As a child I cried a lot. I cried when I was hurt, scared, sad, if I saw an animal or person injured or suffering. Crying wasn’t a trait that was admired in my family. I was told to toughen up, that I was too sensitive and so I learnt to shut down, to close my tender heart and bury my feelings. There was even a period in my life of around 20 years where I incapable of crying, even when my son died.
I used to think that the biggest obstacle that stood between people and their dreams was their negative thinking. I now know that it is having a closed heart. So how do you recognise a closed heart?
We often confuse sensitivity with being reactive. If you have a tendency to be jealous and fly off the handle when your partner looks at another woman, that is not being sensitive. If you withdraw when anyone says something that hurts you, that too is a reactive pattern. My Dad thought that his ability to block out unpleasant emotions was a strength, it’s wasn’t. The problem with any behaviour that protects us from feeling our emotions is that it can too easily become habitual. When you shut down emotionally on a regular basis you stop listening to your heart and you don’t even know that your heart is closed.
You can’t armour yourself against pain or sadness, they are a part of the fabric of life just as you can’t make another person love you, or prevent yourself from feeling hurt if they don’t. When you close your heart, even with selective people, you are virtually saying to yourself, “I am not okay the way I am”.
Throughout my life I have experienced rejection, sadness and betrayal and with every painful experience I closed my heart just a little more. I became selective as to who I let in, and the people I felt safest with were my children. It took another personal crisis before I reached the point of letting go and opening my heart.
It took a long time for me to realise that there is nothing wrong with being sensitive. There is nothing wrong with being vulnerable. There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries with people you love. I never thought that setting boundaries was a problem for me, and it wasn’t with people in general, but it was with people I loved. Being vlunerable enables you to live when an open heart and there is a lot to be gained from that.
Until we fully allow our hearts to open, to be vulnerable, we cannot fully experience love. Author and speaker Brene Brown, who is best known for her work on vulnerability, says, “Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves”.