Do you ever find yourself relating to the old 80’s song, Love Is A Battlefield? Not only can love feel this way, life can too. If we were on an actual battlefield, hopefully each of us would have ways to protect and defend ourselves.
In life we all have our own metaphorical swords and shields. The shields are the ways we protect ourself while the swords are the ways we defend ourself or hurt others. We didn’t come into this world with our armor and weapons, but overtime as we have been hurt ourselves, we have learned how to keep ourselves safer. We carry these weapons so that we could better survive and cope in our world.
For some, they have been hurt emotionally, mentally, or physically so deeply that they go through life with a big shield. Others respond to this pain by carrying a long sword to keep others at an arm’s length. Often, the greater pain experienced, the greater the swords and shields are.
While our sword and our shields have offered us protection and kept us safer, in close relationships it makes it hard to feel any kind of close connection when we are pointing our swords at each other, or when we are tucked away behind a big shield. We may be safe, but this can be a lonely way to live. This emotional armor can protect us against harm, but it also can have long lasting adverse effects when worn regularly. The most notable is the inability to deeply connect with others. These shields and swords if never put down can become a prison, hindering relationships, connections, and the ability to feel like we ourselves belong. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown states that “The greatest barrier is not our fear. It’s our armor. It’s what we do to self-protect when we’re afraid.”
We may want to put our armor down but hang on to them in an attempt avoid feeling the pain associated with emotional injury (betrayal, rejection, apathy, hate, etc.). So how do we begin to put down our armor? Here are a few steps to get you started on this journey.
Find a Good Therapist
If we are still deeply wounded, it makes it almost impossible for the survival part of our brain to relax and be open to even more wounds. Work with a therapist to help you heal your own individual trauma or past pains so that you can begin to heal and move forward.
Explore where you began to really see the need for a bigger shield and sword
When you were born, you weren’t worried about getting your feelings hurt. Somewhere along the line, you learned the need to carry these heavy protectants; your emotional armor came later. Rarely it is not just one experience either. Wearing it gave you the strength to cope with painful feelings.
Learn to connect with yourself
Before we can put our armor down, we first have to be comfortable with the person underneath. Take the time to explore, learn, and eventually love yourself.
Identify what emotional safety looks like for you and create healthy boundaries
Once you begin to understand for you what emotionally healthy looks like, you can begin to create boundaries to protect yourself from emotionally unhealthy people or behaviors. We need to begin to understand not only what doesn’t keep us safe, but what safety would look like. Who in our life is attempting to create safety? Who is not? How would you qualify an emotionally safe person?
Find your people
As humans, we are all wired for community and connection. The idea that we don’t need anyone else is a false narrative often used as a shield. Look for those who you can be authentic with. If you are going through a difficult challenge, find others who are currently or previously have faced it.
Build up your resiliency
Resiliency is the key to help you bounce back from painful emotions. To be resilient allows you to face your difficult feelings knowing that all feelings pass with time, and that you will eventually be okay. Some simple ways to build resiliency include accepting that change is a part of living, learning to feel emotions, doing self-care, practicing optimism, and mindfulness.
Carrying around a sword and shield takes its toll. Whether it be the shear emotional weight or the loss of connection in relationships, it keeps us from fully feeling and embracing the joy life has to offer. It takes great courage to put away your shield and sword and let others see your vulnerable sides. While we open ourselves up to potentially more pain, we also open ourselves to more connection, authenticity, freedom, peace, and joy.
Alana Gordon, MFT-I is a marriage and family therapist and a betrayal trauma coach. For more articles, podcast episodes, and videos from her, go to Chooserecoveryservices.com