So many of us try to live at a distance from our true emotions and our true goals. But what happens when we try to live lives dodging the truth is that it gets harder and harder to keep that truth from surfacing. We have to find ways to keep our minds from focusing on the facts about trouble we’ve lived through earlier in our lives or dreams we have left unfulfilled or relationships that are deeply flawed and in need of repair. And that opens the door to using “shields” to keep the truth at bay—addiction to food, gambling, cigarettes, sex, endless hours working jobs that don’t speak to our hearts because our hearts are under wraps, romances that aren’t true love because they’re based on old and tired dynamics.
What a tragedy this is. One of the reasons I love doing this work is that I’m convinced human beings are much more magical and moving than most of us know. The emotional defenses—the shields—we use to obscure our personal truths end up obscuring the miraculous qualities that lie beneath those defenses: our God-given courage, compassion, devotion, trust and capacity to love.
Our emotional vulnerability is itself a rare gift. Because without being vulnerable to sadness and disappointment and doubt, we would have no ability to truly experience their opposites: joy, celebration and reassurance.
You are the one holding your particular shield. And it only gets heavier with each passing day. It saps your energy. It steals your focus. And it cheats you of learning that you are far stronger, more courageous and more capable than you believe. As long as you’re holding a shield, you’re living in fear.
In order to become the person you were meant to be from all time, you have to start putting down that shield. You don’t have to drop it all at once, but you have to begin to lower it slowly.
The best way to go about this is to first identify the shield or shields you carry. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Obsessing over a romantic relationship
- Obsessing over dieting
- Obsessively exercising
- Staying online for hours
If you lower your shield even a bit, your true passions and goals will have a chance to manifest themselves just a bit more. Every small victory—one less cigarette, one night spent offline, one less drink—is a step in the direction of self-discipline, self-awareness, and genuine self-improvement.
Remember, it isn’t supposed to feel good when you start to lower your shield more and more. Getting stronger never does. The fact that you feel anxious or irritable or sad when you try to stop binging on sweets, or talking for hours on end with a friend about your love life, or cruising the Web until the early morning, is a sign that you are detoxing from the things that have been keeping you from the strongest version of yourSELF.
Dr. Keith Ablow