No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” – CS Lewis
Today, my letter to you is about love. It is about emotional thawing, courage, and trust. It is a topic near and dear to me, because I believe a life hiding in fear is a compromised one.
Emotionally intense and gifted people experience feelings in ways and degrees that are not easily grasped by others. Because of their asynchronous development and expression, they are often misunderstood and even scapegoated from childhood all through to adulthood.
Being repeatedly shunned and diminished, you may start to resent the part of you that naturally expresses strong emotion, and decide to hide or to ‘freeze’ it. Perhaps you came up with survival strategies to keep yourself safe, such as keeping everyone at bay so that you won’t get hurt. Perhaps you swore to never fall in love in order to avoid disappointment, to push people away before they do, or even to ‘pretend’ being in love whilst guarding your heart away. Whilst on the surface these distancing strategies have kept you ‘safe’, they come with a huge cost. One inevitable consequence is emotional numbness, which can turn into feeling empty, disconnected, and lonely. Your protective shield may have overstayed their time and is now keeping you away from the life you want.
As Alice Miller poignantly put:
‘a sense of emptiness, futility or hopelessness… A process of emptying, impoverishment, and partial killing of his potential actually took place when all that was alive and spontaneous in him was cut off.’
Albeit painful, it is the suffering from this deep, existential disconnection that can serve as a turning point. You may one day decide that you have no other option but to ‘thaw’ and re-connect with your heart, as you can no longer tolerate simply letting life slip by in front of you.
When you can finally ‘loosen the grip’ on the rigid wall that keeps you away from joy and connection, you will reach a new layer of tenderness and vulnerability within yourself.
However, as you enter the chasm of change, you are bound to feel a little wobbly.
Initially, you may get in touch with a subtle sense of excitement, or even euphoria. This comes from the most innocent, natural part of you, it is the openheartedness that is your natural state, and has been with you all along. No matter how much your adult-self tries to deny or bury it, your innocent self’s yearning is always there, wanting to be heard.
Because physiologically excitement feels a lot like anxiety, your brain may perceive these new sensations as threats, and your mind is tricked to believe that letting go will cause dangers and harm. This is a natural reaction to change and uncertainty: As your Innocent Self is now given some breathing room, your Controlling Self is panicking: He is afraid of losing control, or getting hurt again, of disappointment and of the unknown.
Now an internal conflict arises: Part of you wants to love and trust wholeheartedly, to immerse in all-encompassing love, to experience exuberant joy and excitement, whilst another part of you is anxious about losses, betrayal and abandonment. Despite the surface contradictions, they have the same the intention. They both want the best for you— to be able to express your true self in a safe environment, be celebrated rather than tolerated, and be grounded in peace rather than in fear.
Perhaps you can remind your fearful protector that the highest purpose in life is not just to survive. You can educate him of the fact that life is by nature ever-changing, and the only way through is to adapt and flow. Tell him that it is silly to never let in joy for the fear of losing it— that is as silly as never taking in nutritious food for the fear of getting hungry again.
It is time to remind yourself of how incredibly adaptable you are. You have been through bad things and have achieved great things. You have been doing this all your life, and all you need to do now is to reconnect with the strength that is inside you. The joy of whole-hearted relatedness and connection is only on the other side of the fence.
There is no need to bury your protector altogether either, for there is value in being maturely cautious in adult relationships. A child’s innocence and limitless ability to trust is joyous yet incredibly vulnerable. And actually, the protector brings the valuable, accumulated knowledge and experience that make up your instinct. Most empaths and highly sensitive individuals are naturally highly intuitive, you might have been born with this ability, or that your senses were developed through living in an unsafe and unpredictable environment. Your highly attuned intuitive skills allow you to very rapidly assess, through picking up the body language of others, the level of your own safety. When skilfully honed, your protective intuition is a great protector. It is only when it becomes overly rigid and extreme that it makes life an exhausting battle against fear.
As you loosen the grip on old survival strategies and let in new light, focus on the limitless possibilities that are opening up. Perhaps the intelligence of your heart and mind can finally join hands, so that you can enter the chasm of change with the open heart of a mature adult. In this new place, you can trust without being overly rigid, or naively vulnerable, and love gloriously, generously and intelligently.