“Most of us spend our lives protecting ourselves from losses that have already happened.” ~Geneen Roth
I love this quote! The truth of it just cuts me to my core. We all do this. Every single one of us. And yet, this pattern, this defense mechanism, leaves none of us feeling safe, fulfilled, or loved.
The moments, minutes, years, and decades we spend trying to protect ourselves from hurts we’ve experienced in our pasts mean we are not able to focus on, connect with, and let in all the good, all the love, that surrounds us in the now. It keeps us reliving, over and over again, the hurts of our past.
At points in our lives, building walls around our hearts in hopes of shielding ourselves from heartache may feel like our only option, and truth be told, at points, it is.
How we look at, and understand, this defense mechanism of barricade building determines if it’s helpful or hurtful to us in the long run.
Now I know that your first response to this is most likely, “This building walls thing is something I am doing wrong. If I had better Self-Esteem I wouldn’t need to build walls around myself.” Right? Wrong! Constructing barricades to protect ourselves is a loving response that our body does instinctively.
The act of creating barricades is Self-Esteem.
See there’s this whole part of our brain that’s only job, only purpose for existing, is to keep us safe. It’s like the biggest, most elaborate, fastest processing filing system ever invented. I like to picture it as a little guy (or girl) living in my brain literally doing nothing but taking in information and putting it into “Safe” or “Unsafe” categories.
To keep things running smoothly, and keep up with the necessary pace, the little dude created a system so that like things are filed together or associated. With me so far?
So, when new information, especially emotional, visceral, and physical information enter our brain’s “inbox” our little dude checks to see if it feels like something we’ve experienced before, or reminds us on an emotional level of something that’s happened to us in the past. If so, he stamps the new the information with “safe” or “unsafe” based on the past, not necessarily based on what is currently happening.
This system of associating like experiences is the only process this little dude knows. With the amount of information rushing his inbox, this is his way of not letting things slip through the cracks.
It’s his way of saying, “Hey, watch out! Did you see that potential iceberg ahead?”
It’s his way of protecting us.
It’s the single most loving thing that we do for ourselves. Period.
OK, so now what?
If you are anything like me, or everyone I’ve ever had this conversation with, your response to this new information is something like, “OK, so now what do I do? How do I make it stop?”
The intriguing part, (why I absolutely love about my job, BTW)… asking these very questions is your little dude working hard to figure out if this information should be marked “safe” or “unsafe.”
It’s like he received something unfamiliar in his inbox, and he’s got 1 second to stamp it and file it away. He’s activated. He wants desperately to know if he needs to warn you. He doesn’t want to let you down, or leave you unprotected. So it’s his nerves, his hurry up and figure this out that we end up experiencing and leads us to jump to the “now what” questions.
This is how amazingly hard our little dude works! Everything, absolutely everything that happens to us, goes through his inbox. And if we don’t realize it, if don’t pay attention to him, then he has no choice but to associate more and more things into the “Unsafe” category- because he loves us.
Learn to Embrace Your “Little Dude”
The first and most important step in changing this lighting fast process is simply embracing our little dude.
Learning about, understanding, and acknowledging our “little dude” is how we learn to love the parts of us that might have been a source of frustration at times. It’s how we learn to move beyond the hurts of our past. It’s also how we reconnect with our Self-Worth.
Acknowledging that there is, in fact, this little dude working away to keep us safe, is the only way that we can start to work with him, begin to take things off his plate, and start a new association file.
When we work with him we are able to slow the process down, and review each thing entering our/his “inbox” with care and uniqueness. This way, when something comes in that reminds us of a hurt from our past, something that already happened, we can review what is currently happening, and our current level of safety, versus associating it with the wounds of our past. It may feel the same, or remind us of a past loss, but when we slow down and look at the current information separately we may find that we are completely safe now. That we are blocking something good from coming in, because we are protecting ourselves from the past.
Now, there may have to be conversations with our little dude as we undertake this new process. We may have to reassure him, sometimes over and over again, that although this reminds us of the past, it is not the past, so it’s OK to label the new event as “safe.” Again, because he loves us, and wants to protect us, he’s all about associating more and more with our “unsafe” file. We, our conscious self, our core self, are the only one’s with the power of veto. We alone are the only one who can work with him to reorganize the process of protection.
Accept Not Judge
This can’t be done though judgement. Judgement is only going to make him feel under attack, and pull up that huge “unsafe” file he’s been working on.
The only way to begin to work with him is to acknowledge him. Love him. See his work as a loving response. A protective response. A beautiful barricade.
Then, and only then, can we start the process of organization.
Working with him, loving him, appreciating him, is how we begin to let the now happen. It’s how we stop protecting ourselves from what has already happened, which leaves us isolated from the good that happening now, and how we begin to let light and love shine in; and, my friends, this is how we reconnect with our core self.