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Emotional walls exist for a reason. That’s a fact that open, light-hearted people often have a hard time grappling with.
Those who haven’t had to deal with a tremendous amount of trauma, stress, and pain in their lives often have trouble relating to those who have protective walls around their hearts.
This can cause issues when it comes to relationships, as the open partner doesn’t understand why the person they love won’t (or can’t) let them “in.”
If you’re the one who has some high emotional walls, you might get frustrated with those walls. Sure, they kept you safe and strong in difficult situations, but if you’re no longer in those situations, the walls that protected you might now make you feel claustrophobic. Even trapped.
Are you ready to start breaking down those emotional walls? If so, follow this advice.
9 Ways To Break Down Your Emotional Walls
1. Explore your walls with a therapist.
One of the first steps toward breaking down your emotional walls is to determine where they came from in the first place. If you already know how they came to be built, that’s great – you’re a step ahead and can work toward lowering them.
If you just know that you’re walled off but aren’t sure how that happened, you’ll need help sorting that out. Trying to do so yourself might be immensely frustrating. Furthermore, that frustration may cause the walls to get even higher, rather than lowering.
Therapists who are skilled at working with people who have PTSD are some of the best to choose from. When looking for a therapist, ask about the type of experience they have with this condition (or Complex PTSD).
Those who work extensively to help others heal from trauma will be familiar with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). These can be great for breaking through defensive walls, and learning different types of coping mechanisms for stress, anxiety, and anger.
If you would like to take the first step, click here to find a therapist near you or who is able to work with your online.
2. Practice allowing emotions through in safe environments.
Are there people in your life such as friends or family members whom you really trust? If these people have shown you time and again that they love you unconditionally and have your best interests at heart, you can practice lowering your walls with them.
This might seem scary to you, especially if you’re used to being the stoic “rock” in your social circle. Letting others see your vulnerable side might make you feel weak or exposed, somehow. This may be particularly true if you’re accustomed to never allowing other people to hear about or witness your emotions.
Note that this could get messy. You might shake a bit as you’re trying to express your emotions, or feel like your throat is closing up. Some people get emotional when discussing past issues, while others shut down as a knee-jerk reaction. Whatever you experience is okay – that’s the way you cope with these things as an individual.
Some people who experience anxiety about attending events might choose to avoid them, rather than appearing weak or vulnerable to those around them. It can be a big, scary step to open up to your partner about how you actually feel anxious about something they have invited you to, rather than uninterested in it. That said, it can also allow them to understand where you’re coming from, and thus be more supportive with you in future.
3. Note the positives (or lack of negatives) that come from these small steps.
Many people who have erected high emotional walls have them there as a means of self-defense. They’re so used to experiencing cruelty and emotional harm that they expect to be barraged with attacks if they drop their shields.
It can be quite startling when that attack doesn’t happen.
When you take the risk to lower your walls, and nothing bad happens, a sort of cognitive dissonance can occur. You expected to be hurt in this situation because you’ve been hurt like this so many times before, but now it doesn’t hurt? This time, it’s different.
As you can imagine, this can be rather confusing. When you’re so accustomed to a cause-and-effect formula, it can take time to realize that effects can be different depending on people and circumstances involved.
It can create a type of positive feedback loop whereby the more you try lowering your walls, the more you realize it can end positively, and the more you are willing to do it.
That’s not to say that breaking down your walls will always be a wholly positive experience. It’s important to be aware that discomfort may occur when and if you try. A range of emotions might surface from past experiences. This can be very painful (and painstaking) to work through, especially if you find yourself re-living the emotions and traumas from the past.
If you find it difficult to take a big step in opening up, try tiny little steps instead. Your first venture into opening up doesn’t have to be huge! It can be something as small as admitting that you don’t like a book or film that others do. It’s unlikely that others will give you grief about it, but they might ask you why you didn’t like it.
Be prepared to offer a simple but reasonable explanation that’s unlikely to provoke an argument. While it’s unlikely that anyone will provoke you about not liking something, some people might. And if they do, that might trigger your “fight or flight” response if you’re feeling particularly fragile.
Hence the reason why you can have a solid answer ready. Generally, an answer as simple as “it’s just not my thing” is enough for people to simply say “okay,” and let it be.
That’s one tiny step toward greater authenticity of expression, and getting those walls to drop a bit more. You faced possible conflict and it didn’t blow up in your face.
On the off chance that someone does freak out at you, simply say “to each their own,” and walk off for a while. A response like that signifies issues in them that they might not be ready to face just yet. And that’s okay too.
4. Try relationship counseling.
One of the main reasons why people try to lower their walls is if they’re in a relationship and they want to get closer to their partner. You may have closed off so much that you don’t know how to drop your defensive walls. This can be immensely frustrating when you want more intimacy and closeness but don’t know how to get there.
Similarly, it can be very difficult for a person who’s dating someone who is walled off. They might try to break through those walls with kindness, love, and patience, but can’t make any headway.
In situations like these, a relationship counselor is a very wise investment to make. Counseling will give you a safe space in which to be vulnerable with your partner whilst giving them a better understanding of your behaviors. The counselor will also be able to provide exercises or mechanisms for dealing with the issues that arise because of your emotional walls.
We recommend the services of Relationship Hero where you and your partner (or you alone if you need some specific advice) can connect with a relationship expert to get the help you need. Click here to speak to someone.
5. Work on your mental and emotional well-being.
Outside of tackling your emotional walls directly, you can do things that will lower them as a side effect. One such thing is to improve your mental and emotional well-being.
Growing your self-confidence is a good place to start. When you feel confident in yourself, you’ll feel confident in the situations you face on a daily basis, and you’ll feel confident being yourself around other people.
Self-esteem is another thing that will influence whether you feel the need to keep your emotional walls raised. When you like who you are as a person, the negativity or hurtful words of others will not impact you so much, meaning far less need for your defenses.
Optimism is another mental trait that can help to break down your emotional walls indirectly. When you are optimistic, you go into new situations expecting the best. And when you expect the best, you won’t be on guard against potential danger.
These are some of the things you can work on with your therapist that can have great benefits in de-arming your mind and heart.
6. Keep a journal.
“Keep a journal” might seem like a trite, overused suggestion for all manner of things, but there’s a reason why journalling is so helpful. You can look back over the entries you’ve made over several months, years, or even decades. By doing so, you can remind yourself of how far you’ve come on your journey.
Your “Day One” journal entry might mention how you don’t trust anyone enough to express your feelings to them. Then, your “Day 60” entry might mention how wonderful it felt to be able to talk to someone about your feelings, and that you were supported and validated.
When you’re in the process of undoing damage that took years to build up, you can expect the occasional backslide. This might be because of a stressful situation that causes you to rely on old self-defense mechanisms. Alternatively, you may work through some old hurts that make you want/need to retreat into yourself as you process them.
A journal can remind you that you are moving forward and you are still in a better place now than you were when you took your first steps.
7. Take part in cooperative, fun, and trust-building activities.
One of the best ways to lower your walls is by letting that happen naturally. When you’re involved in activities that you enjoy, you’ll likely lower your guard subconsciously, simply by virtue of loving what you’re doing.
Better yet, if you’re doing these activities with others of like mind, whether they’re old friends or people you’d like to get to know, you’ll probably open yourself up to them without realizing you’re doing so.
Make a list of all the different activities and hobbies that you enjoy. If most of the physical activities you partake in are solitary (like running or yoga at home), consider branching out into a more social version. Join a running club, or try some yoga classes near you.
You might wish to consider cooperative endeavors like community or charity work. We all have skills that we can put to good use in service to others. Offer those skills to a project that means something to you. By sharing your skills, you’ll build a great rapport with wonderful people who will appreciate what you do without criticism or cruelty.
8. Keep your distance from people and situations that make you wall up.
Once you’ve done a load of work to lower your emotional walls, it’s important to try to keep them down. This might involve working with your therapist to learn different coping mechanisms for difficult situations. This can help prevent the knee-jerk self-defense reaction that makes walls spring up on their own.
Additionally, it’s important to keep your distance from the types of circumstances and people that made you develop those walls in the first place.
Many people who were raised by a narcissist had to develop some pretty thick emotional walls in order to survive. These can be tremendously difficult to lower if you have to keep dealing with the people who abused you and made you raise those walls as protective shields.
If eliminating these people from your life is a possibility, then definitely do that. If you absolutely have to keep interacting with them (for one reason or another), ask your therapist for techniques that can help you deal with their abuse.
There are few things as frustrating as making progress toward healing and then having your forward momentum halted – or reversed – by one of the jerks who forced those walls up.
9. Recognize that you’re a different person in a different situation.
Those who have strong emotional walls put those up for a reason. They might have gone up temporarily to get you through a really difficult experience, or they may have been up for a significant period of trauma. These walls offered strength and protection, but they were up much longer than they needed to be.
You’re not the same person now as you were when you put those walls up. As a result, the walls are both protecting and walling in a person who no longer exists.
Hopefully, you’re no longer experiencing the situation (or abusive people) that made you put those emotional walls up to begin with. They’re protecting you from potential hurt and harm that disappeared a long time ago. They’re not serving any good purpose, and will keep you from moving on in a positive direction.
Additionally, those walls may keep really amazing people out of your life. People who never hurt you, and won’t, if you give them a chance.
Still not sure how to deal with your emotional walls? Speak to a therapist today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one. Or if your walls are causing relationship problems, chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero. Just click here to get started.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What causes emotional walls to form?
Walls are defenses; they protect you from hurt. So walls form during times when getting hurt is an ever-present risk. Quite often, this is during a childhood that is devoid of real love and full of rejection, ridicule, blame, and other forms of emotional abuse or neglect.
But walls can form during any extended period in which you may have faced hostility from someone – a partner, a bully, a colleague. Walls may also form if you live in a society that is prejudiced against you because of your race, your sexuality, your disability, or something else.
There are also times when you may build some walls around you because of a particularly jarring emotional event. Examples of this may be the sudden and unexpected death of a close family member or friend, or having your trust destroyed by partner who cheated.
What’s the problem with having emotional walls?
Walls keep unwelcome hurt out, but they also keep more positive feelings in. When you have tall, strong walls, you dull and numb your emotional response to things. So when something good happens, you don’t experience the same level of joy or happiness from it than if you didn’t have those walls.
You put a self-imposed limit on the enjoyment you get from life and this can lead to boredom at the very least and more serious mental health issues such as depression if you’re not careful.
Emotional walls also act as a barrier between you and other people. They prevent the equal exchange of emotions and stop you from being vulnerable with others. Since relationships are built upon sharing moments and your feelings surrounding those moments, walls can mean you don’t build close relationships with people.
When you’re hard to read and seemingly aloof, you are at a disadvantage against your more open peers who might get ahead of you in terms of career opportunities and success in love.
What’s the difference between boundaries and emotional walls?
You can think of boundaries as being different to walls in that they are specific to a particular behavior rather than to all behaviors.
A boundary is a filter that says, “I will accept this, but I will NOT accept that.” It allows a person to protect themselves from behaviors that they find unappealing whilst being able to fully embrace the behaviors that they want to let in.
Boundaries can guide a relationship between two people and make it better by expressing what is and is not okay. Effective boundaries are clearly communicated so that both parties in the relationship know where each other’s limits are.
Emotional walls, on the other hand, are not so selective. They do not keep some things out and allow other things in; they block everything equally. Emotional walls do not effectively communicate your feelings about a behavior, and so another person may not even realize that they are doing something you dislike.
Boundaries can help to keep a particular person’s behavior in check to prevent hurt in the first place whereas walls merely guard you against the hurt that might come.
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