Freedom has been on my mind this week. July is a very reflective time for our family. It’s full of celebrations of freedom, faith, triumph, and courage. July is also the month we became a family. Spending nearly six weeks in Eastern Europe forever changed us. With or without our kids, we could never go back to who we were before we made that trip.
I posted the other day about freedom from a patriotic and adoption standpoint. Today I want to talk about a different type of freedom…emotional freedom. To me, emotional freedom is all about claiming my right to live in a world of light and tearing down the walls I built to “protect myself from getting hurt”.
Oh sure, those walls we build exist for a reason (and sometimes several reasons.) They might be our attempt to control our world, to keep the upper hand in relationships, or they are simply an automatic reaction to feeling hurt, scared, anxious, or threatened. One of the greatest lies, however, about emotional walls is they exist to keep us safe. That’s what we tell ourselves to justify their existence, right? Reality is, though, they don’t keep us safe, they don’t keep us in control of situations, and they don’t keep us from getting hurt. Sure, they may feel protective in the short run…but long term, all they really do is keep us locked in a prison of our own making.
Adoption isn’t for the faint of heart!
Try as we might to be prepared emotionally and physically for adopting two older children from a foreign country, there were still a few things we didn’t see coming. Even though we read ever book, article, blog, and support group post we could find prior to adopting, we still found ourselves blindsided by reality. We were overwhelmingly unprepared for just how hard this journey would be, how precious little help there really is, how frequently we would be lied to along the way, how stinking judgmental others can be about things they know nothing about, and how much all of this would affect and change all of us. They say adoption isn’t for the faint of heart and that trauma is contagious. I wholeheartedly believe both!
Oh yes, I started out as “Wonder Woman.” I was in complete denial of my own situation. Even though our whole adoption experience, and especially the time we spent overseas, was stressful beyond anything we could ever have imagined and our kids weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy while we were there, I was still convinced things would settle down as soon as we got home. I lived my life accordingly, too…even though EVERYTHING had changed and our life was now anything but sane, I still tried to keep up with everything and everyone.
It didn’t take long before I couldn’t do that anymore, though. I was too exhausted, too stressed, and in way too far over my head with the issues my new kids had brought to our family. That’s when people once close to us drifted away, the judgment and criticism from outsiders started and turned into reports made to CPS, and our marriage nearly blew apart at the seams.
That’s also when my own walls went up. At the time, they were the only means of coping and survival I had. The only thing I knew how to do was to shut down, shut everyone and everything who wasn’t actively part of the solution out, and to merely survive.
It accomplished what it needed to in the moment, but ultimately, it left me in a dark, lonely prison from which I couldn’t escape on my own…even though I was the one who had built it. Here’s the thing with emotional walls. They do indeed keep the hard and bad stuff from coming in, but they also keep the good stuff like connection, love, friendship, support, growth, and healing out. Those were the things I needed desperately, but could no longer access or give. Long story short, I was a hot mess!
Finding my way out
I won’t lie. The journey wasn’t easy. There was pain, struggle, and learning things about myself I didn’t want to know or face. The process was, however, very much worth it. The more I was willing to look at myself and put my own thoughts, emotions, and belief systems under a microscope, the more freedom I found. The more I was willing to reshape, redefine, and rescript my own life experiences, the easier it became to take down the walls of my own prison and allow light, hope, and joy to return to my life.
One of the most important things I learned along the way is that my kids and their issues didn’t make the bricks that built my walls. They were already there long before any of my kids came into my life. So were the foundation layers of my prison walls. None of those things magically appeared during my adult years. They started way back when I was a little kid…and they also started the moment I believed the negative things others said or did and projected onto me.
Did you catch that key word? Those prison walls started forming when I believed all those negative, taunting, hurtful things that were said and done to me. The walls grew as I accepted them as part of my own flawed character.
I used to believe I wasn’t good enough, cute enough, smart enough, skinny enough, funny enough, quiet enough, popular enough, loveable enough, deserving enough, meek enough, strong enough, perfect enough, or whatever enough. I believed those things so fervently that I sought evidence to support those beliefs and make them fact. Guess what? I found it. You always will if you’re looking for it through that lens.
Isn’t it ironic that I found my way out of prison by doing the same thing that got me there? I just did it in a different way. After carefully examining my own thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and belief systems under a microscope and then intentionally looking for different evidence to support them, I found my way back to the light. I realized I was the one in charge of my own destiny and I didn’t have to believe those self-limiting things anymore.
I also learned what was really exhausting me. It wasn’t my kids and all their crazy antics. It was holding on to all those old hurts, emotions, and negative beliefs about myself and the people around me that were really sucking the life out of me. Yes, the stuff my kids were doing was crazy hard to deal with sometimes. Sometimes it still is. Without any question now though, it was all that old stuff of my own that I thought was dead, buried, gone, or never an issue that that was the biggest problem. Turns out it wasn’t really dead or gone after all. It was unfinished business that was simply buried. Once I finally understood that and took corrective action, amazing changes started happening in my life.
Trauma is contagious, but so is healing
Here’s the really neat thing about all of this. As I found my way out of the chaos, my family followed me. My children began to blossom and heal. Genuine attachment started happening, and I now had the emotional availability to learn new ways of parenting that met their needs and not just my own agendas. My marriage also went from nearly shattered to better than ever. It happened to me. It can happen for you, too.
You may have heard me preach this before, but I’ll keep preaching it until the day I die. If lasting peace and healing are what you want for your family, it doesn’t start with your kids. It starts with you as the mom. I was once a wall builder. Now I’m a wall breaker!
Now it’s your turn
What about you? Are you a wall builder? Are those emotional walls you’ve built still protecting you…or are they getting in the way, keeping you stuck in your own dark prison, and keeping you from experiencing the freedom you long for?
If you’re anything like I used to be, you read stuff like this and it strikes a chord with you. It sounds easy enough to do, so you set some goals for yourself and get to work. Maybe just maybe with enough work, patience, and will power you can chip away at your own walls and free yourself from emotional prison.
I tried doing that for a long time. Each time I tried and failed, it only reinforced by own faulty beliefs about myself and added more bricks to the already crushing walls. What I realized is that I needed help from someone who had been down the road before, knew the way out of prison, knew how to help me safely deconstruct my own walls, and could see what I couldn’t see on my own. I still had to do the heavy lifting to make it happen on my own, but I still needed their help to gain the tools, skills, and encouragement to make it happen.
Are you ready to do it? Are you ready to dig deep, break down your own walls, and find your own way back to the light? If your answer is yes, I’d love to help you do it! Feel free to schedule a complimentary 60 minue Courageous Parent Session with me. Let’s see if we can turn the tides and break down those walls together. The freedom that is waiting for you on the other side is worth the journey in getting there!