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I don’t understand why I have so many problems working to make my life better. I honestly want to be happy, but I get so frustrated that it takes a long time and it’s hard to break out of old, negative ways of thinking. I’ve been told that I don’t let my guard down so people can get close to me. Why is it hard to allow myself to make changes to bring myself more happiness and learn how to trust other people?

There are so many ways that we might choose to guard ourselves against those things that we feel threaten us. There can be situations that bring up feelings of dread, fear, anger, terror, insecurity, or a zillion other uncomfortable emotions we would rather not feel.

…these methods to protect us can also serve to keep us from getting close to others or cause other forms of negativity to be developed in our lives.

Especially in our early development, we create ways of protecting ourselves from things that hurt. Sometimes, it is emotional distress from our home life, the ways that other kids can be cruel to us, or internal feelings that tear us down. It is normal for someone to develop ways to avoid feeling discomfort or pain. Unfortunately, these methods to protect us can also serve to keep us from getting close to others or cause other forms of negativity to be developed in our lives.

Trust is a scary lesson

Developing trust in others can be a huge challenge, especially for those who have experienced instability, betrayal, inconsistency, or abuse in their lives. Some learn through their experiences that not only is the world an unfair place, but it can be quite dangerous, as well. There can be lessons learned regarding the unhappy reality that putting your faith and safety in the hands of others may cause concerning things to happen in your life. These experiences can cause some to want to close themselves off from those threatening people, but the reality is that, often, these ways of protecting ourselves from hurtful people also have the strong potential to close us off from good ones as well.

Throughout our lives, we may choose to build a metaphorical, defensive wall to protect us. It may not seem like we have a choice due to our circumstances, especially when it is created out of a sense that our survival depends on it. Without building this type of emotional barrier, we may be overtaken by armies that intend to injure us. Our early development could have negatively impacted us with traumatic situations, dramatic people, or this could be because of our emotions.

For every tough moment, we risk cementing  in this wall. Depending on the frequency of distressing experiences or difficult people that enter our lives, our wall may be constructed quickly or with extremely strong reinforcement. We may be relatively unaware that it is even being constructed until the formidable structure stands before us.

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There are some barriers we create that are more like shorter retaining walls to keep a few things from spilling out. Think of these more like planters at your home that keep in dirt and your pretty perennials. There are a few items that may cause us to want to actively protect ourselves, but generally, we don’t feel that a huge defensive structure is necessary to feel safe.

Others may create more significantly sized walls in the hopes of protecting themselves from a variety of villains and threats, while some protect themselves without constructing a huge, defensive barrier. Other people’s walls may rival The Great Wall of China. It may appear to go on for a very long distance, be extremely high, and seem to be impenetrable. Sometimes, these are quite obvious to others, while other times, people may not realize they exist until they run into them.

The brick wall we use as armor

There are many types of materials that can be used to create these types of emotional barricades. For some where people can easily penetrate the emotional barrier, it may be created from soft materials like marshmallows or tissue paper. Other times, defenses need to be strengthened, and materials such as concrete, rebar, and metal spikes may be utilized to help ensure that entry will be extremely difficult and unlikely.

Sometimes, the selected material may be somewhat transparent so others can see what issues are being protected, while other times, it is opaque, and issues are rarely viewed. Not all of these protective barriers are impenetrable. Some people have made the effort to design a few doors and windows so the occasional, select people can enter beyond the barrier. The trust level must be high to allow these few individuals into someone’s life.

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In the real world, these types of emotional walls may come in a variety of forms and exist for several different reasons. Some work hard to create an amazingly strong outside appearance to hide the fact that they are feeling inadequate, unhappy, scared, threatened, or insecure. Others create a personality that might be considered off-putting, aggressive, or suspicious to keep people from getting close to them. Regardless of the style that someone shows to the world, these techniques are developed so they don’t have to let people get to know those parts of them which they perceive to be weak, undesirable, or unattractive.

Some may go as far as to believe that people would not like them if they knew what was being held behind those walls.

Unfortunately, these actions can be considered unhealthy and rarely help someone make friends or develop deeper relationships. They often also stop a person from working on their issues to heal from past distress. Most of the time, these behaviors only support feelings of distrust and paranoia while reinforcing the belief that hiding these insecurities is necessary for survival. Some may go as far as to believe that people would not like them if they knew what was being held behind those walls.

Breaking down these barriers can take a lifetime of effort, but it doesn’t necessarily have to take that long. There are techniques that can be helpful and effective in reducing the negative impact of building these barriers. Sometimes, the equivalent of a little hammer and chisel can chip away slowly at a wall, while other times, a sledgehammer, wrecking ball, or dynamite can be a quicker solution.

Brick by brick, it crumbles

The first step is to determine what issues are keeping you from trusting others. Take time to think about the people and situations that lead you to lose faith in the goodness of people in general or to think that the world is a perilous place. Prioritize which of these beliefs may be either the easiest to work on or the most negatively impactful in your life. Beginning this process can feel daunting, but it is important to start working on it.

Think about who you currently have around you that you might trust with knowing some of your protected secrets. These special individuals can help you get used to sharing those parts of your life that have been trapped behind a wall and likely hidden from others. Over time, you may feel more comfortable with others or realize that trustworthy people exist in your life who are not out to hurt or take advantage of you. Healing can happen slowly or quickly, so be careful not to give up too quickly or without a fight.

Challenge yourself to not be so concerned that you will get hurt. Often, the fear of experiencing pain keeps us from working on ways to move forward. Also, realize that hopefully, you have developed more effective and healthier ways of dealing with difficult people and situations than you had when you were younger. It is time to start tearing down these walls so others can see you in all your splendor, including the things you felt like hiding from the world. These experiences make up who we are and should be embraced instead of locked away.