Humans do it all the time. Sometimes we are aware and other times we are not. We brace ourselves for all sorts of impact. Whether it be relational, physical, spiritual, financial or emotional. We are constantly bracing for the impact of life, hoping to prevent or at least lessen the damage. The truth is, it is not always possible to see the collisions of life coming and they can take us completely off guard. This is especially true as it pertains to relationships. As we age, and the hits of life keep on coming, we begin to brace out of fear because of the pain that we might incur should we fall or get hit again.
Braces for Impact
“There is no such thing as dent free after thirty.”
I coined this saying after being thrust into the modern world of dating after sixteen years of marriage. I was trying to begin relationships, both friendships and romantic, with other adults who had also incurred bruises and scars from their past. It was a strange new world for me and as I begin to date again. I quickly realized that this was not the same “happy go lucky”, carefree dating I had known when I met my ex-husband at eighteen years old. I didn’t know it in the beginning, but I was embarking on a painful but necessary path of healing. There was no bracing for it, there was no avoiding it, I could only take a deep breath and cooperate as life, and time slowly processed the trauma of losing everything I had known for almost two decades of my life.
Self-imposed Emotional Handicap
When we experience emotional trauma and the failure of relationships, often, we set up structures we think will keep us safe. These structures are the braces of life. Don’t get me wrong, braces are necessary after trauma, and after vital parts of us are broken. They serve to hold us together as we heal, but all too often we become dependent on those braces and refuse to engage the process of healing. We choose instead to live limited emotional, and relational lives in favor of a false security that comes by leaning on our braces. Emotionally that can look like anger, fear, insecurity, blame and excuse. It can take many forms and again for a season may serve its purpose. However, eventually, if you want to love and be your best self, you must go through the process necessary to shed your emotional braces and embrace a full and vibrant life.
“I find that many middle age adults have a difficult time dating again. They brace themselves by moving too slow or by moving too fast. Both to mitigate the possible pain of heartbreak.”
The Process of Healing
I went through a very tumultuous ending to my marriage. I left due to abuse and I was broken in more ways than I realized. If you have ever been in a bad car accident, you know that you really don’t know the full extent of your injuries until weeks and sometimes months later. A few years ago, I was in a pretty bad car accident. A tree fell across the road and I hit it at 55 miles an hour. I did not see it falling because it was dark, raining hard and there was no visibility. The next thing I knew, I was stopped and the world went very quiet. Thankfully, I was okay, it was just shock. In fact, I couldn’t feel anything in that moment. I was still trying to make sense of what happened. This is a close parallel to how I felt at the end of my marriage. I didn’t feel anything, however, I would soon find out that I was in a world of pain. I went on to endure and now celebrate the process of learning to let go of my braces and learn to love again.There are three phases I identified in my own emotional journey:
- Critical Condition
If you think about my example of the car accident or any injury that lands you in critical condition, it will give you a mental picture of what your heart, soul and mind look and feel like after emotional trauma. Like your body after an accident, your heart, soul and mind are in critical condition. You have no business tending to anything but your own recovery. Yet, often, we try to jump back into relationships, all the while, bleeding out because we do not have the inner resources to engage others in health. This is a difficult season, everything gets put on hold. All the dreams and plans are paused; the energy we would have given to them is now needed to help survive. If we tend to ourselves, over time, the bleeding stops and the injuries heal but there is still pain and soreness, often in places we can’t even identify. Depending on the seriousness of our injuries, our pace in healing can be faster or slower.
Now, we enter physical therapy or for the purpose of relationships, emotional therapy. I know, I know… therapy gets a bad rap. However, if you think about how much your body would need physical therapy after an accident, it should make sense that your heart, soul and mind would also need emotional therapy after experiencing trauma and pain. This is where we learn to trust ourselves again. It might look like going on a date after a long time. It might be slowing your pace down and not expecting all the answers from the beginning. I find that many middle age adults have a difficult time dating again. They brace themselves by moving too slow or by moving too fast. Both to mitigate the possible pain of heartbreak. However, the only way you can learn to live and love again is by exercising your heart and taking the risk on love. When you learn to accept risk as part of love, you will understand what true love is!
Understanding The Risk
You might be asking me, “What does risk have to do with love?” I will begin explaining the third, and last phase of my healing by answering that question. True love is inherently risky. Why? Because you have no guarantee that it will be returned. Genuine love comes from a selfless place and it is given without strings or demands. As we age and endure pain, heartache and loss, we begin to place conditions on our love to try to reduce the risk. Can I tell you there is no way to do this without polluting love? The moment we try to place conditions on our love, we stop to experience love in its purest form. Selfishness is the death of love because it anchors it with a million expectations. (Please do not confuse boundaries with conditions. They are not the same and I might explore that in a future blog.)
The third phase of my journey to shedding my emotional braces was moving from therapy and braces, designed to help me function again and into trusting myself and my heart once more. I had to release the fear of getting hurt again. I had very few good memories of being in a relationship. Everything was hard all the time. Like a bird released from a cage, I didn’t want to feel trapped like I did before. This is where we fight fear and make decisions to trust and embrace the risk of love again. Honestly, this is where I see people suffer and hurt the most. They fight those memories of their past and instead of releasing themselves into new possibilities they cower back into the pain of their past. Believe me, I understand but I also know that this is where we can experience love new and fresh. Accept the risk, be wise but learn to trust yourself again and give love unconditionally, first to yourself and then to the one who comes to love you. I wish you much success on your journey and I hope you begin to shed your braces and learn the fluid motion of your heart once more!