It’s summer vacation and in an effort to get our teenage daughter off her phone for a few hours, I asked her last week if she wanted to go shopping. She did, so later that afternoon we were at Starbucks. She had treated me to coffee because she really enjoys doing so. Unexpectedly, we got into a heart-to-heart conversation, the greatest gift a teenager can give you. After weeks of grumpiness and cold shoulders, we managed to get under that layer. A deep pain came up that made us both cry. Um, yes, in the Starbucks.
A year and a half ago she unfortunately had to say goodbye to a horse she loved very much. Those two were thick as thieves, such a strong connection. If she was having a bad day, Credo could always cheer her up. The last days before he died, she went to see him every day. To be there for him, to brush him, to go on short walks with him. She was absolutely devastated, and we were afraid she would stop horse riding altogether. Fortunately, she picked it up again, but no longer with the enjoyment from before.
At the same time, two important friends left: a major disadvantage of being part of an international community. To make the hardship complete, she started high school after summer. She had a hard time with it. She was often quiet, closed, and regularly complained of physical discomfort: headaches, stomach cramps, pain in the knee, in the back. She reluctantly went to school and came home as soon as she could to crash on the couch with her phone. She didn’t meet up with friends, she preferred to be at home.
During this holiday it was often difficult to reach her, while we normally have a very good relationship. But now at Starbucks she dared to lower her shield again. From behind the mask of “I don’t care at all” a very sad girl emerged. A girl who has decided in her subconscious that connecting, opening to love, is dangerous. In the end it just hurts. We have had a puppy for a few months now and she said it feels like she has a similar bond with her as with Credo. And on the one hand that makes her happy, but she’s also very afraid to feel that pain again.
Our conversation got me thinking further. Isn’t this what’s happening to all of us when we’re hurt, when our hearts are broken? The fear of it happening again makes us protect ourselves. Let’s not open that heart entirely again, because then it might hurt less later. Or, out of fear of rejection, we avoid confrontation with people a little. The fear of making others angry or irritated prevents us from really saying what we think or doing what we would like to do. We hide ourselves to protect ourselves from the pain or the grief.
What complicates it is that this process takes place for the most part in our subconscious. We are often unaware of this tendency to protect ourselves. It creates patterns that we will experience as normal. For years I avoided confrontation with others, out of fear of rejection. Was a master at making myself invisible at larger gatherings. A strategy that above all ensures that you will feel more and more lonely.
I did not understand myself at all. Why am I making it so hard on myself? Why can’t I just open myself up to people? What is wrong with me? Until I understood that I was unconsciously using this strategy to protect myself. And then I also began to understand that the key was to accept myself as I am. I came to see that I had made the fear of rejection far too big. Connecting with people isn’t scary, in particular if you’re happy with who you are.
How could you have unconsciously developed strategies to protect yourself? Is there a side of you that you don’t understand about yourself? Do you notice that certain patterns keep coming back, while they’re not helping you at all. Maybe it’s good to think about it. By understanding that part of yourself better, you open ways to changing those contra productive patterns.
When you understand where the fear comes from and what it is trying to protect you from, you make what was unconscious conscious. From that awareness you can make choices. It can take some time before you are ready to let go of the fear. Allow yourself that time, be kind to yourself. What would it be like if you felt safe to be who you are and to open your heart to love and life? That is what I wish our sweet teenage daughter from the bottom of my heart.