Why you are suffering with overwhelm and self-isolation

25 Jan 2023

Want to know why you are suffering with overwhelm and self-isolation?

First off, an apology for doing something that I tend to be allergic to: making assumptions.  This post starts from the assumption that you, too, suffer with overwhelm and when things are tough, you have a tendency to self-isolate – emotionally, at any rate.

If I have got this horribly wrong and you don’t suffer with overwhelm and a tendency to self-isolate, then I can only apologise. If that is you, I hope that you will hear me out about how my own unrecognised tendencies tripped me up. Only yesterday.

Why you are suffering with overwhelm and self-isolation

I was reposting on Instagram the words of Bri Hall: 

“A therapist said if you self-isolate, you probably had to solve a lot of problems alone as a child.” 

That resonated.  Mine was the kind of family in which everyone else proved how smart they were by dismissing other people’s problems and feelings. 

As the youngest, I was the softest target. 

That experience taught me some horrible habits of relating – or more correctly, not relating – to others that took me a while to unlearn.

I certainly learned to solve – or sit on – problems alone.

But  as I looked back on those days, I was struck by another memory: my mother and her martyr narrative.

Now, as far as I can piece things together, my mother had a tough childhood emotionally – despite her protestations that it was all love, togetherness and roses. Her brother married and left the country very young. Despite, rather than because of, economic opportunity.

That in itself is a pointer to major family dysfunction.

My mother’s marriage to offered her a safe haven – relatively speaking. My father was an ill-tempered Narcissist. Still, I believe that their relationship ticked a fair few boxes for both of them.

He was happy for her to be a lady who lunched. She did relatively little around the house but regarded it as a huge, heroic amount. She enjoyed the status that she believed he conferred on her. 

The fragility of family unity

On the rare occasions when those who took care of running her house let her down, the facade of parental and family unity would swiftly shatter. That unity was always fragile at best. When it shattered, each every one of us would self-isolate behind our preferred ramparts. My father would disappear to work or else behind the television. My brothers would take up residence at a friend’s house.

Mother would attack the house with a fury.

She would also – verbally – attack me with a fury. Her house and her domestic chores automatically became my responsibility.

As a female, it was my job to toil beside her – or instead of her – battling with sinks, floors, and cooking for picky males who were entitled to a free pass. Purely by virtue of their sex.  

The family self-isolation narrative

What struck me as I remembered all of this was my mother’s narrative:

“I have to do everything around here. On my own.”

Doing what was necessary, for a short while, to provide her family with a clean home and food on the table, became, in her eyes, a heroic struggle against mammoth injustice.

It was only much later that I could piece together something of the reality of her idyllic childhood narrative.  One way and another, she was horribly neglected, and quite possibly ill used, by her parents.  So she learned to face  – or stifle – a lot of big problems on her own so effectively that

they had no part in her narrative.

My circumstances, in childhood, were different from hers. Still, the familial pattern of neglect persisted. I became a whizz at self-isolation and solving problems alone.

How I became a whizz at my mother’s narrative

To my horror, just recently, I realised that I was also becoming a whizz at my mother’s “I have to do everything around here” narrative.

It happened just before my lovely partner and I headed off on holiday to my beloved Venice.

The truth is, I was doing a lot “around here”. A massive amount. For one very good reason:

I had made the conscious decision to do everything that I could because my partner was not on tiptop form. He is not as robust as I am.  So, it made a lot of sense for me to pick up the slack 

Except that I wasn’t showing any self-care – a very old, pattern of mine that has never served me well. 

Nor did it on this occasion. 

I got tired and frazzled and started rehashing my mother’s pattern. I started racing around the house, doing stuff and muttering “I have to do everything around here.”

Worse still, I hadn’t even picked up on it until I posted that meme on Instagram. 

How my old pattern works

There has long been, I will admit, a part of me that can get really snippy when I slip into that old pattern.

Here’s how it works for me:

  1. I slide into self-isolation mode.
  2. I dissociate, see myself from the outside, with a hefty dose of self-pity, and start repeating my mother’s narrative.
  3. I get snippy.
  4. I feel lousy about it so…
  5. I rinse and repeat.

Old patterns die hard. 

What to do instead

What to do instead?

Well, self-care should be one pretty obvious way forward. But for those of us who grew up with unfortunate patterns of self-medication through doing more and sleep deprivation, it isn’t always easy.

So, we start where we can – with awareness. 

Simply being aware of a harmful pattern is the first step towards deactivating it. Becoming aware that I was repeating one of my mother’s most unpleasant scripts was incredibly sobering.

Then what?

Hefty, repeated doses of self-reassurance. 

We slip back into these old patterns because we experience the isolation and overwhelm that we have fallen into as incredibly neglectful –  whether or not they actually are. Even when, as in the case of my lovely partner, others might have done nothing to trigger those feelings, in the first place. 

The reality check

So, we need to talk to ourselves, validating our own feelings about things being hard and struggling alone and we also need to do a reality check.  We need to ask ourselves:

  1. whether this is true
  2. whether this was a choice or a pattern
  3. whether or not we want to feel this way
  4. what we can do to break the cycle now that we are now in

Finally, we remind ourselves that we are actually good people doing our – imperfect – best.

Having done all of that and reconnected with our sanity and our good heart, we then need to reconnect with the people that matter to us who care about us.  

Self-isolation brings nothing but misery, it seems to me.

Obviously, if another person has quite deliberately triggered those feelings, by disregarding ours, that is another matter and needs to be brought to their attention and needs to be dealt with appropriately.

Overwhelm and self-isolation are old patterns that need breaking

Overwhelm and self-isolation are the manifestation of an old pattern.  That pattern may well feel familiar and normal to you because it was normalised by people who held an important place in your life. However, it is not a healthy pattern for you.

So, like me, you need to make a choice about that pattern that brought nothing good into your life. 

Like me, you need to ask yourself:

  • `Can I afford to keep it?
  • What can I do to stop it taking over right now?
  • How would I like to feel instead?
  • What can I do to help achieve that?
  • Can I be kind to myself while I am working on building the new response, even when I mess up?

People often object to me that some of what I teach is “easier said than done”. That may well be right. However, that is not a particularly useful or motivational comment. I can remember when I used that old platitude to justify myself and stay stuck exactly where I was. 

Now, I focus not on whether the new belief or behavior might be hard but on whether or not it is preferable. I think in terms of the peace it will bring me, rather than the difficulties of implementing. I hope that you will, too.

One costly hangover from an abusive relationship is the toxic, old patterns we find ourselves repeating. Self-isolation and overwhelm are too high a price to keep on paying, for ill treatment that you never deserved in the first place.

So, I hope that you will start to practice self-reassurance. You deserve it. 

You can always take matters into your own hands

Look at it this way. We might all like to have our supermarket shop delivered to our door.  That can make life a lot easier. But what if you have no certainty whether the supermarket will ever deliver or what their timeframe might be? You would take matters into your own hands, and go and do the shop yourself, right?  

We might not be talking about material goods here. But the same principles apply.

Healing from narcissistic abuse gets a whole lot easier when you start to take matters into your own hands.

And if it would help you to have someone who can give you the tools, techniques and guidance that you need, why not join me in the Break Free Membership? You will get far more guidance and in depth healing insights and tools than I can offer here.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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