I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple weeks not only about how we give love to ourselves and to one another, but also how we receive love from ourselves and from one other, and the challenges we have with each. Often, in an effort to protect ourselves after having been hurt in the past, we build walls up around us that prevent people from getting into our hearts and emotional bodies. I mean, if they can’t get in, they can’t hurt us, right?
Sometimes those walls show up as distance, detachment, anger, aloofness. We don’t trust people, we aren’t open with our true feelings and emotions, we fake our way through social situations and surface level friendships, just for the sake of maintaining appearances without feeling true connection. We feel, speak, and act in bitter or cynical, jaded ways; we stay quiet and let life happen around us and in our presence, without ever feeling like we’re truly a part of it.
Sometimes, those walls are sneakier, and are disguised as appearing to be overly giving and loving. We do anything for anyone, we pick up the cheque over and over again, we say “yeah, of course, I can do that for you,” and we never experience – or even expect – the reciprocity. We never accept an offer of help or kindness or generosity in return. Why? Because at a baseline level, we are terrified that if we do let people in to help us, to love us, that they will let us down (again), reject us (again), leave us feeling more alone than we were before (again).
This is the sneakiest wall, because it is such an excellent parakeet of being an awesome person: giving, helping, and loving freely are highly desirable qualities as a human. Selflessness and unconditional love are saint-level traits that are aspirational on many levels to a lot of us. And while some people are able to act in those ever altruistic ways from a natural and healthy place, for many more it is a veil. A veil that is very, very easy to wear and keep on, because it elicits all kinds of good and well-intentioned things: you become known as the person who is reliable, dependable, always happy, constantly “on,” capable of doing anything, and making the whole damn thing look effortless.
When you dig a little deeper though, often the need to be constantly giving, endlessly pouring out without ever allowing someone to fill your cup back up, comes from a place of insecure attachment, that makes you feel an illusion of safety and security: “If I just keep giving and doing, I can fill the space with my action, and I won’t even invite the opportunity to be disappointed. I will do everything on my own, and in that way, I will protect myself from the horrible feeling of not being cared for.”
Volumes have been written on the concept, power, and beauty of vulnerability. By allowing ourselves to be real and vulnerable, we open ourselves up to the possibility of rejection and pain. But it is through that opening up process that we learn the most about ourselves, release (or at least loosen the grip on) our need to control, develop resiliency, and learn not to build full on walls, but to set appropriate, loving boundaries that make our tribe feel welcome, without making us feel like a welcome mat; boundaries that are rooted in respecting and valuing ourselves first, so that we can show others around us how we wish – and need – to be treated.
Typically – not always, but typically, due to a whole clusterfuck of a system in which we raise boys and girls with entire different messages and expectations – women tend to have a “harder” time establishing these boundaries than men do. But regardless of your gender, or your upbringing, or the gravity of your past relationships and ensuing break ups, if you are someone reading this who feels that gut punching “oh fuuuuuck. That’s me; I totally over do it to protect myself from getting hurt” then I want you to think about if the love you’re giving out is in opposition to letting love come in. And then I want you to do something for me this week, that is really doing something for you:
I want you to let yourself receive kindness. Help. Pleasure. Generosity. Unsolicited love. Compliments. This will all appear somewhere and some how over the course of the next few days, and when it does, please please please just say “thank you,” as you let it in. You are worth it, and worthy of it. At the end of each day, write down all the ways in which you received love today – a journaling practice that will push you to a new point of awareness, and will amplify your level of self love.
Letting love in might take practice, particularly if you’ve been living a life guided by the subconscious pattern of shutting it out. Like any new skill, you just need to do it over and over again, flexing and developing that new muscle until it becomes strong and healthy. Practice patience and kindness towards yourself, and make space for reflection; slowly but surely you will change those old patterns and create new ones that find your feeling safer, more grounded, and not only open but able to receive love in ways you may have never felt before.
Heavy, right? And on the path to feeling a new lightness. Good luck out there.