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Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Fear of Isolation

Throughout this blog, I have spoken at great lengths about fear. That unconscious fear is the single greatest motivator of all human behavior. Today, I'd like to focus on the fear of isolation or social exclusion. I have a target audience in mind.

Imagine if you will, a young set of parents. Children raising children. Parents determined to raise their children using standard reward and punishment themes. These parents, armed with nothing other than the very limited skill set given to them by their parents are going to set about the task of raising a child. They have no real experience other than their own childhood perspective. They have no formal training as parents. Yet they are about to embark on a mission of the greatest importance. They are going to do this with virtually no knowledge of what they are doing.

Would we hire a person with no education, no credentials, and no job experience? Probably not. But then again, we don't get to perform job interviews and select our parents. That there is a tremendous element of luck involved in the parent lottery is self evident.

Armed with the brimming confidence of ego that they alone have been given the inherent knowledge of how to raise children, and the DNA urge at the ripe old age of 22 or so to procreate, they launch the greatest responsibility of their lives.

Do you see some flaws in this design?

One of the symptoms of the antiquated reward and punishment themes that our wise parents are about to instill in us is the fear of abandonment and isolation. Clearly that is a punishment theme.

It occurs in many different ways. It occurs physically when kids are given "time outs." Or they are left at the sitters or sometimes left behind on trips. They can be beaten, scolded, embarrassed in front of siblings or relatives. Compared to others in a diminishing capacity. Or ignored continually either on purpose or by parents too busy working. Parents checked out on alcohol or drugs. Distracted for other reasons. Or they can be ridiculed or scorned. Shamed and made to feel guilt. Told they are not good enough.

Make no mistake about this. There will be consequences to this. In fact, some of the people I love the most have been subjected to these things. Their fear of isolation, that nagging feeling that they don't measure up, may never leave them. In fact, subjected to enough of this isolating and abandoning type treatment, may create a significant problem in their lives. They may be gripped with the fear of isolation to such an extent that they will go to any lengths to avoid it.

My target audience is gaining awareness.

So who is to blame? Those incredibly mature, well trained, and educated parents? Their parents? Some kid who is supposed to shrug it all off at some point in the future? Are we going to hope that the men in black arrive and give our children a taste of that flashy thing memory eraser?

I have a flashy thing. It works like this.

Your parents screwed up. They didn't know what they were doing. It was never personal. They simply thought they were doing the right thing within whatever formal education and experience they thought they had. Requiring a confession or apology from them may make you feel better for a second but it will not fix you. Nor may they give you an apology at all. They might even make the situation worse by defending themselves. They may be egoic hostages. The good news is that we don't really need them anyway. We accept the situation as it is- we don't create any more damage.

The solution is in realizing that we are the resultant problem. There is something wrong with us and that's ok. We fear isolation to such an extent that we become compliant "brown nosers." Or that we are constantly paranoid that someone is plotting against us. We intrude into situations believing that someone is out to get us or is talking about us. We seek virtually any kind of approval to such an extent that we actually ask people to shower us with compliments. Indeed, some of us actually hold resentments because we think a boss is with holding praise that we deserve. We get crushed when not invited or somebody turns us down for a date. We fear any kind of rejection or social exclusion. We seek rewards.

The fear of isolation is real and we all feel it. We are social creatures. We want to be part of something- not made to feel isolated and alone.

This fear is irrational. The key to fixing the problem is to recognize that we have it. It exists and we accept that we have it. The basis for fixing it comes in understanding and accepting it. Once we are past denial...then we can move to the concept of agreement 2. Take nothing personally ever. We are going to let people live their lives and be who they are. If they choose to exclude us socially, we accept that they are free to live their lives and make that decision. We know that has nothing to do with us. And we are not resentful, nor are we diminished, by conduct we can't control anyway.

The principle of "never taking anything personally" is the key to solving problems of isolation and the fear that we all have. This concept is difficult to grasp and it requires commitment once you do grasp it. Complete success occurs when socially excluding problems no longer bother us. We receive the gold medal when we can look at our parents, those folks who were trying to do the best that they could, and we realize it was not personal. They simply screwed up believing all the while- that their forms of isolating or abandoning behavior were acceptable. I mean, after all, they were just kids raising kids.

It wasn't like they let you interview them.