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The terms isolating and isolation have negative connotations, especially in mental health. However, when isolation is a form of sacred solitude, it can produce profound insights and clarity.

Nonetheless, it’s true that for a trauma survivor, the first reaction to pain may be to hold it inside. By pushing it down, denying it, or avoiding it, isolating from others seems inevitable.

In addition, many of these reactions naturally segue into withdrawing from others. This can be physically or emotionally. One trigger can lead to another, and quite quickly can create a pile of complicated feelings. 

This is especially relevant since reaching out for help is not easy for trauma survivors. This can lead to loneliness and helplessness, which is unhealthy.

All of these factors make the case for ISOLATING = UNHEALTHY

However, in this article, I offer an alternative approach and interpretation of isolation, based upon my personal experience and healing.

Solo Travel and Trauma

I’ve used traditional therapy, in-person and Virtual EMDR, recovery phone lines, journaling, and other therapy techniques that I created myself to aid in my trauma healing. However, once the bulk of the pain passed, I began using solo travel to refine and celebrate my growth and new life. It works, because I discovered it organically, and have benefited from it for years now. It’s my honor to share with you what I’ve learned. Below are five ways to apply your healing to solo traveling.

Sacred Space for Grieving

Isolation is not always necessarily a bad thing. There are times such as grieving and processing deep difficult emotions where isolation is exactly what you need. 

Solo travel allows you to grieve in a personal and meaningful way, free from social pressures. It provides the solitude needed to fully embrace your emotions. This could be through reflection, journaling, or retreats.

This journey helps you find peace and comfort, allowing the grieving process to unfold naturally and offers a path to emotional healing.

Knowing what you need and when you need it is a monumental accomplishment in trauma recovery. Sometimes trauma survivors isolate because pain is intense and there’s a need to shut-down and self-protect. Recognizing this is huge. Understanding whether it’s an old pattern from childhood or healthy processing a major step in self-healing. 

Knowing what you need and when you need it is a monumental accomplishment in trauma recovery.

Example:

Every year at the end of March / beginning of April, I take a camper van road trip to the American Southwest desert. The purpose of this trip is to grieve my mom who passed away April 2, 2018. There are many parts of the trip, and my grieving, that are private. I prefer it that way.

When the date approaches, I can feel the heaviness. My subconscious, and my inner child, are well aware that we are carefully and lovingly addressing this deep grief head-on. I am practicing self-love by being careful with this loss, because my relationship with my mom was hard. Consequently so is the grief.

My first trip was to Death Valley. The symbolism was not lost on me. I was angry and wanted to be alone. My protectiveness around my wants and needs served me well.

Death Valley Bad Water Basin, setting for author’s mourning for loss of mother
Death Valley Bad Water Basin

In following camper trips, I realize the grieving process has evolved. I find myself experiencing things that bring her presence, love, spirit to my trip. This is healing and I’m grateful.

Retro RV in joyful Nevada park…grief can evolve
This RV park in Nevada reminded me of the fun times I spent at my mom’s camper

Deep Emotional Processing

The second occasion for the need to isolate is when you need time to get in touch with the pain. You may find being alone brings clarity, and giving yourself quiet ‘think time’ to sort yourself out is necessary.

Solo travel offers trauma survivors a safe space to process deep emotions without external distractions or pressures. It allows for uninterrupted time to reflect, feel, and understand your experiences. This solitude provides the opportunity to engage in healing practices like journaling, meditation, or surrounded by nature. It provides emotional recovery and balance.

Example:

It took me years to understand how to “feel what it is I’m feeling“.

I’d heard people say, “I need to feel it,” and wonder what they were talking about. So I set about practicing it.

What I learned is that buried trauma needs intentional, set-aside time and safe space to surface. The psyche is programed to protect it from overwhelm. So the deep wounds are nearly inaccessible in everyday routines.

By taking myself and my bringing my inner child away from any threats of environmental triggers, I’m able to do heavy trauma lifting. I can process safely, no risk of being interrupted and re-triggered. Afterwards, I use the remaining time as cathartic rest. It gives ample time to truly integrate the learning and enjoy the healing.

Self-Trust

Isolation is an opportunity to build trust in yourself. Solo travel is the perfect place to refine this skill. Navigating new environments alone forces you to rely on your instincts and make independent decisions. Overcoming challenges builds confidence in your abilities and reinforces your capacity to handle uncertainties. This growing self-trust is essential for healing, as it empowers you to face and process your trauma with greater confidence.

Isolation allows self-trust to develop…photo of blue sky over barren desert
Be gentle with yourself. Trust that when you’re ready to open up and share, you will.

When you travel alone, your internal dialogue changes. Your inner child voice will start to get louder, and you begin to attune on a higher level. It’s through isolation, hours after hour of precious me time, that I begin to fall in love with that sweet sound of my inner child’s chatter.

Another aspect of isolating during solo travel is when you need to share your experiences with others. You may find you want to keep some of it to yourself, and that’s more than okay. Forcing yourself to open up because you feel you “should” is abandoning yourself. It is reenacting the childhood  neglect, and repeating the cycle of generational trauma.

Despite the fact that healing means being vulnerable and taking risks, what you share or don’t share, even with your partner, must be on your timetable. Giving yourself the gift of time alone, not just physically but mentally and emotionally, is giving time to your inner child

Example:

When I was in Portugal, I had a very unexpected situation arise at the hostel. I needed time to process the experience, because I felt confused. I was traveling, and wanted everything to be ‘perfect’. So it was muddled at first. Also, I didn’t want to share the experience with anyone back home until I sorted it out. Worrying them when I was far from home would be wrong of me.

So I took the entire day to take a long walk to a beach and process. While I sat on the sand surrounded by a beautiful azure ocean, I mindfully observed. There was a man with a Swahili accent with two boys nearby. Two mothers with children of various ages doled out sunscreen and snacks. Eventually I felt the situation lightening and I went for a swim. Though the water was cold, it was refreshing.

Beach in Sao Miguel where author used the environment to process and integrate emotions
Praia das Milicias on São Miguel Island. I still have specks of black volcanic sand embedded in my airpods.

That night when I spoke to my husband, I relayed the incident with calm and peace. Rather than reinforce codependency by the message that I need to be rescued or pitied, I I conveyed the reality that although the situation was my mistake and I initially felt shame, I worked through it and feel compassion and forgiveness for myself. Decisions like these help our relationship become more stable and less stressed by enmeshment patterns.

Alone Time vs. Loneliness

It’s true that being with others isn’t a guarantee you won’t be lonely. Most trauma survivors can relate to the idea of feeling alone in a crowded room. Moreover, the loneliness experienced in an intimate relationship, where your own partner doesn’t even know you, is the worst kind of all. This is because the isolation is on the inside.  Until that inner loneliness….that inside-abandonment is resolved, it will continue to manifest outward.

Solo travel highlights the difference between being alone and being lonely. Alone time is a conscious choice to spend time with yourself, fostering self-reflection, growth, and healing. It’s a period of self-care and introspection. In contrast, loneliness is a feeling of isolation and disconnection. Solo travel empowers you to embrace and enjoy your own company, transforming solitude into a powerful tool for emotional and spiritual healing.

Pretty beach in Atlantic City with dune grass in foreground. Symbol of recognizing beauty and overcoming loneliness
Becoming your own best friend removes loneliness for good.

Spending time with yourself unapologetically is how to start. Sadly, it’s critical voices in your head (a by-product of trauma) that stop you from enjoying your alone time. Feeling over-responsible for everyone and everything will undermine the goal of sacred solitude. This is usually codependency. It’s the isolation on the inside…the false belief that spending time with you for self-love time is unworthy or time wasted. So stop abandoning yourself and give yourself the love you deserve. When you do, the loneliness will slowly disappear.

Though it may seem contrary to some mental health ideologies, times of chosen isolation is not only healing, but necessary. It builds your ability to have faith in yourself to give you what you want and need. It defies codependency…looking to others to meet your needs.

Example:

There was a time in my life when I struggled through a toxic relationship. The characteristic trauma bond, we constantly triggered, abandoned, and antagonized each other.

Throughout that experience, I took many solo travel trips. Before each one, there would be the same fight about nothing. Something trivial would arise, and it became the holder of the real problem…fear and anger surrounding lack of intimacy and healthy boundaries. We’d get in an argument and not talk until I returned.

Today I understand it was the only way we could detach from each other. Although I was aware that getting away by myself was a relief, I’d still return to the relationship to recycle the dysfunction.

Trip by trip, I learned to love my own company. It’s true, the unhealthy relationship sometimes forced me ‘out of the nest’ of codependency. Things were unmanagaeble but while I stayed day to day I couldn’t really break free. Being away in a new place, practicing self-love, and having fun, I gradually released my tight, fearful grip on another person to meet my wants and needs. Slowly I healed.

Honor the Need for Alone Time

Despite well-meaning advice from friends and loved ones, sometimes what you truly need is time alone. Solo travel offers the perfect opportunity to retreat and recharge. It allows you to focus on your own needs and emotions without the influence of others. This personal time helps you reconnect with yourself, gain clarity, and find inner peace.

hill in Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way - a metaphor for more ways isolating heals
Honor your wants and needs when you hear the call to be alone.

The world is still not really ready to hear the idea that it’s okay to isolate from time to time. So you need to be heard by you and your inner child. Other people don’t have to understand, you do. You don’t owe anybody anything.

Taking the time to develop a healing plan meant just for you is the ultimate goal for therapy and recovery. And if that means going against the norm, so be it. True empowerment comes from standing in your truth and releasing people pleasing. Trauma took that inherent right from you once, don’t give it up anymore. Claiming this right to isolate when needed provides you with safety, peace, and joy.

It’s very hard to stand alone in your belief that isolation is not a bad thing. It’s not easy to undo the social codependency…the need for everyone to be together so that everyone will be okay. Forcing that outcome usually stems from fear of being alone and the need to control.

Example:

I have a friend who has inspired my travel journey from the beginning. She’s an excellent resource for all parts of travel. However, she doesn’t solo travel, so she doesn’t get it. How do I know? Because she’s invited me on multiple trips despite the fact I’ve never accepted. And we’re good friends so it’s not that. She doesn’t get it because she if she did, she’d understand why I say no.

Though it may seem harsh, I don’t want to travel with other people…friends, loved ones, travel groups. Not only do I prefer my own space….I need it.

I respectfully explained to my friend how my solo trips are for my healing. Did she get it? I’m not sure. But she doesn’t need to. I do.

When I hold the internal boundary to not sacrifice that time, by keep it precious for me and my inner child, it honors my commitment to myself.

Being Okay With Isolation

Part of healing requires times of isolation for many reasons. It’s important to spend this time in quality reflection in order to grow your self-trust, grieve, occasionally stand alone. In addition, the act is one of self- love.

When you understand you’re doing what you need to keep yourself safe, you heal the wounds of childhood abandonment. Learning to withhold self-judgment or the opinion of others teaches that self-healing can come in just about any shape or form. Even one that others deem ‘bad’.

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