13 Signs You’ve Put Emotional Walls Up To Protect Yourself

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Walls of various sizes and shapes serve their purpose. Some have been designed to keep things (or people) safe within them, while others are meant to keep interlopers out.

Most serve both purposes, and that goes for the walls we put up to protect ourselves as well.

Emotional walls function the same way that physical ones do, and in some cases can even feel tangible. Remember that emotions are energetic, and we all emit different types of energy on a regular basis.

It’s why some places have a noticeable “vibe,” or why you might feel hesitant about approaching someone. It may feel as though there’s an energy field around them pushing you away.

If you have emotional walls up—whether all the time or simply during difficult situations—then you emit a similar field. You may not even notice it, but it’ll be tangible to others around you. You’ve likely had to put these walls up to keep yourself safe from others’ mistreatment of you, and they might even spring up on their own, rather than through conscious effort.

Let’s take a look at some of the signs associated with different types of emotional walls. You may only exhibit a few of these signs, or you may have experienced all of them at some point.

Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you lower the emotional walls you have built around yourself. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.

13 Signs Of Emotional Walls

1. You avoid creating new bonds or deepening existing ones.

Quite simply, you either avoid allowing anyone into your life at all or you make sure to maintain distance from them. Maybe you’re more comfortable having casual acquaintances rather than close friends because you can stick to lighthearted “small talk” and don’t have to share more personal information.

If and when someone tries to get closer to you, you’ll either make excuses as to why you can’t get together or avoid interacting with them altogether. You might even intentionally push them away if they bypass your outer perimeter and try to create a stronger bond with you.

For example, if you’re dating someone casually and they don’t take the hint to back off with wanting more emotional intimacy and connection, you might say something mean to them to make them create distance.

Or if you really want to sever the connection, you may do something more extreme like sleeping with a close friend of theirs. They’ll likely leave your life immediately, thus saving you from having to open up and be vulnerable with them.

2. You’d rather be alone than risk vulnerability by caring.

This often happens when someone has lost others close to them and experienced devastating pain as a result. Maybe your partner, child, or beloved animal companion died and you’ve never been able to get over that grief. As a result, you might have refused to have another child, get another pet, or even have any kind of romantic involvement.

If you do, then you hold back from “catching feelings” for them.

You might still be kind, but you don’t allow yourself to feel much of anything. This way, you won’t get hurt when they inevitably leave or die too.

3. You don’t (or can’t) have a connection to those you want to care about.

If you do have a partner and/or children, they may see you as cold, aloof, and distant rather than warm and nurturing. You may care about them in your own way (even if you tried not to for a while), but you have no idea how to show them any kind of emotional connection or affection.

Maybe you try to show them that you care by buying them gifts or sending them on interesting vacations, but all they want is some tenderness and affection from you. Since you’re not comfortable with that, or even know how to go about doing so, you create further distance to maintain your own comfort levels.

As a result, those you would want to actually be close to may not want anything to do with you. They feel that you don’t love them and assume you don’t care because you don’t (can’t) show them love in the manner they’d prefer.

4. You’re prone to disassociation.

You may have learned how to be emotionless and developed the ability to mentally “step away” from situations that you find uncomfortable. As such, you have the capacity to move away from emotions that you don’t want to feel so you can either respond in a calm manner or simply not show that anything is bothering you.

Maybe when you feel that someone is laying into you verbally, you think about a song so you can block out whatever it is they’re saying. Or you might feel like you’re disconnected from your body; as though your mind has meandered somewhere that’s more peaceful and less potentially damaging than what’s unfolding in real time.

Additional signs of disassociation may include memory gaps, such as losing time or not being able to recall what was said to you. In cases where you’ve been given uncomfortable feedback or direction—such as being criticized at work, or yelled at by a parent or partner—you may have no recollection of anything they said at all.

5. Deflection is your middle name.

When distressing situations arise, you’re able to shift direction to avoid being uncomfortable. Maybe you turn accusations back toward the accuser or counter any question with another one so they (immediately seen as your opponent) don’t gain any ground as far as you’re concerned.

You’re a legend at changing the subject whenever you need to and have discovered that surprising someone with a tasty morsel of gossip or shocking them with something disturbing is a great way of shifting their attention from you (and whatever they’re trying to get from you) to somewhere else entirely.

Once their focus is broken, you can redirect energy to something totally different. More often than not, the original conversation will be dropped and not picked up again. If it is, however, you’ll just keep deflecting or do the following:

6. You leave any situation when emotions start to intensify.

Quite simply, you’re an expert at disappearing when things get too intense. Maybe you dismiss other people’s emotional distress as “dramatic” and excuse yourself until they can control themselves. Or you say, “I can’t deal with this right now,” and leave the area for the foreseeable future.

You’re likely uncomfortable when others start to talk about their feelings, whether they’re about you or anyone else. Similarly, you don’t tolerate discussions about topics that trigger you, especially if they touch upon traumas that you experienced or witnessed in the past.

Basically, in addition to having emotional walls, you create physical distance from whatever you don’t want to feel.

It’s likely that you always have an escape plan in mind, wherever you are. You’ve memorized the exits and know exactly how long it’ll take you to grab your stuff and walk out at a moment’s notice.

7. You avoid eye contact in intimate or intense situations.

You’re fine with situations that are casual or work-related, but if you start to feel too much, you avoid eye contact. You know it’s more difficult for you to remain stoic if you gaze into another person’s eyes, since that kind of connection intensifies empathy. As such, you avoid doing so at all costs.

For example, if you’re having an intense discussion with someone, they might yell at you to look at them when they’re talking to you because you’re looking at your phone or the floor instead. Similarly, you may only have sex with your partner(s) in the dark or in positions where you can avoid their direct gaze.

8. You may have difficulty feeling things (or identifying the feelings you’re experiencing).

If you’ve had different types of emotional walls up for a while, then it’s likely that you’ve lost touch with many of your emotions—especially the more subtle ones. Sure, you may still feel intense sorrow or despair, or anger on occasion, but little waves of pleasure, joy, anxiety, and so on aren’t strong enough to register.

The best way to describe this is like trying to feel light touch sensations through several layers of duvets and quilts. You’d still feel a bit of pressure or impact if there was a hard strike, but a caress wouldn’t even register. It takes a lot for you to feel much of anything.

Furthermore, occasionally you feel something, but you don’t know what it is you’re feeling. This might manifest as a type of unease or discomfort, but the cause could be anything from hurt feelings to hunger; you just aren’t sure.

9. Nobody has ever seen you upset.

You keep all your emotions so tightly packed within your walls that nobody you know has ever seen you in a state of vulnerability. They’ve never seen you lose your temper, nor have they seen you cry. If you’ve allowed one or two of them to remain near you during difficult circumstances—such as the loss of a loved one—then you’ve remained utterly stoic in front of them at all times.

Sure, you might have cried a bit when you were alone, but there’s no way you would show what you perceive to be weakness or loss of control in front of anyone else. As a result, some people may have labeled you a “robot” or implied that you’re somehow less than human because you don’t show emotion the way they do. In turn, you may have implied that they’re childish because they can’t control themselves.

10. You don’t talk about your past.

To you, what’s past is long gone and isn’t on the table for discussion. In fact, you might have made it perfectly clear to those around you that your past experiences are forbidden territory, and there may be harsh punishments for even trying to bring them up.

For instance, you might lash out cruelly if someone tries to ask you about your family life growing up or scars that you have on your body. Alternatively, you may deflect and change the subject or even remove yourself entirely (as mentioned earlier).

Ultimately, few people know anything about your past. You may have cut off contact with those who used to know you. Maybe you’ve even changed your name and moved to a different country in order to start anew. You’ve literally done all you can to step free from life experiences that damaged you, and you certainly don’t want to dredge any of them back up again.

As such, your friends, and even your partner, have never even heard about your family, let alone met them, and you keep all aspects of your life partitioned.

11. You have an auto “shut down” system.

This is rather like the disassociation we mentioned earlier, only it isn’t intentional. Instead of consciously stepping aside mentally from whatever unwanted emotions you’re experiencing, something inside you simply turns “off” when an intense feeling arises.

This is rather like someone putting a tight-fitting lid on a pot that’s threatening to boil over, while simultaneously turning the heat off. The contents will still percolate a bit, but nobody really knows what’s going on inside that pot.

Furthermore, since you have no conscious control over this “shutdown,” it likely happens when any intense emotion is experienced. This may prevent you from feeling big, bright emotions like excitement, elation, and even love, simply because your system sees any strong feeling as a potential threat, and thus shuts them all down to protect you just in case.

12. You maintain control by any means necessary.

Maybe you have a tight schedule that you adhere to religiously. You might have strict dietary rules—even an eating disorder—because if other aspects of your life are beyond your control, you have absolute sovereignty over what goes into your mouth.

Perhaps you’re dominating and controlling with others around you and work in areas where you have a position of authority, like an office manager or security guard. Your rule is law, and you have strict boundaries (and consequences for breaking them).

13. You may think that your walls exist to protect others from YOU.

This one’s tricky because it’s so multifaceted. Some people know full well that they’re capable of cruelty or other types of harm if they lose control of their emotions. As a result, they often keep their feelings in a seemingly impenetrable vault. To them, this is the best option because they feel that they’re protecting others from their volatility.

The problem with this is that pressure can build up behind those walls, rather like a water dam that needs an overflow spout. Have you ever noticed that bathtubs have drains below the taps? Those exist to prevent bathwater levels from rising high enough to spill out over the sides.

On Breaking Down Your Emotional Walls

Emotional walls can appear overnight after a trauma or loss, or they can build up slowly due to years of accumulation of pain, abuse, or neglect. They may serve their purpose in some ways, namely to keep you safe from potential harm, but they can also hold you back from experiencing some truly amazing things.

That’s the downside of walls: they offer safety and protection, but they can also become prisons. You may want to feel more and allow others closer to you, but you don’t know how to at this point. Those walls have become such a fixture that you have no idea how to even scale them, let alone start to break them down.

In situations like this, one of the best things you can do is get therapy. It’s nearly impossible to break down emotional walls yourself, because you probably don’t know how or when these walls really built up to begin with.

As such, you’ll need a demolition specialist that can help you work through them. Maybe you’ll chip away at them bit by bit or bash through them with battering rams and wrecking balls. It all depends on why you put those walls up to begin with and how long they’ve been standing firm.

The good news is that these walls can be broken down in time. You just need to be patient with yourself, and work with a therapist whom you feel comfortable with and can trust. This may involve shopping around a bit to find one who “gets” you, but that’s okay. There are literally millions of therapists and counsellors out there, so you’re sure to find the one that’s right for you.

A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

As someone who once had walls up that put the Bastille to shame, I can tell you that breaking them down is absolutely doable. It won’t be easy, and you’ll have to face (and deal with) a lot of ugly stuff that you’ve likely been avoiding up until now. That said, being able to experience a full range of emotion and let wonderful people into your life is well worth the difficulty.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to lower their walls, but they never really get anywhere. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.