“I’m too scared to come and talk to you, you frighten me,” he said.
I was 30 years old, the manager of a large catering operation in the city. He was a 40 something lawyer that wanted to book an event.
His sentence totally stopped me in my tracks. I am not scary; I’m 160cm tall for a start!
But I knew deep down what he said was true.
It made me take a long hard look at myself.
I’d been successful in my corporate career from an early age. Managing large teams of people, dealing with stressful situations, tight budgets, demanding customers and senior management.
I couldn’t give any more, my job had taken over my life and I really didn’t like how it felt.
I was also bitterly unhappy in a relationship. But I allowed him to treat me poorly. I never spoke up or expressed my feelings or set boundaries. I kept quiet and pretended I didn’t care.
My brain logic told me that if I pretended nothing could hurt me then it couldn’t.
If I acted unapproachable I never had to worry about showing my true feelings.
Slowly I began to realise that I had cultivated a hard-nosed, falsely confident and intimidating shell
I knew why. Because everything I had created in my life and work made me feel uncomfortable, unfulfilled, false and materialistic.
I was so far removed from the real me who I felt inside.
Yet, I couldn’t voice how I felt.
One, because I didn’t really understand it yet.
Two, because I was scared that people would think I was weak if I showed the stress and unease I really felt.
I had a job to do, and I had a reputation to upkeep.
I couldn’t even tell close friends and family how badly I felt.
I didn’t want to loose face.
I believed I was failing at my life.
So instead I built and hid behind an energetic wall of steel instead.
I had become the expert at raising my barriers quickly, in friendships, relationships and generally any situation I felt vulnerable. I pushed people away.
No one can ever hurt me if I don’t let them in. Or so I thought.
But I was hurting myself.
I was cutting myself off from receiving love, true authentic relationships with work colleagues, friends and potential love partners.
I was deeply unhappy, and I felt very unconnected and alone.
‘I’m going to hurt you before you can hurt me’ attitude is a pretty common protective mechanism in today’s society, and so is raising the barriers to our true selves.
Whilst it was shocking and very uncomfortable to have this man raise a mirror to my energetic behaviour.
I’m eternally grateful that he did.
He gave me the push I needed to start to make the changes I needed in my relationships with others and myself.
Do I still raise my protective barriers? Yes, but I’m now far more conscious of it and I work on my vulnerability everyday.
Like attracts like. When you put your walls up, so do the people around you. They will feel the resistance and not be able to engage with you fully.
Only when we show our true selves, vulnerably, honestly and with openness can we let people connect with us authentically.
And what really is the worst that can happen by speaking your true feelings?
The fear is always worse than the reality. If someone can’t accept your true feelings without judgement or criticism do you really want them in your life anyway? By holding yourself back, you deny your true self.
Putting up barriers may protect us yes, but it also keeps others from connecting with you
I encourage you to be brave, be you, share your openness and open your heart to vulnerability then begin to watch the world around you reflect that love back to you.