Have you built walls to keep yourself emotionally safe? Are they real, or are they an illusion?

“Why won’t you let me in?” “Why do you keep yourself from me?” “I want deep intimacy with you, but something is missing.”

Big Guy knew that I kept walls between us.

I had built a fortress around me to keep myself emotionally safe.

Since childhood, I’d built thick walls, one brick at a time and one stone at a time, sealing the cracks before anything hurtful could seep in.

Many of us have built thick walls around ourselves. We want to protect ourselves from hurt. We want to feel safe, worthy, and loved.

Too often, we have learned somewhere along the way that these feelings are not fully available to us. Instead of safe, we’ve felt endangered. Instead of worthy, we’ve felt worthless. Instead of loved, we’ve felt rejected.

So we constructed walls to help build those feelings for us. Our walls are built of varied bricks and stones—scripts, beliefs, and memories that will trap us within our walls:

  • I must keep the house spotless to prove that I deserve it.
  • Wanting something too much will result in something else being taken away.
  • We keep secrets to ourselves so we don’t bring shame.
  • My value comes only from what I do and not from who I am.
  • If I do what you want me to, I give my power to you.
  • Losing control is the way to deep pain.
  • I must be perfect.
  • If I change, I lose.

The walls are real. They trap us inside, rendering us unable to reach out in true human intimacy. We come to believe that life is what happens only within those walls, terrified of what would happen if we tried to leave them.

Sometimes we know we’re trapped, so we try to leave anyway—but without the walls we are in an unfamiliar and foreign land. So we retreat and pull ourselves back inside the thick walls, sealing ourselves up so the unfamiliar doesn’t creep in.

The walls keep us in, and they keep others out. If someone wants to enter, they must accept the walls we’ve built. If they dare challenge the existence of even one of those stones, we push them right back out.

Someone—a husband, a friend, or a pastor, perhaps—may brave the walls enough to tell us a real and sanctifying truth. If it fits with our walls, we accept it. If it doesn’t fit, however, we reject that truth. Or we qualify it. Or we challenge the truth teller’s right to speak that truth to us.

The walls are real—yet they are also just an illusion.

My walls didn’t actually make me safe, worthy, or loved. They just allowed me to pretend that I was those things.

Many of the stones and bricks in my walls were constructed of the belief that I am unlovable. I feared that if I allowed my husband to truly know me, he would see how unlovable I was and would reject me. It was better, I thought, to sit inside my walls and prevent him from truly knowing me. That way, if he left me, I would be able to have the illusion that the woman he rejected wasn’t the real me.

I wasn’t fully open about my emotional needs with him. I disguised my insecurities. I buried my past right inside those stones. I  withheld my sexuality from my husband.

My true and naked self was kept behind the walls where he couldn’t see me.

The walls were real, but the protection they afforded was false.

If my husband had left me, my walls would not have protected me from pain. I would have felt rejected and betrayed anyway. Even more, I would have had the burden of what if? What if revealing my true self would have made a difference? I’d hidden myself so deeply within my walls that I would never have known.

The walls were real barriers that gave me only the illusion of protection.

My massive walls served as an unmighty fortress.

When I began to recognize that my walls were all barrier and no real protection, I was still trapped inside. I didn’t know how to pull the walls down.

Big Guy had always seemed to think I could just knock the walls over and then everything would be fine. The very thought of taking a giant wrecking ball to my impotent walls was a bit traumatic for me.  When I’d tried to leave my fortress in the past, I’d gotten so scared that I’d retreat back inside. I didn’t want that to happen again.

I began the slow process of dismantling the fortress, one stone and one brick at a time.

I began with the stones labeled “I have to do everything perfectly.” Every time I saw that stone in front of me, I carefully pried it out, pondered it, and set it aside. Then I moved on to the “I don’t deserve good things” bricks. One at a time, I pulled the walls apart.

The more stones and bricks I removed, the stronger I got and the easier it became.

And then, like a giant Jenga game, the walls came toppling down and let in the fresh air—and my husband.

I continue to trip over the remnants now and then, but with no more barriers in place, I can now reach out in true intimacy to the truth-telling husband who loves me more than I could possibly see from behind my walls.

Once I pulled the walls down, I could finally see the true fortress, the One who shows me that I am safe, I am worthy, and I am loved. My walls had been blocking myself from experiencing God’s protection that whole time, just to give myself the illusion of what had been waiting for me all along.

He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer . . . Psalm 144:2

Image courtesy of domdeen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

13 Thoughts on “An Unmighty Fortress

  1. I agree wholeheartedly that “Our walls are built of varied bricks and stones—scripts, beliefs, and memories that will trap us within our walls”. It’s an ever present problem, in my life anyway. Walls which are slowly deteriorating.


    • My walls are down, but sometimes I find myself wanting to pick up the stones from the rubble and reassemble them. The richness of life without those walls helps me stay the course.

  2. I can definitely relate to the wall building to protect ourselves. People has an incredible ability to impose pain on our lives so I too have done some wall building to give myself time to heal. Time to connect with the Father to heal my damaged emotions. Afterwards, I can step from behind the walls in the strength that only He can give.

  3. Wow! Boy is this ever true. Thank you for putting this out there as a reminder to all.

  4. IntimacySeeker on April 29, 2015 at 9:11 am said:

    Thank you.

  5. As my own situation develops, hopefully into full recovery, I find myself having to try *really* hard to not put up any walls. Perhaps if I had had some walls up in the first place I would not have felt the pain of each of those refusals. Prayer and helping others keeps the walls down, but waiting to heal until your spouse is recovered enough to help you heal is a painful process. And I have learned this: You cannot rush that process.
    Maybe I am looking at this the wrong way. Maybe I should build a wall. A wall of Love, strong enough to absorb any damage my spouse throws at me but still soft enough so she doesn’t get hurt pounding away at it.
    I need to meditate and pray at this a little more. I know God will provide the Love I need.

    • Walls between spouses don’t really protect you against the pain as much as you want them to. They divide, not unite–and when what you want is intimacy, you need to seek unity rather than division. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have boundaries, but please don’t build walls.

      I don’t recommend having any expectations of a spouse helping you heal. We need to take responsibility for our own healing.

      The good walls are the ones that surround the couple, keeping them together and protecting them against the world.

      • As I mentioned, still thinking. Just had to absorb another storm. At least she said she’d try to control her tongue. But that I should accept her as she is and not expect her to stop disrespecting me, undermine me in front of the kids, bossing me around, control her temper. That if I wanted a perfect spouse, I should just have stayed single. And that I should just be happy and thanking her every day for helping taking care of my previous 2 kids and not running around on me.

        Didn’t get through on the intimacy issues. She didn’t comprehend them, but said I shouldn’t have any “romantic notions” like her understanding my feelings and she doesn’t have the time to go reading about “marriage building”

        I tried to keep my mouth shut to begin with, but she starts shouting for answers if I do that. We lived together for a year before we were married (this was before we were baptized), and this attitude was not there until after we got married and she wanted to get pregnant with #3.

        In the end, I told her I do not expect her to change, that she will or will not based on her own heart, but I will still try to be the best husband I can, regardless of what she does.

        I am going to push the elders again to do something, but I’m sure they won’t. I know she is not spiritually ready to change yet. Guess I’ve held the line for nine months now, might as well keep holding and praying to Jehovah for strength and wisdom.

        • It was when my husband was calmest in response to my storms that I felt the most emotionally safe with him. It is not okay for a wife to shout and be disrespectful in front of the children. How do I know this? Because it’s exactly what I did for many, many years. And I see now how negatively that affected my children, my marriage, my husband, the family dynamics, and even myself. But it was when he stayed the most calm that I a) could see that he loved be despite my worst self, and b) was not able to focus on his behavior (the response to my shouting) and was therefore the most strongly faced with my own words and actions. His calm response became a mirror that forced me to see myself.

          You told your wife that you don’t expect her to change–but that is untrue. You do expect her to change. You say in the very next paragraph that you are going to push your elders to do something to get your wife to change. Please be honest with your wife. If my husband had told me he didn’t expect me to change but then went to the church elders to try to get me to change, I would have felt very betrayed and deeply hurt. It would seriously diminish his trustworthiness for me. It adds even more to the heap of stuff that needs to be healed. If you’re going to get shouted at, isn’t it better to be shouted at for the truth than to cause more damage by telling her what you think she wants to hear?

          I’m sorry you’re going through this, but it sounds like your wife isn’t too happy right now, either.

        • That’s the funny thing Chris.
          This all started after the nightly massage with her “being the happiest ever, but.” So I follow the rules, don’t interrupt, occasional feedback to let her know I’m paying attention, when she’s done (financial worries; she wants to stop working at home and get a job), I ask if she already has any ideas of if she wants to discuss together. She asks my opinion, I give three possibilities, all get rejected. I ask if she wants to go to the living room to talk some more (we’re in the bedroom with #3 sleeping). “What for? You never understand anyway.” Then assigns me bed-time tasks and follows me as I go to do them. As I scrub away at a burnt pot (left soaking to make cleaning easier) she asks why I’m not sitting down and talking to her. I stop, go sit down and have all my faults since we first met thrown at me (even >95% of those she admits have been corrected). Then demands “why do you look so frustrated? Do you think I need to correct anything?” after I apologize for all my faults. I say “nothing that time won’t solve.” which turns into so-if-i’m-perfect-why-don’t-you-look-happy roundabout, until I finally let it out (all calmly and softly, too).

          And please don’t get the wrong impression. Expectation implies consequence for inaction. Hope does not. I hope she will change, but if not, so be it. But I need to involve the elders because she is now trying to interfere with my ministry (and not just my blogging, either)–Who I should try to help, what I should/should not say, don’t let out my beliefs, etc. She refuses to read anything I write, saying she’s too busy. My blogging takes place after all are asleep (or I’m at work with some free time) or I get accused of not spending time with my family.

          What are your feelings about walls just tall enough to protect from low-blows?

          And why is it that the one person I would like to help above all others won’t listen?

          Thanks for letting me vent. I’ll keep praying.

  6. AMS on May 5, 2015 at 4:31 pm said:

    Sexuality isn’t about your true and naked self though revealing your true and naked self may help your lovemaking in some cases. There are other cases where the physical desire for sex (from both husband and wife) can help to conquer difficulties in the relationship. You don’t necessarily have to have everything else sorted out in order to have a good sex life: some couples who have very many relationship difficulties still have a desire for sex and still enjoy it often. We are not all the same.

    • No, we aren’t all the same. I don’t speak for all women–but I don’t write for all women, either.

      I write for wives who have deprived their marriages of a healthy sex life for various reasons. For these women, learning to be honest and vulnerable can be a path toward a healed marriage. Working on having a healthy sexual relationship with their husbands can be a path toward healing in other aspects of the marriage as well.

      Women with a healthy sex life but with other relationship difficulties are not likely to find this blog particularly helpful. They may find better support for their needs on this page.

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