When you were a child, and you were hurt by an adult, you put up emotional walls to protect yourself from hurt, and to hold in anger. You didn’t have the tools yet to deal with hurt and anger. The walls were useful while you were learning what it was all about. Maybe someone told you, “Don’t cry.” or “Be a big girl (boy).” You probably knew that expressing anger toward adults was not wise in most cases. So, you needed walls to keep hurt out and anger in. The more severely you were hurt as a child, the higher and the thicker your walls are. Children do not have to be hurt directly to build high walls. They watch how adults in their lives handle hurt and anger. If the adults have high walls, the children learn that, too. If parents pay too little attention to children they build crusty, jagged walls.
In some cases the walls last until adulthood. As some people grow, they may learn to put windows or doors in their walls. Some learn to put them up and down at will. Some walls never come down for any reason. You can put your walls down at any time in your life as you learn the tools to deal with emotions.
The walls keep out hurt, keep in anger, but they also keep out love and caring. Love comes in many forms. Love is as vital to our well-being as air and water. Love heals wounds, keeps us well, and teaches us new skills. As adults we can learn that the job of life is not to avoid pain with thick walls, but to learn to cope with it and learn from it. We miss too much that is important in life when our walls are too high or too thick.
When we fall in love, we start to put those walls down. We think, “Here is someone I can trust.” Since all relationships have joy and pain, when we feel hurt, we put our walls back up. Then we don’t feel pain, or anger, but we also don’t feel love and joy. When relationships are healthy, we can put our walls back down fairly quickly, so that both partners can work on solving the problems and experience the love. When a partner continues to hurt you and is unable to stop, it may be time to walk away and that is difficult and painful. Then you have to decide where your walls will be for the next relationship. Where are your walls? What are they made of? Do you know?
You can never truly love another person and be loved in return unless you first love yourself. I have had many people ask me “What does that mean? I really don’t understand how to do that.” I ask these questions: Are you as kind, loving, caring, and understanding toward yourself as you would be toward someone else? If someone makes a mistake, for instance, do you chastise, belittle, or punish? Would you be understanding and try to help the person work through the crisis or problem that was created by the mistake? Do you take responsibility for other people’s mistakes? If someone does something to hurt you, do you say “I must have deserved it?” Do you tell the person how you feel about what s/he did? Do you say no when you need to for your own well being? Can you balance the needs of others with your own needs? The answers to these questions will give you some idea about how important you are to yourself.
This is not to say that you should become totally self-centered and care about no one but yourself. Balance is always important. We are not on this planet alone. We are part of a community and we are also part of ourselves. Both are important.
How do you love yourself more? It may be necessary to figure out if there are reasons why you may not fully love yourself. These may have to do with childhood or relationship injuries. When someone that you trust says or does hurtful things to you, you may conclude that you are not worthwhile. It may be necessary to reframe those events.
Think back to an event that was painful because someone evaluated you negatively. Picture that event clearly in your mind. See as many details as you can. What led up to the event? What was said? Who said what? What was the negative evaluation? What did you conclude about that? Did the person criticize the deed (mistake) or you, as a person. Was the criticism a regular part of the other person’s style. Maybe the criticism had nothing to do with you at all. Maybe it had to do with an interaction style of another person.
We know that the people have value. However, remember that every mistake has value, too – it teaches us something that makes future events easier, better, or more meaningful. Step back into the picture (in your mind) with the new knowledge you now have. Instruct all the parties on the value of mistakes and the value of the mistake makers. Use your imagination. You are reframing the meaning of the event. Your mind will re-evaluate the circumstances and the event. You will emerge stronger and more enlightened. Every future event that is similar in some way will have new meaning for you. Your self-value will grow with each event that you reframe.
As you learn to value yourself, learn to look at others in the same way. We are here to learn and to teach each other. We do this through our love of ourselves and each other.
Dr. Kathryn Seifert is a psychotherapist with over 30 years experience in mental health, addictions, and criminal justice work. Dr. Seifert has authored the CARE, guided imagery CD’s and journals, and numerous articles. She speaks nationally on health related topics and youth violence. She is an expert witness in the areas of youth and adult violence and sexual offending. Her latest book is coming soon: Fallen Angels. For more information go to http://discoverthewiseoldwoman.com