If we’ve been hurt in love, it is easy to say, “I’m not going to let that happen again.” We close off our heart, building a wall around it so no one can get close. The pain is too great. We don’t want to feel like that ever again. We do whatever we can so that feeling won’t be repeated.
Twelve years ago I took a 9-day intense personal growth seminar. After a week of deep work we did an exercise that sounds particularly cruel. It certainly felt that way at the time yet it caused a breakthrough for me, but I would never recommend it.
The exercise was done within our group of 15 people who had been working together and sharing ourselves deeply all week. We were to choose the three people we felt least connected to and tell them so. This was excruciating for me to tell someone else this, but it was more so because half the group told me I was one of the three. I was so devastated I cried uncontrollably for a long time. In fact, it was so painful I get tears thinking about it now twelve years later.
The breakthrough for me though, was to look at why I was causing such a disconnect with so many people. I always thought I got along well with most people so this feedback was like a bucket of ice water on my head.
After much soul searching, I saw there were many reasons I was off-putting to others. But one that hit hard was that I’d built a thick wall around my heart, thinking that if no one got close they couldn’t hurt me. Of course, all it really did was keep others — even people I loved — at arms length.
I visualized myself kicking through the wall to expose my heart once again. After more work, I began to connect with those around me.
In A Return to Love, Marianne Willliamson says:
Our barriers to love are rarely consciously chosen. They are our efforts to protect the places where the heart is bruised. Somewhere, sometime, we felt as though an open heart caused us pain or humiliation. We loved with the openness of a child, and someone didn’t care, or laughed, or even punished us for the effort. In a quick moment, perhaps a fraction of a second, we made a decision to protect ourselves from ever feeling that pain again. We would never again allow ourselves to be so vulnerable. We built emotional defenses. We tried to build a fortress across our heart, to protect us from any cold assault. The only problem is, according to the Course [in Miracles], that we create what we defend against.
Have you built a fortress around your heart so it is hard for love to get in? By breaking down the wall it means your heart is vulnerable, but without being open you can never fully love. Having your heart bruised is the risk you have to take to experience love. Are you willing?