Monday, February 22, 2010

People and Walls

Every now and then, I decide that I’ve had enough of people. They only hurt you or let you down. I’m better off without them. And living life without having anything to do with people would avoid a lot of pain.

I decide I might lock myself up in my house and avoid everyone. Only it doesn’t quite work because I have children. I can’t exactly say to them can you please live somewhere else? I’ve decided to become a hermit.

These feelings never last for long anyway. A day, maybe two. On very rare occasions, maybe a week. I get disappointed with the whole human race fairly easily. But then someone will do something or I begin to think a bit more clearly and I realise they’re not such a bad lot after all. Besides which, I’m part of them. And if I wanted to avoid all people that did the wrong thing occasionally, I’d have to avoid myself. That’s pretty difficult.

But there was a time when I did avoid just about everyone. When I was married to my husband, I basically locked myself in the house and saw no-one, besides the people I had to see. There were a few reasons for that. Some of which I could discuss, but as some of them I certainly don’t want to discuss, it’s probably best not to discuss my reasons at all.

And even when I did have to see people, I put a big, sturdy, Jericho-type wall around myself before I talked to them. I might be in the same room as them. But there was no way I was getting close to them. There was a barrier between them and me.

Things have changed since then. In fact, writing this post has proved to me how much they have changed. Because I write about that time without feeling any pain whatsoever. I actually feel happier now than I did when I started writing.

And I wonder why that is? Maybe it’s because remembering that time shows me how much I have gained.

When I first started to come out of that ‘Married hermit with kids’ stage, someone was talking to me about how I needed to open up and remove that wall. And I said to her that I didn’t want to remove that wall. Because if I did, I would get hurt. She told me that at the moment (that is, at that moment), I was just a big bundle of hurt.

Reliving the past may not be painful, but it’s certainly not something I want to go back to. Because even though people occasionally let me down and disappoint me, they also bring much joy. There are also the times they surprise me with their generosity or friendship.

But just because I said that thinking about that ‘hermit’ phase doesn’t hurt anymore, doesn’t mean the hurt is completely gone. The pain I felt then is still there. Sometimes I feel like if you cut a deep gash in me, what would come up would not be blood, but tears, disappointments, hurts and fears.

I think (at least I hope) that I deal with it a lot better than I used to. But the reason I locked myself away from everyone was not only that I was worried they would hurt me. It was the fear that they would see the hurt already inside me. That they would catch a glimpse of those ‘tears, disappointments, hurts and fears’ and then they would run away. Or they would pity me or think less of me. Something. It’s like when you have a room in your house that you never want anyone to see because it’s such a mess. And if they see that, what would they think? Well I have rooms like that inside me. Rooms that are messy and ugly and pretty depressing places to be in.

Maybe everyone has rooms like that. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know.

The pain is still there. And so is the fear.

But I have realised that sometimes the best thing to do, when you have a messy room, is simply open the door. Let people see it. Yes, some people will be horrified and will want nothing to do with you. But some will stay. Some will see your mess and accept you anyway.

And those are the moments when I give up being disappointed with the whole human race, and think that some people really are beautiful beings. Those are the times when I realise that exposing myself to possible pain and hurt and disappointment is worth it. Because sometimes that’s not what I get. Instead, I receive joy and love and acceptance. When you leave yourself open, you put yourself in a position to receive both.


  1. Hi Liz,
    I have been in that position myself - isolating myself from other people - because I had serious marital problems that I didn't want anyone to know about. With me, a lot of it was due to a sense of loyalty. I realized later that, had i been more open, the whole sorry situation would have been rectified much more satisfactorily. Sometimes you just don't want to hear what you know you are going to be told. What I do remember is that it was only when i started talking about what was happening that i was able to see things in a clear light.

    I think it isn't just off-loading your problems or getting advice from other people that helps. It is the act of giving voice to your thoughts and concerns that releases the capacity to deal with them.

    No-one likes to admit to failure but more often than not, when you do, people are kind and sympathetic rather than judgemental. And it makes other people feel not so bad about their own failures.

    I like your analogy of the rooms because it is such an accurate depiction of the psyche. I dreamt for years about a certain room in a house - the doorway of which i could never go through ... i think you will find, if you open the door to your room, it isn't nearly so bad in there as you imagine from the outside.

    Funnily, during the time that i was isolating myself - not that i didnt see people, just that i kept it limited and kept certain subjects out of the conversation - my house was 'sssparkling clean'. People often commented on it. When my marriage ended I became a complete slob. Now i like to think i have a balanced approach to my house.

  2. Hi Teresa,

    I do agree that sometimes talking about things helps and that often people are kind and sympathetic. And I know there's been many times when someone has said something. And there's kind of like this moment of 'Oh, you're not perfect' which is actually quite reassuring. You feel better able to do talk to someone when you know that they've at least struggled with some things in the past.

    But I don't necessarily think it's always a good thing to discuss something. There seems to be this idea that we must let everything out and talk about all our problems. But honestly, I think sometimes that can do more harm than good.

    Because for one, it can mean just dredging up the pain over and over again. I know with some counselling, there's this attitude that we'll keep talking about until it stops hurting. But some things never stop hurting. And in fact, talking about them only makes them hurt more.

    And secondly, I think sometimes it's better just to forgive and forget. It's hard to forgive someone when you're constantly reminding yourself of what they've done wrong.

    And so, I suppose, in a way, I do have closed doors. But I hadn't actually thought about things from that point of view when I was writing. I was thinking more about letting people see my pain, rather than discussing the exact details of what had hurt me. Rather than putting on a smiley face and pretending I have it altogether.

    But I did do a lot of journal writing when I came out of my hermit phase. And perhaps that was my way of processing it.


  3. Hi Liz
    I agree that it can be counter-productive to discuss some problems.

    Some people take the view that talking about a problem just reinforces its effect rather than dissipating it and there are better ways to deal with bad situations - such as praying.
    Simply talking about a problem doesn't necessarily make it go away. To 'forgive and forget' is really the only solution - if you can do it.

    Our modern Western culture promotes 'personal growth' so that even the barely literate parrot catchphrases that spring from a a very shallow understanding of sophisticated psychological concepts.

    So I think a lot of people convince themselves that they have forgiven, forgotten and 'moved on' when all they have really done is to put their problem in a little box and file it away. Not that i am suggesting that you have done this - tho i know i have done it myself.

    Sometimes, whatever is in that box will just dissolve with the passage of time.

  4. Hi Teresa,

    I think different problems call for different solutions. Ideally, I think the best way is forgiving and forgeting. But we're human. And that means that sometimes forgiveness is a bit hard to achieve. It might mean having to talk about it to someone. It might mean just living with the pain.

    In the Pentecostal Church, there is almost the view that if something is hurting you, then all you need is prayer and/or pastoral counselling. And I have seen people hurt by that attitude, because they received prayer and pastoral counselling, but it didn't automatically remove the pain.

    It's kind of seen a bit like a magic wand. Wave the magic wand and pain disappears. But sometimes the pain remains. And then they're left feeling (or even being made to feel) that it's their fault because they haven't prayed enough or they haven't really discussed the root cause of their problem.

    I had someone talking to me about quitting smoking today. And she was saying I just need to pray and ask God to help me. I did that for five years. And that's a different situation, but the philosophy is the same. I used to get so sick of people saying 'just pray' as though it were the magic answer to all my problems.

    Now I think prayer is good. I'm all for prayer. But the point is I do pray. And yet they say it as though it was something I hadn't even thought of. And if I only did that, then my problems would be solved.

    Honestly, I think sometimes we just need to live with the pain - rather than make it disappear. And I think this attitude that if you're hurting, there's something wrong with you, is actually hurtful in itself. Because it does make people feel like there's something wrong with them (or something they need to cure) if they have pain in their lives.

    I've used the Pentecostal Church as an example. But it's the same attitude that you find in books like 'Seven easy ways to deal with a divorce' or 'How to go through the grieving process'. They're made up titles, but there's plenty of books out there along the same lines. All with the theme of 'This is how we get rid of pain'.

    But pain is actually normal. We all have things in our life that hurt us. And I do believe that sometimes we'd be better off just accepting that pain, rather than trying to make it magically disappear.




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