My wife loves HGTV and DIY television shows that feature remodeling and renovations. She loves me too despite the fact that the only thing I can do with power tools is hurt myself.
Invariably, these shows highlight someone swinging a sledgehammer through a wall. Part of being a therapist is that I see everything as a metaphor. The folks I work with usually want to tear down their walls and they want to do so in a hurry. It just doesn’t work that way.
Walls are built out of necessity. We didn’t want them but we required a buffer between ourselves and those who would hurt us. We constructed them as children and with every painful experience we reinforced them. Years later, what once protected us now holds us back.
Just as we avoid taking stock of the baggage we carry, so to we avoid examining our defenses. We become aware of our walls in awkward moments. We experience the limitations they create when folks compliment us or offer us appreciation. We knock ourselves out earning things that we’re too afraid to receive.
There’s no perspective behind the walls. Very little light comes in and the darkness we have always known surrounds us. We feel guarded when we know there is no threat. We struggle to trust those who seem entirely trustworthy. Our fears distance us from good people by forcing us to hold everyone at arm’s length.
Loneliness is perhaps the single greatest cause of mental illness in America today.
Depression and Anxiety are largely caused by this: we fear what we yearn for – connection, friendships, partners, lovers, intimacy. We see only risk with very little possibility of reward and an even lower sense of deservedness. We say that we fear being hurt but that’s not the whole story.
Without any conscious choice on our part, the walls changed. Once they stood to protect us. Now they protect others from us. Because we buried past pain we feel shame, which dictates that good people would not accept us if they truly knew us. Our deeper fear is that allowing others to get close would result in us inadvertently hurting them. This is the real issue. We’re afraid that if we relax and simply be ourselves we might make someone feel like we feel.
This fear is not consciously driven but it is none the less overwhelming. We have moments of recognizing that our apprehension is not rational yet we approach each and every person with either trepidation or over compensation.
Never do we expect the benefit of a doubt. Never do we expect conflict without confrontation and never do we expect to be forgiven. These things are foreign to us. We only give them; we do not let ourselves to receive them. This allows us to be perpetually surprised when things go well and it denies us the chance to build confidence or have faith in ourselves.
I met with an amazing woman recently who told me she was afraid to look out from behind her wall. Knowing the hell she lives in I asked her to consider what could possibly be so scary on the other side? In a very small voice she said, “Hope.”
She told me that there are cracks in her wall and that during the day she has light coming in but late at night she sees only shadows on the wall. Hope is the light that allows one to see a path out of darkness but it is also forces us to see that it is we who hold ourselves captive. This is the result of everything we hide from in the dark recesses of our minds.
We must draw out that which was ingrained. We must challenge what we were taught about ourselves and our worth. This takes courage but courage is not the absence of fear. It’s being scared shitless and doing it anyway because it’s the only way to be free.
We will never fully tear down the walls. Sledgehammers leave gaping holes and we must not be defenseless. Instead we can recognize that the world we live in requires self protection but does not demand isolation. We won’t wear our hearts on our sleeves but we will no longer hide our true selves from good people (trusting our instinct allows us to identify each other).
There are so many of us and kindred spirits have a way of being drawn to one another. If we dare only to peek out over our walls, we can find each other. If we have courage then we never have to be alone again.