Sensitive souls tend to wrap themselves up in layers, either symbolic or concrete, to avoid having their "true self" exposed. They fear being seen, criticized or somehow judged as wrong -- the secret self has it's own life that operates just beneath the surface. Some individuals have a greater awareness of these "self parts" than others. The need to protect may come and go or be more heightened in certain circumstances, and not others. Many of my psychotherapy and counseling patients who have suffered childhood abuse or trauma may now, in their current lives, wear protective layers of clothing, or even gain weight in an effort to create a layer of protective armor. Some had parents who couldn't tolerate the now defended against parts of the self. Behaviors, such as addictions, acting out, lying, rage, eating disorders and avoidance serve similar functions -- to avoid, numb, hide, express and protect. These layers, also known as a “false self” were erected long ago to avoid painful issues such as abandonment, rejection, fear of intimacy, boundary violations and other forms of suffering.
Do you now need these layers of protection, and how can you learn to gradually remove them to live a fuller and more authentic life? You may have chosen people in your current life who are similar to those in your past, and so the pattern continues.
Mental health professionals such as psychotherapists and psychologists are highly-trained to treat these defense mechanisms with respect and care -- to never take away a defense without helping to replace it with one that is more adaptive for the patient. The "walls" that people create are there for a reason. If you're hurt or you've been wounded in the past, your need to protect yourself is real and valid. Your walls were created for a very good reason -- it was a solution to a problem, at the time. It may have been a form of survival. If boundaries have been violated, some form of protection was a good idea.
In your current life, you may be operating with layers and walls that served you then, but may not be so helpful for you now. In reality, the layers of protection may be causing you more pain than relief -- the pain of isolation and the lack of connection to others leads to a muted life. Important parts of your "self" remain unexpressed and hidden, from others as well as yourself.
Removing the layers of protection is easier said than done, and all those lovely quotes may leave you feeling like a failure. When is it safe to trust that it's okay to allow yourself to be "seen" and "known" by yourself and another? Understanding and honoring the reason(s) why you developed these layers is a good first start. Begin with yourself first, and with great care and compassion. Accepting your flaws and imperfections makes you human. As we accept our limitations and imperfections they become neutralized. Remember, you are practicing. No plunging into the deep waters. Feeling raw and exposed should never be the goal. Too painful, so go slow. You have the opportunity to mature and develop healthy self-esteem and a fuller, more realistic view of yourself. You can begin to see how walls and layers of protection have the power to hijack and sabotage your life. Slowly, when you are ready, you can begin to test these newly unearthed parts of yourself in the context of a relationship. Choose someone you feel safe with and can trust. The hidden "self parts" that you've worked so hard to hide may be the parts that others will embrace and love. Do you need help taking off your layers of protection? Find a therapist that you feel comfortable exploring the hidden parts of yourself. If you've experienced childhood trauma or abuse, I always recommend working with a professional trained to work with dissociation, trauma, anxiety, depression, dissociation or other symptoms that may be present.
Some of my patients have enjoyed reading Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection