Someone said to me a few days ago something that really hit home. They said “In life, we are actually always alone. The moment the ombilical cord is being cut straight after birth, this is it, that blissful fusion we felt for 9 months in the womb is gone forever. After that, any relationship and connection in life is a bonus, but in the end we need to accept we are all alone.”
I think this is such a wonderful yet simple description of one of the biggest existential issue every human being faces – consciously or unconsciously. The fear of loneliness or isolation is a very powerful drive in our behaviours and purpose. Yet, we may not always be aware of it.
From an instinctual perspective, back to our cave-men ancestors, isolation meant death. No wonder why that fear is so deeply engrained in us. From a more existential perspective, it brings up a deep anxiety about the meaning of our lives – if I am alone, am I insignificant? what’s my role in the world? What’s my purpose and who am I?
Those reflections naturally bring me to one of my favourite topics, relationships. How does that primal deep fear impacts our relationships, and how might it contribute specifically to unhealthy ones?
It’s pretty straight forward if you think of it. How many people get and stay in relationships that make them unhappy simply by fear of being alone?
But I also think that deep fear of isolation is responsible for codependency as well. If we unconsciously spend our lives trying to recreate that feeling of unity and symbiosis we had in the wound, how does that impact our relationships?
Well, to start with, we may unconsciously look for enmeshment ; that might manifest as emotional dependency, losing one self in relationship, lacking boundaries, over taking responsibility for the other person or trying to please them consistently – any type of behaviours designed to keep the person and the relationship at our own detriment.
But it also plays a role in counter-dependency: in our fear of commitment and intimacy for example. Most of people I’ve come across who had intimacy or commitment issues always traced it back to a core fear: being hurt or being abandoned. But when you think about it:
- Being alive means hurting at some point, this is inevitable
- As an adult, there is no such thing as being abandoned. Abandonment implies emotional dependency, and the only two times in life our survival depends from someone else is when we are a child or an incapacited ederly. The rest of our lives, we are in control of ourselves and technically don’t need anyone to survive (in most cases, that is).
So what does is mean having a fear of abandonment or an irrational fear of being hurt, to the point of totally avoiding intimacy? I think it is a clear sign that we operate from the inner child part of us, in TA terms our child ego-state. Not from the empowered adult that we currently are.
And I bet you that this inner child is likely to be seeking once more the womb paradise of fusion and enmeshment. No wonder it’s scared of losing it! That must have been quite traumatic at first. Being suddenly thrown into a cold unknown environment where nothing feels safe nor granted anymore is probably not a very enjoyable experience…
If you couple this with some attachment disorders in our early infant days (cf attachment theory), it is probably enough as a child to create a fear of intimacy.
However as an adult, I believe that if we still suffer from commitment or intimacy issues, it’s because our inner child still feels disempowered in the face of the potential separation with another. And if our inner child still believes that any intimate or committed relationship means enmeshment and womb-like fusion, there will be an inner conflict: because the adult in us knows that nothing lasts, and any close connection with someone will result in separation in the end – whether the end of the relationship or death. So the child craves for that connection, but is also terrified of it when her adults reminds her that it will inexorably end.
But the end of an enmeshed connection is much more painful than a “normal” or mature relationship ending. Because when we’re enmeshed, we lose our identity. We lose our sense of independence and with it, the trust in ourselves to survive anything. We unconsciously revert back to that state of mind of believing our survival depends on someone else. And that’s not a good place to be. So naturally, we develop coping mechanisms to avoid that thread: a fear of intimacy.
So what if the solution to that was to learn to enter any relationship from an adult ego-state? Consciously make sure this is the autonomous empowered adult that creates that intimacy – where her boundaries stays intact, where his sense of self remains untouched and strong. Wouldn’t that soothe the unavoidable underlying anxiety beneath emotional closeness? Of course it will not have that exhilarating quality of total surrendering we felt as an infant, but will instead become a mature deeper type of love.
So I’m offering two steps to start with, that might help with that approach:
- Identify if our inner child is still seeking unconsciously enmeshment and being saved or rescued by a relationship. If that’s the case, doing some inner work to accept the fact that this blissful loss of self we had in the womb will not exist anymore – apart from in some rare occasions such as meaningful love-making or spiritual experiences.
- Learn what it means to be an empowered adult, especially in relationships, by discovering who we are at a deep level, practicing setting strong boundaries and reinforcing our sense of self and inner worth.
I hope those reflections are useful to you, and I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience and thoughts on that topic!