Here is one of the downsides of walking around guarding yourself. The obstacles you have in place preventing you from giving and receiving love may transfer to people you care about very much.
They have to build their own walls to protect themselves from you.
Remember that they just want love, too. It can be too painful to want love that you are not getting, so they might begin to retreat from you and hide behind their own walls. That doesn’t mean they are silent and withdrawn necessarily. People hide behind all kinds of things…bubbly, funny, calm, dependable…everybody has their own mask and if you know someone well enough, you can feel how that mask is like a cement wall between their tender heart and yours.
That can be especially hard to swallow if you decide you don’t want to block love anymore. You are finally ready to be loved and love, but this person you love so much doesn’t want to let you in.
It can’t always be undone either. All you can really do is work on removing your own blocks and hope that over time you become “safe” and they will be able to trust that you can love them just how they are. But they may not choose that. You can’t make someone bring their wall down. You can’t do it for them. They have to decide to do it themselves.
And boy is it easy to judge yourself for this.
I’ve done that way too many times. I’ve witnessed the way my children have grown to protect themselves and seen how familiar it looks. Too familiar. And if I am honest with myself, it’s not really surprising. I have to turn back towards me in those moments and acknowledge that I’m largely responsible for it. When that was too painful because of all of the guilt and shame that went with it, I would cover it up with a story.
But it’s all just a story.
And I’m not the only one who tells it. People everywhere who have loved from behind a wall have taught the people in their lives how to love “safely” and when faced with the truth of that, made up excuses and rationalizations for it.
And really, it doesn’t matter if they’ve already got their guard up. Like I said, we can’t bring the safe house they’re building down. Only they can.
We can kick and scream and tell them we want them to let us in, but they might not. When we can’t fix the situation we’ve created, it’s tempting to go back to judging ourselves as being the worst parent, spouse, sibling, friend ever. But that is the absolute opposite of what we need to do.
It is because we judged ourselves in the first place that we started to live behind our wall. And it is because we judged others that they began to live behind their walls. All any of us ever really wanted was to be loved and when that love wasn’t given to us freely, we built some protection. We hid safely behind our own mask.
The very first and most important thing we can do is accept ourselves as we are.
Acceptance of all the flaws we have and mistakes we have made. That has to happen in order for us to love ourselves. We need that ability to love ourselves in order to come out from behind our walls to love others. Think about it. If we know that we are lovable and worthy, we don’t need to seek that evidence in someone else’s judgment of us. And the better we get at accepting ourselves, the better we get at accepting other people so that they don’t need their own wall to feel okay with us.
But it starts with us. And as painful as it may be to witness the walls people have built as a response to us, it is the perfect place to begin. Acceptance isn’t only for when we are pleased with ourselves. Acceptance is necessary in every moment, especially the ones we are tempted to be ashamed about. Acceptance and love for ourselves. Acceptance and love for others.
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We all have an internal security system that is designed to protect us from harm.
The reality is that in the process of doing that, it is also keeping us from something we all crave desperately. Love.
There is a security measure outside some important buildings that isn’t visible until a threat exists. When an unauthorized vehicle crosses a certain threshold near the building, it automatically triggers heavy barriers to rise from the ground via an electronic system. The barriers rise to protect the building from the oncoming “threat”.
This is basically what our ego is doing to protect us. We are the important building and the threat is anything that has the potential of hurting us. The ego is always on high alert for dangers and if anything ventures close to threatening our sense of worthiness, alarms go off and the system is tripped.
The security system the ego uses is our judgment.
When we are coming from a place of judgment, meaning right/wrong good/bad thinking, we are creating barriers between ourselves and other people.
The obvious threats are people who have qualities or do actions that don’t align with our values and who we want to be. If I judge someone else as cruel, critical, selfish, negative, judgmental, etc…, I am setting myself apart from them by assigning them undesirable characteristics I want to believe I don’t have. Look at me though. I’m not “bad” like that.
The less obvious threats are people who have qualities or do things that DO align with our values and who we want to be. If coming into contact with people like that causes us to conclude we are falling short, even they can become a threat. That can lead to judging ourselves as cruel, critical, selfish, negative, judgmental, etc… I am setting myself apart from others by assigning myself undesirable characteristics I believe other people don’t have. Look at me though. I’m not “good” like that.
Either way, the security system has been activated. When that happens, causing us to judge, the barriers automatically come up. A virtual cement wall arises between us and other people. Sadly, love cannot penetrate that wall. We are not simultaneously able to truly love others (or ourselves) and stand in judgment of them.
The sensitivity of your alarm system is an indication of two things: how badly you want to be loved and how afraid you are of not being loved. The more you judge is an indicator of how little love you are feeling. We do a lot less judging when we feel a lot of love in our lives.
Unfortunately, the passive step of waiting for the love to come so that we can judge less is totally backwards and not going to work. Oddly, that’s the one we so often pick. The active step of eliminating the judgment is what disengages the security system so that love can flow without barrier.
Judgment, like jealousy, is simply a mental action. Instead of thinking about it as something that just arises that we don’t have control of in the moment (like emotions), think about it as something that we DO control. And the good news is that we can change our actions. Maybe we are doing it unconsciously, but it is something we can pull into our conscious attention and work on. It’s just an undesirable habit we are participating in without thinking (like biting our nails).
The steps are simple but not easy.
Why does our ego do this?
But before we get into the action steps, let’s focus our attention on the why. This is challenging work that requires some diligence. By having a clear reason for doing it, we are connected to something important to us to so that we can stay motivated when we are in the sticky moments.
The why here is the biggest why of our human existence. Our why is to be connected to love, to be loving and to be loved.
That’s it. There is no greater endeavor than to remove all of the obstacles we put in place keeping us from experiencing the love that we are capable of giving and the love we are worthy of receiving.
If you haven’t focused in on judgment before, step one can be surprisingly tough but gets easier over time the more you work with it (shoot, okay I’m biting my nails here, now what?).
After you notice yourself judging, you’ll move to step two. What will you do instead? What is the opposite of judgment? It is acceptance. So, we want to reinforce acceptance as the replacement habit of judgment.
Here are a couple of practices to consider.
This is ongoing work. Just like we are all united in our desire to be connected by love, we are also united in that we have egos and that our egos will always try to judge. That’s okay. We are human. I, like so many, have made the commitment to work towards disabling my security system so that I can be loved and love generously myself. Won’t you join me?
Loss of intimacy is painful.
The truth is that people get hurt in intimate relationships and when we get hurt, it all seems to boil down to someone breaking the rules on us. Unfortunately, the rules that are being broken are often ones we create in our minds rather than ones we agree on with our intimate partners.
Rule #1: Certain relationships are supposed to be intimate.
Sometimes the rules are ones we invent about how relationships are supposed to be. When people we think we should be having an intimate relationship with don’t let us in, that is painful. That withholding feels like a rejection.
So often in life our expectations of others are what cause much of our suffering. We never have their signed agreement for what we are going to hold them to, and yet we hold them to it. When they don’t show up as outlined in the contract, we are disappointed and hurt. But really, aren’t we responsible for that? That is our story, our invention. We don’t have to see it as a rejection.
It can be equally frustrating when one of the people in a relationship that has never had true intimacy suddenly wants it. That feels like the rules are being broken, too. Hey, we never agreed to be intimate. Why are you ruining everything now?
Rule #2: Once intimate, always intimate
Sometimes it feels like there was an agreement that has suddenly been breached. We have known intimacy with another person. They let us in, at least a little. We responded and the dance began. And then, they push us out and slam the door or close it gently when we’re not paying attention or shut it slowly and painfully. When that sacred exchange ends, it can feel like a promise has been broken.
But there was never a promise. Even when we have an intimate connection with somebody, neither person is agreeing to remain intimate forever. Two people can even honor a marriage bond until death, but end the intimacy dance at any time or even never begin it at all. Without knowing it, you might assume that promise when you have become intimate with someone. That makes the suffering that much worse when you are shut out.
This has happened to me. Once I made a beautiful friend who I adored. We had genuine love. We were close. I can’t tell you what she might have said about her experience of our friendship. I can only tell you my experience of it and it felt intimate, like I let her in and she let me in and we were engaged in the dance. We spent a summer apart and when we were back together again, things were different. I didn’t know why. I just felt the distance and felt it gradually widen between us, and I could feel that the door had been shut on me.
The whole experience hurt so much. It was one of the most painful moments in my life story, and the source of the pain was the loss of intimacy. One moment the door was open and the next, the dance was over. I had assumed it would go on for always (or at least for as long as I was open).
I felt like I wasn’t worth letting in anymore, like it was a rejection of who I was. That shut me down for a long time.
When something like that happens, we could just accept that the dance is over and the other person is moving on, because it is time for them to do that. We could stand steady in the belief that there will be other intimate relationships and those, too, may not last but will be a wonderful experience. But we don’t. We feel discarded, unworthy. Something must be wrong with us that their door is closed, and they’ve shut us out.
The pain of that can cause us to retreat and close our own door, hesitant to open it again. We might even lock it and turn the lights off. That was my response. It took me a long time to be willing to open myself up again. I’m always impressed with people who can get back in the game more quickly than I did, especially when they come back fully open. It is beautiful to watch when someone suffers a hurt, nurses their wound, and then is able to open up and go all in the next time. I am inspired by that. I aspire to that.
What if we were able to release these rules? What if we were able to believe there are no guarantees of intimacy in a friendship, marriage, or partnership, while still remaining open to the possibilities? What if we were able to accept the end of intimacy with the simple notion that it had run its course? What if we could navigate all of this without connecting it to our worthiness, or as a rejection of who we are?
That would be beautiful, wouldn’t it?
Intimacy is sharing each other’s truths.
Intimacy is when you open the door to who you really are, the real self that lies behind the ego, and welcome someone inside. Maybe you don’t show her around the entire house, but she gets to see parts of you that are authentic. It is an offering where you surrender your safety to show another person the real you.
In order to make it true intimacy, the other person opens his door and welcomes you in. It requires a shared action. You have to invite her in and say, “Let me show you this about me.” That takes courage and often means taking a risk, but someone has to begin the intimacy dance. And, it must be reciprocal. Each offering is accepted and another invitation is offered.
The starting point of intimacy involves risk and vulnerability. If you are the first one to open your door and extend an invitation, you let go of safety because you also invite the possibility of everything you fear.
But if the risk pays off, the other person accepts your offering and invites you through her door, you must meet her in the same way. You have to recognize that she is willing to take that risk in return and decide to accept her truth, too. You might see something that makes you feel uncomfortable, even afraid. But if you truly desire intimacy with her, you must also accept her offering. When you do, this becomes a sacred exchange. In an energetic sense, you are offering and accepting a piece of each other’s most true self. It is a connection between your spirits who are connected to a universal energy, a truly beautiful thing.
This is why it is so utterly painful to lose that intimacy with another person. And why it is agony to try to offer yourself to someone and never be able to create that intimate connection. I can relate so many heartaches in my life to moments where I so badly wanted intimacy that didn’t exist or intimacy that was somehow lost.
So far, I’ve been talking about intimacy between adults. These are romantic relationships, friendships, and the family relationships you have once everyone has grown up. Intimacy is a little different between a child and an adult. It isn’t always appropriate for a parent to share his or her big adult secrets with a child. What a child needs is to feel genuine and real loving emotions from a parent. He needs to know that what he is feeling and being told is the truth. He also needs to feel his secrets are safe and that he will be accepted for who he is.
I remember very clearly the first intimate relationship I ever had. Entering high school, I had never experienced intimacy. I didn’t know how to do it or what it felt like. The result of transitioning from Catholic school to public school between junior high and high school was that I didn’t know anybody. I had no friend to walk with through that experience. Before school started, the freshman were instructed to go to the school, pick up our schedules, find our lockers, and give ourselves a self-directed orientation to the campus.
On pick-up-your-schedule day, my mom sent me to the school to go through all of those tasks alone. Maybe I told her I wanted to go alone, maybe she thought I wouldn’t want a mom tagging along, maybe she was busy (I do have four younger siblings). I don’t remember. I just know that I ended up there by myself - totally not a problem for an independent girl like me. Until I got to my locker. I never had a locker before. How the hell do you open a locker? I couldn’t get the damn thing open.
As I struggled, an angel appeared. That’s all I remember. She helped me open my locker and from then on, we became inseparable. We told our secrets and shared our truths. She accepted everything about me I chose to show her. I accepted all of her offerings. That was the closest I ever felt to someone in my life up until that point.
A few years later, our intimacy was interrupted. I say interrupted, because we always manage to make it back to each other. It felt like we were simultaneously not opening up to each other and also not letting each other in, and both of us were utterly perplexed about the whole thing. She was suddenly angry at me and I didn’t know why. I was angry, because she wouldn’t tell me why. But when all was said and done, she really needed me to accept her offering and I really needed her to open the door. Sometimes teenagers (and intimate partners everywhere) just don’t know how to do that.
But I remember how much it hurt. Once you’ve established that intimacy, nothing feels worse than to feel its absence, the hole where it once was. Looking back, it was like I was on the outside of the door knocking desperately yelling, “Let me in, let me in!” while she stood on the inside of the door trying with all her might to open it yelling, “I’m trying, I’m trying. I don’t know how!” But that is from where I stand now, looking back. At the time, all either of us heard from the other person was silence.
At other times in my intimate relationships I have wanted in but was too hurt to ask. And I have also closed my own door and refused to open it even when I’m hearing the pounding on the other side.
In fact, one of my big life realizations was that I had been standing on my porch with my door securely locked behind me for years, making polite conversation with everyone, visiting them as they opened their doors for me, but almost never letting anyone into my truth. I reluctantly let a few people slip through, but only a few.
That is no way to live and it is no way to love. I know that now. Love requires risk and vulnerability, and intimacy most certainly does.