The Great Walls"The walls we build to protect us keep others out, but they also keep us alone on the inside."
We have discussed many of the tools and strategies that our complex neurological system uses to protect us from threat and harm. We have discussed defense mechanisms, misdirection of truth, anger, and humor to mention a few of the methods that our brain employees to ensure our emotional survival. All of those resources are called upon in situations where a threat has been realized. In this section, were going were going to examine an even more insidious intellectual/emotional approach, one that can eliminate threats even before the brain realizes them.
Our brains are specialized masters of defense. They routinely employ sophisticated strategies that keep us from being compromised as threatening situations arrive in our lives. However, as we all know, the success of those strategies depends on the brain's ability to perceive those situational threats as they are occurring. So, how would this sophisticated neurological system address the possibility that a perceived threat may escape its ever-present detection system, and damage us in some fashion? By now, we've all heard the old adage that says "the best defense is strong offense." This would suggest that the brain would either have to be in attack mode routinely, or that it would employ a system which could be on guard at all times but remain undetected. Actually, the brain does both. Overt, operational systems like anger are easily visible, and do keep others at bay. The question is, with our minds being as sophisticated as they are, what kind of program can the brain design to keep us protected even in times when the threat is not yet perceived, and defenses like anger have not been activated?
By definition, that system would need to operate in the background, never really being seen. We should have the ability to proceed through our daily lives, with this system in operation, but undetectable. It is similar to the operating system in your computer, one which employs a virus detection program. When activated, the system services the computer at all times, but we never see any signs of it. We routinely navigate between one program and another, and as long as the virus protection program is running properly, it does its job, and protects us, but we never realize that it's there. So what format would the most complex system in the world utilize to protect the most advanced species in the world?
Let's take a look at what such a format would have to do for us. First, and foremost, it will have to protect us from threats that we do not realize are occurring. Second, it would have to subtly let others know that there are boundaries, and that we prefer that those boundaries not be violated. Three it would have to allow us the flexibility to socialize, form relationships, and realize our objectives, without compromising personal information that we wish to keep private. We should also have the ability to increase and decrease the strength of this format consciously. As an automatic system that runs in the background of our minds, it automatically adjusts to the severity of the threat. We however do want to maintain the luxury of making adjustments where we see fit. There is one system that accomplishes all these needs. And that my friends, are the walls we employ to keep people either at a distance, or from crossing boundaries we've established for ourselves.
So, let's define our terms. A wall, as we are defining it, is an automatic internal structure that is established in an unconscious part of our brains. It is designed protect us, and our privacy. Let's break this definition down just a bit before we proceed. We're calling this an unconscious process, since we do not have to engage conscious thought to enable it. On the other hand, it can transition to a cognitive state which means that we have control over some part of the wall, and subsequently can make some decisions regarding the magnitude of its influence. The wall is designed to protect our privacy and consequently keep us secure.
Let's take a look at how wall operates in our daily lives. To do this, we're going to take a look at two types of walls. The first, and most important, are the unconscious walls. These, as we have been presenting, need no conscious thought to operate. The second are conscious walls. Here, we know there is something we want to protect, and were not letting anyone in deep enough to connect with that item. Conscious walls are usually attached to something we are consciously protecting. A traumatic event from our past, a fear that we have, or some part of ourselves that we would rather not have anyone else know are all examples of conscious situations. We might use our wall(s) to protect us from a security breach, that is, someone getting to close to the item we are protecting. The walls may be in operation consistently, however we use minimum resources to maintain them until the threat is realized.
The unconscious walls are the real focus of our discussion. They serve two purposes. First, as with their conscious counterparts, they protect us from threats that we are aware of. Second, and this is where it gets interesting, a threat does not have to be present, and in fact, we don't have to feel the possibility of a threat. A well constructed unconscious wall helps us to establish the appearance of two unique individuals: 1) the person that everyone sees, and 2) the person who is behind that wall. Though these two people are interconnected extensively, their presentation, especially to those close to them, seems to be different. This is where interpersonal problems can arise.
Let's illustrate. Tom and Jenny are in the initial phase of a new relationship. They've been seeing each other for four months, and the emotional part of their relationship is becoming more intimate. Jenny, however, has begun to realize that there's only so close she can get before Tom begins to become evasive. He changes the subject, injects humor into the dialogue, and at times has even responded by saying he doesn't know what she was asking. As far as Jenny is concerned, her questions were simple straightforward, and did not require a tremendous amount of introspection. As Jenny pursues the situation, Tom begins to show more reluctance, and is beginning to indicate that he does not to move in that direction. Many of us have either experienced Jenny's frustration, or we may be more like Tom, and are reluctant to open ourselves to any form of potential threat. Interestingly, and this is a very important feature of unconscious walls, Tom may say that he does not understand what Jenny is asking for, and he may be telling the truth. The reason for this is simple. Since Tom's walls are in unconscious, he is not controlling them consciously, and they have become his routine, that is, his every day of behaving. He does not realize that the walls are there. He may even tell her this. He'll also be wondering why she has to keep pressing the issue. "After all, aren't things good the way they are?"
This is why we attached the terms unconscious, and insidious. By the time our walls have become an efficient part of our lives, the reason for their existence is well hidden. They become a process of daily life, onto themselves. We become neither happy nor concerned about their existence. In fact, when presented with the possibility that they exist by someone close to us, we may respond by saying that they don't know what they're talking about. So, how do we know if a) we have emotional walls, and b) they may be causing some problems for us? The first sign is a difficulty disclosing personal information about ourselves. People with unconscious emotional walls, for reasons unknown to them, are protective with regard to sharing information they feel could harm them in some fashion. They like being "personal" about their lives. Second, they may employ other devices like humor and mis-direction to keep others from acquiring that information. Third, they may avoid situations where any type of serious conversations may begin. Soon, they may begin to avoid people who are trying to get to close to them all together, since this will probably be the outcome.
If you think you are using some of these strategies to protect yourself from others who may trying to be moving too close to you emotionally, it's a good idea to begin with a conscious approach. Ask yourself if there's anything which has occurred in your past and may cause enough stress for you to keep it under wraps. If this is a case, then it's possible that an event, issue, or person is still having a negative influence on your life. It makes sense to put closure there so that you won't have a reason to build a wall around it. Keep in mind that a wall only treats the symptom. It never efficiently addresses the problem. If you have either identified a conscious concern, are not sure if you have been built walls around you, or why you may have done so, it makes good sense to attempt to talk about yourself in greater detail, especially with someone you trust. If you make an attempt to do this, and are experiencing conflict or emotional distress, then it might be a good idea to see a counselor to help you with this. Building walls, and maintaining them in our lives requires a lot of energy, like any other hidden operating system, and it, like a thief, steals the energy you need, which can be applied with more productively in your personal life. No one has to be open with everybody that they meet, but openness, honesty, and a willingness to share one's life without limits with loved ones, creates the peace and the connectivity that all human beings desire. The alternative is to successfully protect yourself where protection is not essential, and to live your life as a prisoner to unresolved feelings and on the other side that wall. Step out, and experience the connectivity that exists where isolation and overprotection ruled your world. There's a huge and wonderful world waiting for you on the other side of your wall.