I was in my 30’s when I began to notice. Living life going through the motions, I wasn’t feeling, couldn’t feel much of anything. Good or bad. I was hardly alive – my heart was shut down, a member of the walking dead. In my divorce group this week, we talked a little bit about how and why we shut down our hearts. The response was so positive, I wanted to share some things with you here as well. I challenged the group this week to look closely and see if there was any place in them that might be shut down. If you’re up for it, I’ll offer the same challenge to you, this is a practice I like to take on regularly. (Watch the video here.)
We shut down our hearts to avoid pain.
Pain is a great equalizer - none of us are immune.
In relationship, we seek to know and be known – at first by our families – then our peer groups and ultimately our spouses. We crave real intimacy and desire to be cherished for our uniqueness, our strength and our beauty, (male and female respectively).
When these deep desires of our hearts are not met (and they are never met completely in any situation) we begin to tell ourselves stories to help ease the pain. ' I don’t want that – I don’t need that' – or worse, 'I shouldn’t have wanted that,' are mantras we recite to get some sort of grid on a painful reality.
These stories are hardly ever spoken aloud – they are mostly a choice of the subconscious. It is simply too painful to admit those you crave love from and connection to are incapable or unwilling.
What we do with the pain that is created when connection and intimacy are unmet is vital to our emotional well being and happiness.
You can use pain in two ways – most of us use it to harden our hearts and create barriers between ourselves and the world around us to avoid feeling pain. But when we shut down pain and other unpleasant feelings, we will shut out feeling positive (and pleasant) feelings as well. This leaves a huge hole.
To fill the empty space, we medicate because, you know - it’s 5 0’clock somewhere and we could all use just one more black t-shirt. And there is always room for dessert. We fill the emptiness with more, and more, and more things that don’t satisfy. We work, we spend, we over-consume and we hover endlessly over our children - all to avoid feeling what we need to feel.
We all do this, or have done it to some degree at some point in life. I have done it, sometimes I still do.
Another way to handle pain is to let it soften your heart. Feel what you need to feel – process and then release your pain. With each practice of allowing yourself to feel pain, you gently crush your ego, little by little – breaking up the places in you that prevent you from loving, and receiving love, fully. This process allows your true self to emerge and for you to awaken enough to find the connection to God and the Universe around you. And once you have found that connection, you’ll need less and less from those around you to feel safe.
Both ways produce perpetuating cycles. Which will you choose?
Here’s to making it great.