Breaking Free: Understanding Why We Shut Down

It is natural for all of us to experience times in which we may shut down and feel the need to withdraw from a situation, person or the world in general. However, what happens when we do this most of the time? Can it be more harmful than helpful? — The answers to these questions vary according to each individual situation, as they have to do not just with life experiences but with personality types; but today we will focus on the subject in general, the why and how it affects people….

Sometimes life puts us in situations which we may not know how to handle at a particular time, we may see those as challenges that hurt us and limit our capacity to simply be; they may cause us bewilderment and we may not be sure on how to react. Other times, the feeling of being overwhelmed may have to do more with the expectations we may have had of ourselves or others and the contrast to reality as is.

Taking time for ourselves is not only needed but recommended for our mental, physical and spiritual well-being, as these tend to promote much needed quietness and the opportunity for introspection; these times often grant us the ability to look at a situation from a different angle. These times, also allows us to discover new aspects (good/bad) about our character, personality and behavior. However, when withdraw out of fear and we remain in it most of the time, the original anxiety only becomes much more complex and harder to understand and heal. Let’s look at what tends to happen when we lock ourselves out of fear, its potential roots and what we can do to help us break free from them…

  1. When you isolate yourself not because it is part of your particular personality, but out of fear, you can end up feeling as if there is no one around to understand you.
  2. The more you shut down, the less trusting you are of your own intuition; often silencing you voice, as you may be afraid to comment on something out of fear of not being accepted by the majority, not being liked or fear of being criticized.
  3. When we shut down our thoughts tend to become dense, dark and often scary. Even the fantasies in your mind tend to be negative if not toxic towards yourself and others.
  4. The longer you remain in “shut down” mode, the more the fear grows, transforming itself into a monster that keeps you paralized from reacting, responding or expressing yourself.
  5. When we get used to shutting down as a safety mechanism, we can experience an emotional numbness which can become addictive to some people; for they feel is better to feel numb than to feel pain, anger, shame, perhaps even joy or any emotion they may feel felt like too much. This mental “drug” state, can make it very challenging to reflect, create a plan and follow through on how to exit from it.
  6. When we shut down often, we tend to over-analyze a situation, always locked in the terrain of the mind; unlike natural analytical personalities, over analyzing out of fear does not lead to problem solving but can blind us from recognizing and visualizing other perspectives, solutions or alternatives.
  7. The more we remain in “shut down mode”, the heavier our thoughts get until we start to spend most of our day ruminating on whatever it is that hurt or scared us– because ruminating is constant, it does not lead to healthy self-talk, instead the self-talk becomes toxic, which does no help alleviate the anxiety within the individual experiencing the shutdown.

Understanding the “shutdown” effect more and its potential roots…

Many times, this shutdown can resemble a scare turtle that chooses to remain in hiding within its shell….it can very lonely. Sometimes you may buy the lie that it is best to fake it till you make it (a potential option which is recommended on very few situations and never without working things through to discover the root…this tool has become the most misunderstood and misused tool in psychology; often not applied properly by modern life coaches or New Age spiritual movements) and so on the outside, others may think you are okay, yet the loneliness inside keeps growing and no one can help because no one knows — one day without realizing it, “shutting down” has become your tool of choice; you have used it so many times, that now it feels as if it was a natural response. But this “natural” response is simply resignation; it is not acceptance but simply giving up on trying to understand why it happens and how to go about it; for the anxiety simply denies you the ability to see any potential alternative.

There are loneliness of different kinds and expressions; one can be within a romantic relationship or with friends, family, study partners, coworkers and yet still feel lonely. Other times it may be a particular place or activity that brings forth such feeling.

There is another reason why a person may “shut down” or go into their shell…it is called social loneliness.

Social loneliness is present when people barely talk to their family. They have little or no contact with co-workers, not to mention neighbors. They feel unable to trust, often out of fear of being hurt, disapproved of or rejected. This behavior is a coping a mechanism, often the result of acute trauma, in which the person received no help nor validation for his or her pain.”

There is also another loneliness; this one is more common and often temporary for most people. It tends to happen when close friends may turn their back on you or betray you. When someone stops talking to you and you do not know why, even after having asked many times — these situations may lead to some emotional anguish, especially if it brings forth memory of old wounds. However, this type of loneliness can be overcome much easily than the previous ones — usually through the analysis of each party’s behavior, the mechanism of communication and the motivation behind one’s actions and potential motivations behind the others involved.

For any of the above reasons, you may have chosen to lock yourself within yourself…and such a decision might be not only hindering you but prolonging the original hurt.

Although this article is not meant to provide a magical solution that will work overnight, I would like to share with you some tools/alternatives which might be of help….

Think of the situation at hand, as a transitory state

When you imagine or keep ruminating that what you are experiencing will last “forever”, you will only achieve feeling worst. Do not deny the emotions you are feeling but don’t let your imagination get carried away…nothing lasts forever — a solution can be found if we are first willing to feel the emotion, then take some time to just breathe, just be…and then process the events and your thoughts — this often in an organic manner, will bring forth potential solutions or alternatives to the issue at hand.

Identify what kind of loneliness makes you retreat inside…

For example, the death of someone can make you feel down for a while; although a part of you knows the pain will go, at that time it feels like there will never be a good day again. Other times, it can be simpler but more complex to identify, as it is the loss of a job…often the root for the emotion go deeper than the situation itself; it is important to reflect on why it hurts us so, what association is the mind making…for those not familiar with introspection, this process, may need the help of a mediator (guide, counselor, friend, etc)

Get to know yourself well

Here I invite you to put aside the fear of looking inside and face the need to know yourself as you are: what are your desires, your goals, your limitations and your fears. Self-knowledge, therapy, life coaching, and many other disciplines will help you achieve this. If you are not familiar with introspection, I recommend you start with meditation and take a course on philosophy….it is proven to help anyone who experiences anxiety and has a hard time understanding his or herself and our place in relations to the world.

Overcome the fear of going out into the world, but do it at your rythm

Like any healing process or self-development, the only way the tools of healing work, is by you making the choice to heal and get better. No one can do the work for you…. believe it or not, you are capable of doing it. Sometimes you may need help or guidance, but the strength to surpass things, is in you. At first you may not believe this, so it is important not to set unrealistic expectations. Healing isn’t a race; it is a process…a deeply individual one. It is best to take baby steps than it is to rush…. consistency over quantity. Once a person, has made the resolve that he or she will invest in healing, then all things will fall into place. There will be setbacks….it is important that we are mentally prepared to accept this as a fact, not as a reflection of self-worth or capability.

Take little steps to start involving yourself with the world; accept the fact that in reality not everyone is going to like or accept you…. this happens to every one of us. There is no way to please every person, and you should not have to conform to every person’s view of you. You don’ need that emotional dependence of the approval of others, you need to create a bond; dependence, if you wish to call it so; between your inner child or the wounded you and the healthy you…that’s the relationship that matters most.

Now, I am not saying go spend your every moment with others…it is legitimate to want to be alone — only you know if your desire to be alone is based on loved of your solitude or isolation (which is fear of being around others or new experiences).

We are not as strange as we sometimes think.

I assure you that there is no one so “weird” that there is not someone on the other side willing to listen to you openly, but you got to be willing to take the steps to meet those type of people. If you lock yourself up because you feel strange, you rob yourself of the chance to potentially meet kindred souls. Your mind may say that you are strange, other people may say the same, but I assure you everyone one of us has quirks, and more importantly, there are others with the same strangeness as ourselves…. you are not alone.

You know the ghosts of your mind exist and why, and only you know what you can do to take away their power, regain vital energy and meaning, and how to encourage that wounded or anxious part of you to embrace life again…. you may need a mediator, but the answer lies in you. Do it at your own pace, ask for help when needed. If you commit yourself to you, you will see how you will clear the dark moments of anxiety, leaving behind the mental or physical confinement and embracing every facet of yourself and of life…. you are worth it…don’t give up.


By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!

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