By Barton Goldsmith/Tribune News Service

I received some brilliant feedback from a recent column on loneliness. The author (who wants to stay anonymous) nailed the reason that some individuals must stay alone. I think this is important because in the world there is generally a push toward being in a relationship, and for certain people, that just isn’t right for them. This may be the reason.
Some people disconnect themselves from the world, the consequence of which is isolation and loneliness, because initially their entire family of origin severely abused and neglected them in childhood, which produced intense mistrust and an inability to create functional relationships with others. For some, the abuse affected their interpersonal relationship patterns such that ALL of the relationships in their life (family, friends, mates, employers, colleagues) were dysfunctional and ultimately reinforced the systemic mistrust.
Some of those emotionally damaged in childhood unconsciously attract (and are attracted to) similarly damaged people, because they can relate to them on a fundamental level, thereby setting themselves up for dysfunctional relationships that reinforce the mistrust that leads to isolation.
Even knowing all of this, some people can’t seem to resolve their interpersonal issues that foster isolation and loneliness, because the type and degree of damage is so insidious, so intricately woven into their personality, that treating the identifiable symptoms doesn’t ever eradicate the infectious virus that has corrupted their fundamental nature.
Trauma takes some people by the throat, while others churn through it like a slow, steady chug boat. For those who can’t breathe because the grip is so tight, isolation and loneliness, while uncomfortable and potentially deadly, generally aren’t nearly as frightening and painful as dysfunctional relationships.
Emotionally-damaged people can be efficient predators or easy prey. For the latter, it’s safer to hide, safer to disconnect. The cost is high, but often more bearable than the alternative.
For anyone with this amount of trauma, life will be difficult - not impossible, but difficult. It is important to remember what you know about yourself and to behave in ways that protect you but still allow you to be part of the world.
Some who have difficulty being around other people, let alone having an intimate relationship, find ways to make their lives work so they feel safe. For example, telecommuting has become a great way to make a living for those who need to socially isolate and who may also choose to relate to others virtually.
I can’t help but feel that there must be a lot of damaged souls out there, and that accounts for the massive popularity of social media. Most would say that this is not the best way to relate to others, but if you can’t maintain an intimate relationship with someone, I believe that having a virtual relationship is better than none at all. At least you will have some connection and validation.
Relying on your wisdom, as Bob Dylan recently said, comes with age. Accepting yourself - that it’s okay if your life and how you deal with it differs from most - will help you keep moving forward.
Even holding on to some pain that has woven itself into your psyche does not have to stop you from getting some of the joy that is here. I know it’s work sometimes, but in the end, you will not think that you have wasted your life.
Just do one thing every day to make your life a tiny bit better. I know it sounds trite, but if that’s all you can do right now, that’s okay. Any step forward is better than none at all.

♦ Dr Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, California, is the author of The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time. Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or e-mail him at [email protected]

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