Everyone has seen fences. We have them along two sides of our property — one wood and one chain link. Just walk down the street and you’ll pass fences of all descriptions. They can simply be for decoration along the front of a lawn, they can surround a school yard, they can mark the perimeter of a farmers field.
The reality is that fences serve two purposes only.
They are used to keep things in or to keep things out. We build them ourselves or someone else builds them for us. They don’t spring up out of the ground like dandelions on our lawn.
People also build another barrier or fence — an invisible one.
These are the mental or emotional fences in our lives to keep things in or out, whether they be people, emotions, hurt, or pain. These invisible fences seemingly provide a sense of protection and comfort as we live our lives.
Emotional fence building starts early in life. Unfortunately, these fences get reinforced and strengthened as time goes by. They get built a little higher on a daily basis.
Just as physical fences can be made of wood, concrete, brick, or wire, the emotional or mental fences and barriers we build can be constructed out of:
• trusting others
• the past
The building supplies needed to construct the emotional fence of fear can be found all around us.
For many of us, there were two or three things about fear we figured out or, conversely, didn’t get a good grip on.
• we never learned how to overcome fear
• we learned that if we avoided making mistakes there was nothing to fear in life
• we learned to never take any risks due to the risk of failure.
Because we feared failure, we also learned the fear of trying. The hideous part of all of this is the spiral of fear of trying and fear of failure. This corrals us into a never-ending cycle of mind-numbing conformity of living life on a treadmill.
What Do You Fear?
We may fear starting a new career, asking a special someone out, or being in a long-term relationship. Perhaps it’s the fear of success, as we’re unsure how life might change as a result. Are you afraid of being pushed out of your comfort zone?
It is fear that tells us that we don’t have the correct skills for a new position when in fact we do. Fear convinces us that our new colleagues may not like us. Fear also convinces us that we are comfortable where we are, that life is good enough.
We fear intimacy or being in a relationship. We may have been hurt in the past and the fear of rejection or being hurt again whispers to us, “Don’t go down that road again.” As a result of this fear, we don’t. We turn down an invite for coffee, afraid it may go further. We come up with every excuse under the sun when that perfect someone shows interest in us. Even if we get into a relationship, our subconscious sabotages it because we fear the emotional intimacy.
The fears we have can appear to be real. Nevertheless, fear can pin us down like super glue. This results in us being stuck in a place we truly don’t want to be. We desire to move on in our lives, to grow and live life fully, but fear holds us back.
The fear of failure leads to the fear of trying, which leads back to a fear of failure. It is a vicious cycle.
Fears are personal — people are afraid of failure, rejection and possible conflicts.
Self-worth is often tied directly to the level of self-esteem we have. At some point early in our life, we started to build those emotional fences because we may have felt unloved, awkward, or incompetent.
This can be a life-long construction project. The materials needed to construct the fence of self-worth can be delivered right to your front door by the truckload. Perhaps they show up on a daily basis. People with low self-worth are hypersensitive to the criticism and actions of those around us. The greater threat, however, in the construction of this emotional barrier can be found within.
We don’t believe in ourselves like everyone else does. Everyone encourages you, saying, “You have got a great talent for this or that,” but you don’t believe them, so you never try.
Every time that happens, you add yet another board to the fence of low self-worth. It slowly gets constructed higher and higher, year after year, until it becomes almost impossible to knock down.
The nails holding the boards together become stronger each time it happens. The boards become thicker and heavier.
You may hear negative comments, so you choose to never try. What might have been your destiny in life had you not allowed others to erect your fence becomes just another dream.
We come to believe we don’t have the talent, ability or skills to succeed in various areas of our life while those around us believe we are capable.
Poor self-worth keeps us penned in from entering into meaningful relationships. Why would they like me? How can I love others if I can’t even love myself?
Like fear; negative self-worth and low self-esteem are personal… real personal.
Like the boards on a wooden fence rotting away over time, so does trust.
I read some place that trust is a “fundamental human experience” necessary for society to function and for any person to be relatively happy. Without it, fear rules. Trust is not an either/or proposition, but a matter of degree, and certain life experiences can impact a person’s ability to trust others.
Issues of trust may come from experiences in childhood, such as inadequate love and affection, mistreatment or abuse. Perhaps you experienced bullying during your school years. Whatever the reason, these experiences have culminated into our adult relationships. It is harder to trust people if your self-esteem has been kicked out of you over time.
As an adult it could be a traumatic life event such as the loss of a loved one, an accident or illness, or physical violence. These issues could very well lead to your inability to trust in the goodness of others. It might have been with a partner who broke that trust bond with you.
It could be all of the above. Trusting others, as well as trusting one’s self-care, becomes a major issue.
It can be helpful to remind yourself that your current circle of friends/family may not be responsible for past events. It isn’t fair to them to make assumptions based on the actions of someone completely different from your past. It can be a hard process, but building trust is a choice, and building trust in any relationship takes time, especially if your trust has been shattered.
The fence of “trusting others” can be hard to change and renovate, but it can be done.
The past often creeps into perceptions about the future. Unfortunately, the past gets carried into the present as the “baggage of life.” And we allow it to happen.
The tricky thing about emotional fences is that we may not even know we’ve built them. We don’t realize we allow the past to build yet another fence of emotional baggage when we get involved in a new relationship. The hideous part of this is, if we haven’t dealt with issues from our past, we are potentially sabotaging this new relationship, which just may be the one that has long-term potential.
If we never deal with past events, our feelings of fear and hurt continue growing until we somehow crazily justify the whole mess and the cycle continues.
We do the same thing over and over and wonder why the results are always the same.
Fences that went up in the past don’t have to define our future.
Why Does This Matter?
Some fences we build on our own; some get built by others.
Regardless of who constructed them, complex structures require complex solutions.
We travel through life and convince ourselves we’re comfortable. We tell ourselves this is all we deserve. We base this on the fences and barriers we have built around us.
We build fences out of our insecurities — our fears, our self-defined inadequacies, our lack of faith or our approval from others. Other fences get built to protect a broken heart or to hide who we really are. Maybe we build a fence so we can’t be wrongly defined by society.
Board by board, wire by wire, higher and stronger the fence gets built. Thus we live within the fences created.
A good reminder when we build fences around our emotions is that it doesn’t just keep people away from us, it also keeps us from moving forward. Fences keep things in and inhibit us from moving forward. Like fences surrounding a prison, we become emotional prisoners.
Often, fences have a window that looks out at others. Every so often we peek out, admiring those who appear free. They walk freely, run freely, love freely, seemingly without any walls stopping them.
“How can I be like them?” Our window to the world opens in the fence WE ourselves have built.
There is good news. It’s not all doom and gloom.
Just as physical fences can be torn down, emotional walls and barriers can be knocked down and overcome.
Yes, it will likely be difficult. Speaking from my own experience, it is and was a challenging but necessary process to go through.
In fact, you may need help at times. If we tried each day to punch a brick or take a board off the fence, someday there would be no fence at all.
Even if the fence only becomes smaller, we’d still be better off. When the fences come down, we can be like those walking freely, running freely, and loving freely.
How do we break down these fences?
How do we start dealing with the complex, difficult, and painful issues surrounding those emotional barriers in our lives? In my own experience, it takes these important steps — though you may not be in a place right now that reflect this.
First, you need to make a decision to start — a real decision. That is what I did. With fear and anxiety in making that difficult choice, it was a decision I needed to make. In fact, it was the only correct decision.
What are the fences or barriers made of?
A critical component is to identify what is keeping us a prisoner. Identifying and exploring what those barriers are helps to give us perspective, self-compassion and thus the catalyst to start the healing process. Remember, when you were born, you weren’t worried about building walls to keep from getting hurt. All that came later — much later.
Once we identify them, the work starts to destroy those false beliefs so that you can move forward in life. If we think we’ve dealt with them but have only done so on a superficial basis, we can easily fall back into them. We revert to what is familiar to us.
You can’t escape from behind these barriers and move on in life if you keep retreating back into what is familiar.
This may not be an easy process; it certainly wasn’t for me. If you know you need to deconstruct these emotional barriers, remember you are not alone.
Ask for help
A good therapist can help you put in the effort and work needed to tear down emotional barriers, ones that can hinder us from a more fruitful life.
Therapy can help us with:
• rejecting irrational beliefs and self-defeating thoughts
•learning how to become empowered
• learning to identify and deconstruct harmful emotional fences
Remember, we are social beings; we were not made to go through life alone. There are plenty of people out there to support you and to be with you along this journey.
A Final Reminder
My wish right now would be for all of us to move outside of our comfort zones.
I don’t know what may be involved in moving you from your “comfort zone” to that place “where the magic happens.” In reality, you may not be in the right place to start the work necessary to deal with the emotional fences in your life.
If that’s where you are, that’s okay. Tomorrow, however, may be your day. Regardless of where you are at the moment or where you want to be in the future, there is hope.
Fences are broken down one post at a time.
Our desire is to inspire others to get outdoors, discover yourself, and find inspiration. The hardest part sometimes is taking that first step to climb over your personal stumbling block.
Perhaps today, you can take that first step.