When you build walls to protect yourself from getting hurt, you not only prevent the pain from getting in, but you’re also locking out all the love, the affection, and the care that you so badly crave. I learned that the hard way.
WHY BUILD WALLS?
As an introverted kid, I was often more involved in my personal fantasy world than in the world around me, I had unique thoughts, ideas, and behaviors that often got me into trouble with the authority figures in my life. And when that happened, I was promptly disciplined in ways that I now know are unethical, unproductive, and also tread the line of abuse. I often had no idea I’d done something wrong until I was kneeling in a small corner of a dark room told to think about what I’d done or reeling from the shock of being slapped in the face without warning. For me, life was unpredictable. At some point, I started to believe that there must be something wrong with me.
The shift began just before high school and only got worst from there. I went from being outspoken and adventurous, a year round athlete and academically gifted, to being quiet and hesitant. I shied away from competition, quit playing my favorite sport, because it started to feel unbearably intense and confrontational. I feared sharing my opinion and I blunted my emotions and my personality, shoving everything down; my feelings, my beliefs, my desires… until there was nothing left of my identity. I began to move to the tune that others wanted me to, afraid that if I deviated from that, I’d be punished. I felt small and worthless, like nothing I did mattered.
So, I stopped trying. I stopped trying to connect with others. I stopped trying to do well in school. And I stopped caring about everything and everyone that was important to me. I put up this invisible barrier between myself and the world to ensure that, no matter what happened to me, nothing would hurt me again.
When I got to college, I lived in pain every single day. I felt disconnected from the world around me. Even worst, I felt disconnected from myself. I could sleep for 10-12 hours a day and still feel tired, eat an entire pizza and still feel hungry, get an A in one of my classes and feel like I was failing, attend a party with 20 of my closest friends and still feel like I was alone. And what hurt the most was the physical tension I felt, in my belly, in my throat, and in my heart. Sometimes, when I got so overwhelmed, I couldn’t breathe. I’d lay down on the cold, marble floor of my dorm room and close my eyes until all the thoughts about how miserable my life was faded away or, if that didn’t happen, until I fell asleep.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe how bad it was. But what I’ve learned in the 14 years I spent studying psychology, is that shutting down your emotions doesn’t change the reality you live in. It only blocks you from seeing the foul truth that lays in front of you. And eventually, something’s gotta give. In time, either your wall will crumble or you will.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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Also, stay tuned for the continuation of this piece: How To Tear Down Your Walls