A wall may protect you, but it can also isolate you. As a relationship coach, I have come across many people who have isolated themselves by pushing people away. And ironically, it is those people whom they care for and love the most. But why push people away when we care about them and love them? Why create a wall? What are we protecting or should I say hoping to protect? This question can have many perspectives because it’s not only about pushing a significant other; it can be about pushing away family, friends, and people in general.
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You love someone and they love you back. Things are great and everything seems to be just the way you want it to be. The conversations flow, the chemistry is sizzling, your thoughts are aligned and then one day just out of the blue, it all disappears just as quickly as it appeared. The conversations have run dry, the chemistry has fizzled out and you could not be more divided in your thoughts. What happened? Where did it all go away? Was it even there in the first place? Did you check out of the relationship, or was it your partner? Who created the wall and who pushed whom away?
It does not matter who it was, because both of you will suffer. Something shifted and you may not even know what it was. The wall is up. But why? We push people away we love, because we’re scared - scared of rejection, failure, being judged, feeling vulnerable, or being left alone.
It was the opposite of these very reasons, that we got in to the relationship in the first place - to be accepted and loved for who we are. If we don't get that, we build a protective wall around ourselves and act strong because we do not want to be hurt. People think they would rather be alone and not hurt than be with someone and hurt. That’s the tragedy of life, for they do not realize that being alone is also painful.
So the question to ask is : why do we do this? Is pain inevitable? Are we destined to suffer? What choices can we make to avoid suffering? When and how does this start?
Research shows that the more inconsistent, inappropriate, and contradictory messages people receive from the world in their early years, the more confused they are about themselves. My client Jasmine (name changed due to client confidentiality), was in love with a man she met at the office. She loved how calm he was in his interactions with everyone around the office but driven and focused towards his career. He was kind and caring and even though they did not have a lot of things in common, she thought once they got married they would find a way to make the adjustments because as long as they loved each other they would be fine. Unfortunately, they were not able to make the adjustments and ended up getting divorced because the calm behavior that attracted her to him in the beginning was the same reason that drove them apart. He refused to talk about his feelings and always appeared distant. She could not understand how the calm, kind and loving man had turned into a cold and distant husband. The harder she tried to get closer to him, the further away he pushed her. The more she complained, the less he explained. He could not share his feelings with her or allow her to get too close.
Research shows that if a parent is dismissive or angry when their child is upset, it leads them to believe their feelings are unjustified, and they are not important. Instead of receiving support they are told their feelings are not real or worse, they are punished for being too soft or weak. This leads the child to believe that he or she is not important or feelings are supposed to be suppressed and not shared.
This can lead to 2 things, one is that the child is constantly looking for validation from others and this can continue into their adult years too. Second, is that they can end up not only suppressing their feelings but also never learn how to express them fully. This creates many issues with finding and maintaining healthy relationships. People who are looking to be loved externally (i.e by others because they don't love themselves), strive very hard to please people and if they do not find that external validation, they tend to go into a shell and isolate themselves because they can neither understand not communicate their feelings effectively. They feel lonely and misunderstood and can shut out those who are closest to them.
Others can push people away because they are insecure and secretly feel they don’t deserve being loved. They feel they are not good enough and no one can really love them. This always has some very deep-rooted causes and can also lead to anxiety, depression, isolation, failure to have deep meaningful and intimate relationships and a host of other mental health issues.
The constant fear of being ‘unlovable or ‘unworthy’ forces them to always be at their best behavior. They need to have a mask at all times so people don’t see the 'Real Me'. It’s as if another sub-personality emerges which is smarter than the 'Real Me' and cooler than the 'Real me' and more loved than the 'Real Me' because at a deeper level, they believe that the 'Real Me' is not smart, cool or loved. This means they cannot be vulnerable or be their true self, which ultimately prevents them from opening up and being real with anyone in their life.
The line between the masked and real personality gets so blurred that sometimes they are are not able to know what is real and fake anymore.
Because of this, they can sabotage any relationship that forces them to go beyond the mask as they live with the constant fear that people will not like them if they knew who they truly are. They prefer to push people away rather than show them their real self. The pain of living a lie is a constant reminder of their unworthiness which can sometimes also be masked as a superiority complex and a 'I don't care' attitude. The truth however, is that they are hoping to find someone who can see the pain behind the mask and love them with all their flaws. Again, due to their issues with communicating their emotions, they rarely get the help they need because they are not able to let anyone in. The suffering can last decades and destroy their chances of finding or holding on to love.
People struggling with self-worth also push away their friends, family members, colleagues or anyone who tries to get close to them especially when they feel vulnerable. The protective barrier that they put up to appear calm and composed, in spite of being scared and lonely is sometimes too much to bear. Everyday can seem a struggle to appear happy and normal. This is not only exhausting but also extremely difficult and so they find a way to keep people at a distance by building a wall around themselves. Now walls may keep the pain at bay, but they also end up being a cage in which we put ourselves.
People tend to carry so much emotional baggage accumulated overtime, of things being brushed under the carpet and hold on to memories which should have been dealt with, a long time ago. They can convince themselves that they have handled it all but in reality they have just buried it deep within. This balancing act, of pretending to be ok when they are broken on the inside, is so fragile that their life can come crashing down at the slightest push. That is also another reason why they are not able to fully trust or commit themselves to others.
The guilt and shame they feel when they push away someone they love, is also sometimes masked by playing the victim. They pretend to have been wronged in order to justify their behavior to themselves and others. The need a justification to convince themselves that pushing away people was the right thing to do. This is all made a lot worse by the isolation they find themselves within. There is no one to talk to and no one to understand the pain.
Pushing people away, is sometimes a cry for help where those who push, hope and pray that someone can love them enough to hold them closer and not let them go. Unfortunately, most partners do not understand this cry for help and end up walking away rather than getting them the help they need.
Even in 2021, Mental health is still ‘taboo’. People think that you either have to be weak or crazy to talk to a therapist or coach. Many don’t even know what a coach can do for you. You can read my blog on 5 reasons you need a coach if you would like to know more about what a coach can do for you. If you want to know more, reach out to me. I truly believe mental health is just as important as maintaining the iron level, blood pressure, or sugar level in your body. A healthy mindset can push you to live a life that you cannot even begin to dream about when you are struggling with mental health.
Whilst it may seem like making peace with the past requires a lot of courage, carrying heavy unwanted emotional baggage is a lot harder.
So, the next time you find yourself not answering the phone or text messages from your loved ones or declining invitations from your friends, just take a moment to sit back and ask yourself, do you want to build a wall and isolate yourself or build a bridge to make a deeper more meaningful connection?
You are not alone and there are many like me out there who have dedicated their lives to eradicating the unfair bias towards mental health. All you need to do is reach out.
Until Next Time,
Kanchan 'Wanting to be a Bridge-Builder' Kulkarni
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