By Michael Kimmel | Life Beyond Therapy
So many of us feel lonely. We spend countless hours on Instagram or other social media trying to feel connected, like we matter to someone. And yet, with “real” people, we put up walls to keep them at a distance so that they can’t hurt or use us; then we wonder why we feel isolated and alone.
Every time we can lower our walls, so we can step or climb over them, we have a chance to connect with another real (not virtual) person. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have healthy boundaries to take good care of ourselves, but it does mean that we are willing to lower our wall and let others in.
This, of course, can be terrifying.
The wall of loneliness keeps us safe as it isolates us. It’s a paradox. When you’ve been really hurt (and, honestly, who hasn’t?), it’s awfully tempting to put up a big, tall, strong wall to protect yourself against future pain.
There are many good reasons to put up walls. Look at the countless ways that we human beings inflict pain on each other: wealthy companies exploit their workers; violated women and men struggle to recover from trauma; abused children are emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives. When you see/visit prisons, nursing homes and hospitals and hear the cries of the poor and lonely, it can tear you apart.
Just writing that paragraph leaves me feeling overwhelmed and depressed. And in a world where Trump is (still) president, there are many reasons to erect and maintain our own thick, high walls of protection.
But, fortunately, there are even more, and better reasons to begin to lower those walls:
If you want to love and be loved, your wall sure gets in the way.
If you feel that your life is narrow and boring, lowering your wall could change that.
If you feel disconnected from people, nature and animals/plants, being able to jump over your wall could feel really good.
I used to have a client whose session always began with me asking her: “How high is your wall today?” Then, she would use her hands to show me: on a bad day the wall would be very high, maybe even above her head. No one was going to get over that wall, and that was her intent. On a good day, her wall was quite low, low enough to let new people, places and experiences in.
Over time, the wall got lower and lower. It never completely went away, nor should it. We all have days that we feel overwhelmed and need to put up our wall to keep too much stimuli out. But, the question is, how long will you leave your wall like that? How long do you need to keep everyone out?
Here are three ideas on how to work with your wall:
- Ask yourself, on a regular basis: “How high is my wall today?” It will tell you a lot about how you feel about yourself, your world and your life.
- Don’t try and force yourself to lower the wall — that will just make you more anxious and uncomfortable. Instead, notice how high the wall is and see if you’d like to lower it a bit…or not. It’s your wall and it’s there for your protection: use it as you like.
- If you notice that your wall is awfully high for a long time, it could be good to take a look at your life and see what you’re afraid of. I suggest making a list, “Things I’m Afraid Of,” and write them all down. Get this stuff out of your head and onto the list, then take a look at it. Some things on the list may be “big” stuff like “losing my job,” “my relationship ending,” or “my best friend has cancer.” Some things, however, are likely to be smaller, more manageable. I suggest you start with one or two of these smaller fears and begin to work with them.
Take small steps to work with your wall and don’t be surprised when it starts to come down (slowly) and your life feels richer, more alive and filled with love.
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.