Developmental trauma may be related to aloofness in socializing in one’s social circle

Many of my clients suffer from social anxiety in different levels of severity. Some of them are very successful professionals or businessmen, who have adequate social skills and harmonious relationships with others. Others have severe avoidance and disconnect with their social network totally. In the surface, those with social anxiety tend to distant themselves socially. They have intense fear of being negatively evaluated. They also tend to think others hold very high expectations on their social performance. Usually, they feel very tired after social gatherings and need a prolonged period for recuperation.

In conducting psychotherapy with these clients, it is quite common to find out that they had undergone different levels of early developmental traumas. These early developmental traumas may include physical and emotional abuse by one or both of the parents, neglect, or attachment problems with mentally ill parents. For some adults with early childhood trauma, their nervous system is in a constant hyperarousal. This constant high level of arousal is related to their persistent feeling of threats in their environment. This constant sense of being in danger may trigger their hypervigilance and chronic anxiety responses.

Most of my adult clients with early developmental traumas have difficulty in regulating their emotions. One of the most common reasons is that, during their infancy, their mother was inadequate in responding to their emotional needs. As a result, a secure attachment between the mother and the infant cannot be formed. It is because, it is through the loving connection between the mother and the infant, the individual learns to regulate one’s internal arousal. With capacity in regulating one’s emotions, the ability for social engagement develops. Without this capacity, adults with early developmental traumas feel overwhelmed by their constant hyperarousal in social situations. This explains why they tend to avoid social gatherings and distant themselves socially.

Furthermore, many of my clients with early developmental traumas also experience high level of shame. In fact, many of them also suffer from intense self-hatred. If a child was in the receiving end of rage or abuse by one or both of one’s parents, the child was in a constant dilemma of handling their own rage towards one’s parents they love. As the child is completely dependent on the parents’ care and support, the child feels fearful towards their own rage. In order for the child to protect the attachment relationship with the parents, the child will split off their rage and hatred towards the parents. This survival mechanism makes the child thinks one is the bad object that deserves the abuse and mistreatment. As a result, adults with early developmental traumas always carry chronic shame.

We often hear people saying that we should not judge others prematurely without understanding their life stories. It is quite easy for us to judge some of our friends or colleagues being too aloof or distant socially. The next time when someone distancing oneself from a group, may be we can accept their freedom to choose to be disengaged with compassion and understanding. Let us embrace differences between individuals and be more accepting of those who are different from us.

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