that you have escaped from “nap jail” as a dear neighbor humorously commented to me. Sometimes it is so difficult to connect – to know and be known by others. Maybe it’s the fear of being judged for our frazzled mom appearance or our parenting habits. Maybe it’s because we are just out of the loop and don’t know where to begin conversation. Maybe it’s because we have spent all of our “energy bucks” on our family and can barely muster concern for the intricacies happening in the lives of others. Whatever the cause, we must deal with the internal root of isolation.
Isolation is a nasty weed that can grow from various root systems. Recently we had a plant that we just could not get rid of in our back yard. I cut it down… numerous times. I poisoned it… numerous times. And I complained about it a whole lot. But the green bushy plant kept coming back. It was relentless. Nothing worked to get rid of this plant until we finally dug it up by the root. I find isolation is very similar to this plant. It digs deep. And we can deal with all the impacts that grow above the surface, cutting it back every few months. But until we address the root, isolation will return. I have found that isolation, when present in my life, has a much deeper and widespread root system than what one might think. When I feel lonely and the deep, aching longing to know and to be known, I can usually- if I have the insight and discipline to stop and reflect- identify a few of the roots that are contributing to the isolation. Here are just a few I’ve noticed in my life.
1. Unresolved Hurt: Whether in friendships, community groups, marriages, or work relationships, stuffing emotions and avoiding real conversations about valid hurts affirm the harmful message within that connection is dangerous and not worth the risk and effort. You teach to yourself the false message that you are not worthy of love and belonging. Full disclosure, this is a tough area for me. It’s a vulnerable experience to give someone your heart and share how they hurt you (see below for my distaste for vulnerability). Fearful of rejection, denial of harm, or being exposed for our own flaws, us mamas aren’t so great at confronting hurts in a gentle, respectful way. Our kiddos must see this modeled and must learn how to navigate conflict when relational roads get bumpy.
2. Insecurity and Unwillingness to be Vulnerable With Others: In his book Caring for One Another, Ed Welch says, “Our pride resists being vulnerable. Even more, if you have ever confided in someone and received comments that were hurtful or less than supportive, you might have decided on the spot never to let that happen again, which means that you keep your troubles to yourself.” Our unresolved hurt and insecurities create a wall of self-protection and we begin resisting the risks of being vulnerable. It’s so hard to be vulnerable, to let others know you. But friend, let me urge you, cannot know unless you are known. Yes, vulnerability will inevitably allow others to get close enough to hurt you. But it will also let the sweetness of companionship, support, and belonging to be known by you.
3. Unhealthy Standards and Expectations: The final part to the root of isolation that has taken up residence in the yard of my life (cue the uncomfortable vulnerability) has been unrealistic expectations and idealistic dreams of what friendships should look like. Only when I have abandoned the thoughts that all my friends should parent like me, live lifestyles like me, find the same humor funny, and spend money like me have I been able to enjoy the sweetness of friendship. When I let that idealized picture of friendship go, I’m free to truly enjoy my friends’ differences, have meaningful conversations, and reciprocate vulnerability. Friend, if we are unwilling to be authentic and vulnerable, we cannot expect others to be authentic and vulnerable with us. Let people in, whether that be into the messiness of your heart or the messiness of your house. Welcome people in to the mess of life and ask, “Will you sit with me here for a while?”
To be sure, you may find the root system of your isolation to be comprised of other factors: a move away from your family and support system, loss of a loved one, or circumstances outside of your control. If you find yourself in this predicament, let me encourage you, there is healing in connection. It takes bravery, energy, and planning. But you are worthy of love and belonging. Ask someone for help to dig that root up, and rid the isolation that is persistent in your life. With equal importance, when you pass someone else’s yard of life and see the isolation growing out of control, offer to help dig it up. The root of isolation, by its very nature, cannot be dug up alone. I recently had a sweet friend of mine say to me, “Don’t let me isolate myself.” We tend to do that, don’t we? Don’t worry Mama, I’ve got my shovel.
A few reflection questions for you to assist in digging up your root system of isolation:
How have you found yourself responding when hurt by others? Do you move near to talk it out? Or are you more likely to withdraw to avoid being hurt?
What are the insecurities that keep you from being authentic and vulnerable with others? Who is a safe person you can be vulnerable with this week?
What are the judgements you pass on other friends? How might you let that go so you can enjoy their differences and sweet fellowship with them?
In the mess with you,