Truths About Trauma: Alone vs. Lonely

Trauma can feel very lonely, even when we are surrounded by people. The symptoms of trauma tend to create a feeling of isolation and it can be quite easy to feel as though we are all alone in the battle. No one understands. No one knows what’s going through my head. The recurring thoughts of loneliness can truly bring great discouragement.

But someone who feels lonely is not necessarily alone. Even with a very supportive, empathetic husband, there are days where I feel really lonely lost in a jumble of disturbing images from days gone by.

How do we cope? And how do we support those who are going through these times?

  1. Coping. I have found that the biggest thing we need to remember as we go through these lonely times is that we cannot allow isolation to win. It’s HARD to reach out; it’s hard to bring someone into our pain. We don’t want to feel weak; we don’t want to be a burden. We don’t want to sound crazy. We’ve been burned before and trust is a hard barrier to overcome. But we do have a choice. It’s not an easy one; there are certainly days where I would rather suffer in my loneliness than tell my husband I’m having flashbacks again. He’s pretty intuitive; he usually figures it out anyway. But it’s much easier for him to help me when I’m up front with him about it, specifically because once I have let my guard down, he can draw me out without a fight. I know the way trauma works all too well; I know we have a tendency to suffer in silence as if that somehow makes us stronger or exempts us from actually experiencing the deeply painful aspects of trauma. Trust me, though; I’ve done it both ways. Allowing a trusted individual in is a far better way. Find someone you can call anytime day or night and they will be there for you. Find someone who can read the look in your eyes and know they need to give you an excuse to get out of a situation before you lose control. It is worth it. You do not have to do this alone. It doesn’t always mean you won’t feel lonely, but if you know you aren’t alone, you can also make choices to drive away the lonely. It again comes back to letting someone in; flashbacks may still rage, but having someone who knows when to touch you and when to give you space will help.

  2. Supporting. Some of the things people say when they are trying to be a support are actually not helpful at all, but they are usually well intentioned. Let me share with you a few things that do help, though, so that you can avoid some of those pitfalls which make it harder for the person you are trying to help trust that you aren’t going to abandon them.

    1. Don’t just tell someone they aren’t alone. Show them. Ask them questions that will help you know how to reach into their hurt when they can’t ask for help. Find out what their love language is. Ask about their favorite foods, drinks, etc and offer those things at random. Pizza or a cup of hot chocolate can be oddly reassuring for the person who just isn’t sure what they need. Invest the time and energy into figuring out what this person finds comforting so that when they face bad days you don’t have to fumble around trying to guess what they need because certainly they aren’t going to be able to communicate their need to you right at that moment.

    2. Make sure your hurting friend knows clearly what the boundaries are. If you truly are willing to be there for them anytime, don’t just tell them they can call or text anytime. Let them know that they can and if you don’t reply right away it isn’t because you are avoiding them it’s because something is going on that you can’t get away from. Establish some sort of way for them to let you know when something is urgent and when it can wait. If you’d rather not get a middle of the night phone call, explain the hours that are acceptable to call. Adults operate better within boundaries just as kids do. Rather than driving away the hurting person, your boundaries will probably give them reassurance that it is okay to ask for help because your boundaries let them know what you consider being a bother and what isn’t. Often, people won’t ask for help because they are afraid of being a bother.

Both loneliness and being alone can cause problems for the traumatized person; however, when someone knows they have a choice not to be alone and knows they have people they can reach out to that will help them feel less lonely, their chances of recovery are stronger. There are times where being alone is really the best thing, but it is in those instances that the individual is less likely to feel lonely.

Lastly, to those who are believers recovering from trauma, it is important that we remember God is always present. When we are coping with trauma, we need to look to God first. When we are supporting the traumatized, we need to point them to God first. We human beings are finite; it’s why boundaries help us function better. We cannot cure ourselves nor can we cure others, but we can point to our limitless Creator who is also the Great Physician. He may not take away the pain, but He will give the strength to endure. And He will always be glorified.