We all start out with such innocence, excitement, and zest for life. Over the years this too often evolves into frustration and the fear of being vulnerable.
When my daughter was little, she either opened up too quickly with other kids or held back, too shy to make friends. Both problematic. The first encouraged an air of intimacy where it didn’t exist. They were strangers just getting to know each other. Sharing a confidence early on often lead to exposure by those she didn’t know well. In response she then became shy and withdrawn refusing to open up for fear of another betrayal.
Both broke my heart. Neither were a way to encourage lasting friendships and secure boundaries.
As children, we tend to learn one of two protective mechanisms. For some, to prevent pain and harm, brick walls are built – one hard lesson at a time. An impenetrable barrier that serves to keep us isolated, alone and more fearful. Since we can’t see through or around what we’ve erected, we just become more trapped and alone.
We all know this feeling. Hurt by something or someone we vowed never to expose ourselves again. Sure closing down has its downside. It keeps us from opening up to new friends and activities, but we’ll never be hurt, shamed or attacked again. That brick monolith keeps everything and everyone out. . . And us inside.
Others never learn to have any protection at all and their inner souls are constantly bombarded and intruded upon by those around them. They become more vulnerable and scared with each interaction. This avenue makes us feel exposed and raw, wearing our intimate most feelings on our sleeve for all to see and possibly abuse.
I watched my daughter vacillate between these two alternatives. Ping ponging back and forth, depending on her sense of comfort and those she chose to trust.
One memorable moment was when she was ten and had escalated her gymnastics into hours of team work a week. Within months her body became toned and muscular, cut away to nothing but sinew and definition unseen in kids her age. Instead of being proud of her remarkable physique and intense exercise efforts she was embarrassed and eventually refused to expose her extremities, uncomfortable and awkward with her uniqueness. Her “best friend” at the time didn’t support or applaud my daughters attributes. Cowed by her own fuller, more normal child-like figure, she chose the opposite route- to make fun of my daughter’s “creepy arms”. Instead of honoring my daughter’s hard work, she rubbed raw the already difficult emotions they were both dealing with at such a young age.
Body image issues are overwhelming at any time, but exposing our feelings to those we think we can trust is devastating when that trust is ignored or purposefully betrayed. That’s when I explained trust shouldn’t be given away. Trust is earned by all parties. Those who show over time they will follow through on their promises, be there no matter what to support us in good and bad times, and say what they mean. That takes time and work. That’s what makes trust so special, and why it takes such effort to achieve and can be damaged irreparably in a moment of careless or thoughtless behavior.
It was heart breaking watching my daughter cry because a friend stood her up, made embarrassing comments, or shunned her for others; all issues we deal with as social beings. I knew I couldn’t stop it or human natures potentially cruel response from showing its ugly face. But I could help her learn ways to deal better.
The answer isn’t to lock ourselves up tight and ignore the potential issue or jump in without awareness of the possible pitfalls. As humans we crave and need social interactions. We need to have those we can trust and be ourselves with, unafraid of consequences. So how do we get this protection during the learning process? How do we grow and evolve beyond the two knee reflexive responses that never really work in our favor?
Our inner soul always needs protection from the outside world. This is who we are at our core. If a concrete structure is too much, and not having protection is too little, maybe a bubble is the best balance. Think of it as a protective, warm, and closed environment securing our inner self and well-being while still allowing access to the outside world. Allowing all our senses to stay engaged in order to interpret incoming signals; we can see through its transparency, feel contact, and then decide when someone threatens to burst through.
I explained that with each incident she can see how far she wants to let some in and when it feels too much, stop any further progression. With a bubble we can choose when to push back or envelope others input and move on. That way we remain intact while allowing ourselves to experience growth, new feelings, and new experiences. As we learn who to trust and how close to let some in, our bubble increases in its effectiveness. Enveloping us in a cocoon of safety.
Watching my little girl experiment with the size, opacity and resiliency of her bubble made me think of my own. How it has changed with every passing year. A work in progress as each lesson shapes and defines it. No matter your age, it’s never too late to implement or live by.