We are born defenseless and learn to deal with pain. Kids in healthy families are protected and given effective coping skills. The rest of us learned to hide our true selves, our real feelings, our hopes and dreams. We pretend we’re ok. Some of us barely pull it off but most of us are brilliant at it.
We refer to our defenses as having our “walls” up. In therapy, people tell me about how and why the wall was built. I always hear Pink Floyd singing, “All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.” They tell me they’re afraid to let the walls down. I tell them it’s better to install a window so they can see the outside world and maybe later a door to let only the best people in. Keep the defenses – the world is often cold.
To an unprotected child, every bit of pain becomes a reason to anticipate and defend against further harm – imagined or real. We embrace the illusion of being “prepared.” We expect to be hurt, rejected, and abandoned and we plan accordingly. It’s damn near impossible to prove us wrong because the wall stands between the proof and our perception.
Only long after the wall is built do we realize what it robs us of. It’s exhausting to maintain our defenses. Even though it takes no conscious thought, it drains us emotionally. It prevents even trusted others from getting too close. (How close is too close?)
What saddens me is how we treat ourselves behind the wall. Our intent was to keep others from hurting us. I ask, “Who hurts you the most?” There’s usually a look of shock and sadness as folks realize that we remain our own worst critic and our own worst enemy. It’s lonely back there and there’s very little light. We do not grow or heal there. Worse, we tend to stay stuck emotionally at the age at which the wall was built.
I met with an amazing woman this morning who made the connection that her fear of letting her walls down had everything to do with believing that she was so very different than everyone else. She felt that letting her walls down would expose her as a freak. She struggled to hear me say that the very best people are freaks, so I left her with a Dar Williams song that explains it well:
“I had this wall and what I knew of the free world Was that I could see their fireworks And I could hear their radio And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing And they’d know that I was scared They’d would know that I was guessing But the wall came down and there they stood before me With their stumbling and their mumbling And their calling out just like me…” – Dar Williams “What Do You Hear In These Sounds?”
It’s liberating to really, really get that nearly all of the very best people are f@cked up and more importantly, that everyone is scared. Some just hide it better than others. How we choose to deal with fear determines most of what’s possible in our lives.
The cost of our walls is too great. Build a window (perspective based in trusting your gut and not your heart) and then a door (allowing good people to know the real you). Find out what becomes possible. No matter how healthy we become, what we can do together is infinitely greater than what we can do alone.