She believes that she isn’t pretty enough to be loved, so she pretends to be not the kind who falls in love. In reality she is just afraid to trust her heart to those who could easily tear it apart. Therefore she begins building a wall. To create a world, where no broken hearts exist and not even the pretty girls get kissed. ~Lina C.
Usually adult males who are unable to make emotional connections with the women they chose to be intimate with are frozen in time, unable to allow themselves to love for fear that the loved one will abandon them. ~bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love
When we put our running shoes on and fight tooth and nail to hide from someone, it’s because that’s the person who really matters. That’s the one person you fear will see what’s inside you and cringe. You’d rather live with the not-knowing than to give it a chance. ~Rebel Farris, Pivot Line
All of us want to be loved. We want to be accepted. We want to be seen, held, adored. We want to have someone else look at us in that way, with those eyes, that say they see us, all of us, and they want us, all of us.
We want to be loved not despite our “flaws,” but because of them.
We want to feel at home, to be able to rest, in another’s arms. To set down our masks, to let down our walls.
We want emotional intimacy, to be understood, to deeply connect in ways that are beyond words, beyond sex, beyond the now, reaching out into the infinite.
We want all of this.
And because of our complex trauma, because of our attachment wounds, because of fear, we, consciously and unconsciously, prevent any of this from happening.
We close ourselves off.
We bottle up our hurts.
We keep our masks on and our armor up.
We don’t express our needs. Our wants. Our desires.
We don’t share who we are, what we like, what we enjoy.
We bend, and bend, and bend, until we break.
We push people away when they offer help, when it feels like they are getting too close, when it appears they are starting to actually see us.
This is a survival response.
We relate to others in this way because that is how our brains were wired to respond to people who love us. Because when we were young, the people who loved us caused harm. They hurt us – physically, sexually, psychologically, emotionally. They abandoned us, either physically or emotionally. When we would try to express ourselves, our wants or needs, we were silenced. We were told we were too much, too needy, too demanding. We were told we weren’t enough, not smart enough, not good enough.
Because of all this, our internal survival systems did everything they had to do to make sure we would survive, to makes sure our caregivers actually took care of us, to make sure they kept loving us so we wouldn’t die.
Neural pathways grew during critical times that taught us how to hide, how to protect ourselves, how to detach, how to expect disappointment, pain, heartache. Over and over and over.
These neural pathways are still active. They probably will be active for our entire lives.
We can grow new neural pathways. We can encourage these old ones to atrophy. They may never disappear, but they can have less influence, we can learn how to manage them better and move more and more quickly into new, more connected ways of being.
These old neural pathways are based in fear. Literally based in the fear of death. It’s not conscious. It is instinct. These neural pathways kept us alive as children, because in different ways our lives were at risk.
We aren’t those little ones anymore. We are adults now. We aren’t living in those chaotic or neglectful homes anymore. We live in the homes of our creation. We aren’t reliant on caregivers who abuse or neglect us anymore. We are reliant on ourselves.
But our systems don’t understand this. Our neural pathways, what informs the ways we are in the world, the ways we are in relationship with ourselves and others, they want to keep us safe because they don’t fully understand that we aren’t in those situations anymore, that we aren’t dependent on those caregivers anymore.
So we close off. We lash out. We push and pull.
All the while longing to connect. Longing for love. Longing for intimacy.
Growing new neural pathways, learning to do different, calming our fear response… this is intense work. Embodiment is one of the keys.
And we can be fully embodied and still emotionally closed off.
So we need to practice vulnerability. We need to practice sharing what we want, what we need, with the people we care about.
We need to practice sharing parts of ourselves we have hidden.
We need to practice receiving love, compliments, adoration.
We need to practice setting boundaries and respecting boundaries without creating stories about what it means or doesn’t mean about our own worth, about how lovable we are, about how much or little the other person loves us.
We need to practice curiosity. Asking questions. Of ourselves. Of others.
We need to practice having uncomfortable and even terrifying conversations.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
And while we do this, we need to remember to love ourselves. To have compassion for ourselves. To know we aren’t going to always get it right. That it will come out wrong. That sometimes those old neural pathways will keep us in fear.
And to keep practicing.
Because that connection we long for, that intimacy we crave, those kinds of relationships we desperately want – won’t happen if we don’t do the work of allowing it in.
This essay was originally written for my weekly-ish newsletter on July 12, 2020. It has been revised for publication here. To receive my most recent essays, you can subscribe here.
We will be exploring these ideas, and how to change the ways we are in our relationships with others and with ourselves in my new six month group Trauma Informed Embodiment™ for Relationship. You can learn more about it here.