“We build walls to keep things in or to keep things out. We build them ourselves or someone else builds them for us. They provide a sense of protection and comfort or prevent us from feeling the rest of our emotions”.
We, humans, are emotionally fragile and vulnerable. We are vulnerable to illness, to aging, to failure, to losing our loved ones and possessions. That's the vulnerability of life. After experiencing heartbreak, everyone is a little more hesitant to love again, a little less likely to fall for someone so easily. You’d rather let that person go instead of letting him/her in because it’s safer this way. This is how you protect your heart. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with others means first accepting vulnerability in ourselves and this is contrary to our ego who likes to believe that we are stronger and better than others. Sometimes we even manage to convince ourselves but deep down we are terrified of dying, hurting, and failing. To protect ourselves, we build up our egos, our emotional fences, our defense mechanisms, that tell us that we are the exception, that those scary things we think will never happen to us and that we should not allow others to come to close to us.
The brain develops emotional walls in order to protect us from anxious thoughts or feelings, from the possible rejection, hurt, and abandonment coming from someone else. Emotional walls aren’t inherently bad—they allow people to navigate through painful experiences or channel their energy more productively, however, they become problematic when they are applied too frequently or for too long. They are not usually constructed out conscious efforts but unconscious efforts due to negative past experiences, fear, and interaction with others. We build fences out of our insecurities, self-defined inadequacies, our lack of faith or our approval from others. We build fences to protect a broken heart or to hide who we really are. Sometimes we build fences to not be wrongly defined by society as we might have the perception that releasing our emotional pain might make us look weak and abnormal. At the very least we might feel concerned that our uninhibited "emoting" might lead others to take us less seriously than they might have otherwise. The bottom line here is that we don't trust that others by responding to our open-heartedness in caring, supportive ways—safeguard or validate our vulnerability. Additionally, we may not trust ourselves to successfully cope with their response, whatever it is. And, assuming we're in a self-protective mode, we're certainly not going to offer them the opportunity to make us feel any worse than we may already be feeling.
Emotional fence building starts early in life. Unfortunately, these fences get reinforced and strengthened as time goes by. Sometimes they are a good thing, but they can also lead to isolation and resentment. All of the terrible things we feel after being rejected, betrayed or treated poorly by a lover will inevitably lead us to shield ourselves from future discomfort; but that same shield will keep us away from experiencing vulnerability and connection with others and even though vulnerability is perceived as weakness, it is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love. Over time, our walls become taller, thicker, and stronger and they don’t just keep people away from us, they also keep us from moving forward. Like fences surrounding a prison, we become emotional prisoners and a critical component to set ourselves free from our walls is to identify what is keeping us a prisoner. Identifying and exploring what those barriers are gives us perspective, self-compassion and thus the catalyst to start the healing process. No matter what feelings arise, there is a huge reward in persevering and allowing ourselves to be undefended and vulnerable. While it may feel frightening at first, like sailing out upon an uncharted sea, giving up our defenses is a way of liberating ourselves and opening ourselves up to novel possibilities.
“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.