After experiencing heartbreak, it’s natural to take a protective stance, to build emotional walls in an attempt to head off any additional pain and loss. These precautionary barricades serve an important purpose at first, as they help to shield us from additional assaults while we’re still tending to the wounds that require immediate attention and we are too fragile to withstand any further insults.
Yet left unchecked, these emotional walls that were initially constructed to provide security inadvertently become our own self-built prison. The possibility of connection exchanged for an illusion of safety. Left too long or built too high, we languish behind those emotional walls. Reassuring ourselves that at least we won’t get hurt again while at the same time allowing loneliness to slowly infect from within.
It’s difficult to accept that we’ve inadvertently walled ourselves in, depriving ourselves of the very things that nourish a heart and soul. It can be downright terrifying to take the risk to open up and again be vulnerable when the memory of the pain is still screaming in your ear.
Yet often the best places can only be reached by taking a leap of faith.
The following are signs that your emotional walls may be too high:
You Panic When You Become Vulnerable
It’s often referred to as flooding – that physical sense of overwhelming emotion. Your stomach churns. The blood rushes. And you’re filled with either an immediate need to escape or a total and complete shut-down.
This fight-or-flight reaction is completely normal when you’re in actual danger. However, when the response is this intense just because somebody saw through your defense, it’s an indicator that your emotional walls are too impenetrable.
Pay attention to those physical signs. Are they appropriate for the situation or are they an overreaction? If you find that you frequently panic or flood when emotions are present, it may be a sign that it’s time to learn how to live with these emotions (instead of simply trying to keep them at bay).
You Cut People Out As Soon As They Get Too Close
In general, there is an emotional dance that happens as you get to know somebody. Over time, the boundaries are renegotiated as trust is built and further access is allowed.
When the emotional walls are too high, this dance becomes interrupted as soon as the hidden tripwire is activated. And once this alarm sounds, the perceived interloper is immediately removed from the premises. Often for good.
There are certainly times when it is completely appropriate and healthy to remove somebody from your life. But if you have a history of cutting people out of your life, it may be a sign that you are afraid of letting them in. Examine your reasons for eliminating others from your life. Are they justified, or do they come down to excuses?
You Continually Choose Unavailable Partners
Do you know the best part about choosing unavailable partners? You always have a ready-made reason for the relationship not working out.
Consider who you are attracted to. Are they already in a relationship? Or are they hiding behind their own walls after facing heartbreak? Perhaps they are physically unavailable due to their location or the demands on their time?
When you’re staying in your comfort zone behind too-high emotional walls, unavailable partners are attractive because they will not try to get too close and they won’t challenge your duck-and-cover strategy. At the same time, accepting these partners is a guarantee that you will remain alone behind your walls.
You Become Defensive Whenever Somebody Questions Your Emotional Walls
“I’m not closed-off!” you insist when somebody notes your unwillingness to be vulnerable and authentic. “It’s just that I haven’t met the right person,” you continue, in an attempt to redirect the attention elsewhere. Or, perhaps you bring up your previous heartbreaks to justify your stance, “You would understand if you had felt pain like I have.”
A defensive response is often indicative of two things – 1) somebody is pushing against an area of tenderness and 2) they are uncovering some truth that you’re not ready to hear. Pay attention to who is hightailing your emotional walls. Are these people who are coming from a place of genuine concern (if so, it may behoove you to listen) or they predatory-types who want you to let them in (bye, Felecia)?
You Strive to Keep Areas of Your Life Completely Separated
It is completely normal to act differently with different people and to have distinct groups of friends related to areas of your life. But if you’re overly concerned about any overlap between these groups, it may be a sign that you’re trying to prevent any one person or group from getting to know you too well.
You Use Projection to Assume What Others Are Feeling
“They wouldn’t want to know,” you tell yourself as you bite your lip to avoid opening up. We all have a tendency to assume that others feel the way we do and to tell ourselves what we want to hear. Taken together, this means that when your emotional walls are too high, you are going to unconsciously reinforce that decision by assuming the intentions of those around you.
You Try to Control the Outcome
Ultimately, the construction and maintenance of emotional walls comes down to control. After experiencing the excruciating pain of loss, you strive to never feel it again. And since you cannot prevent others from leaving, you instead keep them from getting in.
And, of course, that is your choice. Letting down the walls carries with it some real risk. You may be invaded by those intending to do you harm. Or, you may find love only to suffer its end. Whenever we open ourselves to another, we are giving them the opportunity to cause pain.
The problems arise when we are not happy or fulfilled and we don’t recognize that ultimately we are the cause of our discontent. Or, more specifically, our self-made walls are. That those barricades that provided needed protection from the elements for healing to occur have now become obsolete or even detrimental.
At the end of the day, only you can decide for yourself –
Is love worth the risk?