We all have learned ways of protecting ourselves from the emotional hurt that comes from rejection and various forms of abuse. These self-protection strategies are learned so naturally from an early age that we seldom even consider them.
Childhood trauma can cause the development of coping mechanisms that initially protect from unbearable emotional pain but later make it impossible to fully enter into deep emotionally intimate relationships. Many relationships suffer because we are unable to deeply share ourselves while maintaining the self-protective walls we have put up to keep out the pain.
Walls that keep us from God
The walls keep a distance between us that is meant to protect us but actually keep us from our God-given purpose of giving ourselves fully in self-sacrificing love to God and others.
I believe that victims of all forms of childhood abuse face this challenge of being able to honestly look at the walls they have built around their souls to protect themselves from emotional pain. In childhood the strategies are naturally developed to survive in a harsh and abusive world and we should not assign shame and blame to their attempt to deal with their pain.
As adults, however, we need to abandon our childish attempts at self-protection and learn to trust in God to protect us so that we can break down the walls around our soul in order to be able to feel loved and to give true love. Deep emotional love can only exist where both parties can bare their souls to the other.
Open to hurt
The same vulnerability that allows you to enjoy the deepest fellowship and emotional intimacy also opens your soul to the possibility of being deeply hurt. Opening ourselves to that possibility takes a deep trust in the Lord to protect us and meet our needs when others fail us.
We are all in the process of becoming like Christ so we will hurt each other by our failure to be loving at all times. No human being will ever be able to fully meet our need for the love and protection that we all long for. Self-love and self-protection will also fall far short of our longing and leave us isolated and miserable. When we depend on ourselves, we put “self” on the throne of our lives. It is an act of idolatry to depend on our self-protection strategies rather than rest in the protection of the Lord.
Protecting from emotional pain
One of the big contributors to my mental health issues has been the stress that comes from my attempt to protect myself from emotional pain. That is a God-sized job and I am not God so I end up trying to get Him to help me in my selfish attempt. When He does not come through for me in the way that I think He should, I become frustrated with Him and take it as proof that I have to protect myself.
It is impossible to feel loved by God when I believe He is unwilling to be my protector. For years I had no idea why God felt so far away. I was unaware that I was still pushing Him away in my childish attempt to protect myself. My self-protection strategies were so naturally formed and applied that I was not even aware of what I was doing.
Self-protection is damaging
I longed for love and acceptance, not realizing that the same walls that I had put up to protect myself were the very same walls that kept the love and acceptance from entering my soul. I began to realize what a pathetic strategy of self-protection I had developed. My walls didn’t keep out the pain, they only hid it from view.
They didn’t keep me from being loved and accepted, but they kept the enjoyment of them from entering my soul. Self-protection can only result in the deadening of our souls. It may appear to lessen the pain for a while, but it comes at the cost of also deadening the ability to bask in the joy of loving and being loved.
As we learn to rest in the love, acceptance and protection of our Father who loves us more than we love ourselves, we can abandon our weak attempts at self-protection. He has promised to make all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28). As we open up our souls we will feel pain and know what it is to weep, but the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1) will be sharing our pain with us.
We will also rejoice in new ways at new heights as we embrace the love of our Father and accept our divine calling to love God and others with a selfless love. The positive blessing of an open soul far outweighs the possible pain our vulnerability may bring.
Yielding ourselves to love
We will never enjoy the depth of fellowship we were created for and long for until we abandon our childish attempts to hide and protect ourselves from emotional pain. This must go together with yielding ourselves fully to the love, acceptance and protection of our Father who will give us the positive motivation to love as we were meant to love.
In the assurance of His protection we can open our souls to enjoy the emotional intimacy that is necessary for deeply sharing our lives together in true fellowship with Him and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.