WALLS!
Dee Chadwick
06 Jun 2021
I originally posted this piece back in 2017. I chose to re-post it as I felt that what I wrote follows on from last week’s post - Protector or Prison - as we often use physical or metaphorical walls in our lives. They can serve to protect us from external physical dangers, give an illusion of emotional safety; but they can also serve to imprison us, keep support at bay by cutting us off and isolating us.

HITTING THE WALL

We start with an imaginary wall as ‘Hitting the wall’ is a phrase commonly used with reference to endurance athletes – those who run marathons, cycle distances etc.  They complain of hitting the wall, of feeling that they really can’t run another step, push that pedal one more time. It is evidenced by a physical feeling of total fatigue and a mental one of being unable to go on, wanting to step out of the situation and give up. There are those will who do this. But, for those who bite the bullet and continue, it is this combination of both body and mind being affected that receives support. A combination of an input of energy-giving nibbles such as sweets/drinks; actively taking steps to relax shoulders and adapt the running stance as tension sets in and saps the energy even further; reminders of the finishing line and how great it will feel to cross it serve to support a renewal of a ‘can-do’ attitude. Convincing the mind supports the body in its ability to make a further effort – your mind being your strongest ally in this case, having just been converted from being your enemy!

A similar happening can be seen at some birth labours, usually at the transition phase, ie when the actual birth may not be too far away. Mums-to-be can sometimes be heard to say such things as – ‘I can’t go on’, ‘I can’t do it, just get it out’. However, with appropriate reassuring support from midwife and birth partner, the knowledge that they have done and are capable of continuing to do a brilliant job, that they will be seeing their baby very soon (ie the birthing equivalent of encouragement to imagine the finishing line!), to imagine holding that baby for the first time, backed up with some sips of water or an energy drink and they can overcome this feeling. Sadly, it is one that programmes such as One Born Every Minute tend to hone in on!

I have known friends who have been writing a long paper, a dissertation maybe, who have had similar feelings. One rang me telling me that he had had enough – there was no way he was going to be able to finish his submission, and even if he did, it would be useless and they would reject his work. After a chat which included lots of positivity and reminders of past successes, a suggestion of a walk out in nature to give his brain a break and re-charge the batteries, he went on to complete his work and receive some very complimentary remarks to boot. Just like the rest of our body, the physical aspects of our brain require breaks as well as the impact of the positivity applied to the emotional/mental aspects of this most complex of organs.

Hitting this wall can actually serve to remind you just how much you want something. This would tie in with the fact that it rarely happens in training for marathons runs etc, even at full race length, only on the day of the actual event when that desire to finish is also thrown into the mix of physical and mental exertion.

DEFENSIVE WALLS 

It can be a very positive feeling to return home to the comfort of your own four walls, after a period of time away (and some feel this even if that time was a holiday); after a hard, tiring day; after an emotionally trying, tiring day. Our home is seen as our refuge. This is understandable as time, effort and probably a lot of money have been spent on making it so to meet our own specific needs and requirements. A place where we can kick off our shoes, put up our feet and stick two fingers up at the outside world at large – and maybe specific people in particular. It acts as the castles of old with our fridges and cupboards stocked for periods of uncertainty, our metaphorical drawbridge on stand-by in the form of our locks and bolts, maybe our loved ones safely in there with us – our family, our pets. How good it feels on a dark, blowy winters evening to close the curtains and put on the kettle. You are home. You are safe.

For some, this sanctuary and those walls can become a prison beyond which they struggle to escape. This can happen for some during periods of depression, anxiety, stress, for others if they suffer with agoraphobia. In such cases, it is best to seek professional help and support in order to overcome their difficulties. Home may be a refuge still, but not a totally healthy and often far from happy one.

For yet others, what they would give to have those four walls rather than a shop doorway, a bed in a refuge for a night, a dream and sadly, one that they have held for far too long.

On the other hand, some of us carry great big imaginary walls around with us.  Their purpose, to keep us safely hidden within and/or to repel all boarders. I have worked with many clients on this subject. Personally, I used up a lot of energy in maintaining my own wall for a long time – nobody was going to get in, nobody but it was a heavy weight to carry. The bricks were always being added to in the form of doing extra courses, anything that took up my time after an already hectic day, in order to not even give consideration to letting anyone in. The only ones allowed to get in the air gaps at the bottom of my wall were my cats and one or two special friends who ‘understood’.

KNOCKING DOWN WALLS

So how can we break through these imaginary, whilst simultaneously very real barriers? I have known a few people who have smashed their way through with an imaginary sledge hammer, somewhat akin to the demolition of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Not as public an event, but equally as dramatic as it felt just right for them to do it this way at this time and make a bid for freedom of thought and also of action.

What are the options? To climb over the wall, leaving it in place for a swift retreat? Usually too high and far too risky. Often, as the wall is a three hundred and sixty degree all-surrounding one, with no door included, there is no way through it or way to walk round it to get out. Hence, the dreadful emotional load of having to carry this around 24/7.

This leaves you with – the choice to remain with the status quo or to take that deep breath and fight to get back a life involving greater balance, happiness and freedom. The choice lies with you – as ever, there ARE choices in life if we are honest enough with ourselves and have the courage to face them. It is usually a good thing to be supported with this activity. A few weeks ago, I watched an actual, physical wall being demolished and it was a definitely a two person job. One person wielded the sledge hammer whilst the other removed the debris. In this case, two brickies, or probably one brickie and a labourer. In the case of the imaginary wall, a client and a therapist – and with good therapeutic rapport, the debris being cleared will be removed at a speed that is right for the demolisher, allowing for breaks, and much discussion, though not usually whilst leaning on the upended sledge hammer! Chances are that the removed bricks can be used to make steps to climb over the wall, once the process is gaining momentum and problems, issues are being faced and attended to ensuring that the climb is no longer such a scary or risky one.

For most, the demolition is a gradual process, sometimes with the bricks already removed being re-integrated when it began to feel a little too risky and exposed. Their walls are demolished very much one brick at a time. Beginning to peep out, learning to trust and take the brave step of removing yet another brick; gradually letting the light, laughter, the outside world in general see the hidden and often vulnerable person. 

I have worked with clients who like to have a drawing to represent their wall, with each issue involved being written on a brick, so that when addressed, they are able to obliterate that particular brick. A good visual reminder of the progress they are making.

BUILDING WALLS

The actual physical building of a wall can be very cathartic. I have only ever built one and this was as a brick BBQ. OK, it wouldn’t have passed muster for any sort of load bearing.  DJT would not have found it beautiful, as he assures us that the one between USA and Mexico is going to be.  However, it served its purpose and lasted for many years.  I was proud of my achievement, even though I did barrow several bricks to a local building site, fluttered my eye lashes and paid for a pint for a brickie to divide my bricks in half. I had been unsuccessful in my many attempts, ending up with lots of part bricks despite far too many bad words and much mumbling under my breath! As an after note – when I came to demolish said BBQ many years later, it took many thwacks with a sledge hammer to do so. This despite the fact that the mortar had been applied using my (ungloved) hands. A skill that I didn’t seem able to develop was that of stopping the mortar from dropping off my trowel twixt bucket and wall! Where there’s a will, there’s a way and I guess hands were developed before trowels.

As said, some of us build imaginary walls around ourselves for protection – at their original building, probably doing an adequate job with this, but then going on to count against our progress, both mentally and physically.  Others may have a different aim when building their wall – to test those that they love, those that know them.  To test to see if that loving and caring goes sufficiently deep for them to want to break down the barrier and get in to really talk with and understand the person inside who is hiding.

I feel that this happens with many survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  Maybe they tried to tell someone what had happened and they weren’t believed, maybe they began to realise just how wrong was the abuse they had been subjected to, maybe they felt it impossible to trust people after what had happened to them. Whatever, their wall was built and was/is their defence, with maybe, just maybe these survivors desperately seeking that person who cares enough to take the time and put in the effort to listen, to hear, to believe and to care. It takes strength and courage to allow people in, just as it takes strength and patience to try to gently make yourself heard through this barrier as one who is there, not to put down and deride, rather to support and just ‘be there’.

I have always loved the lyrics to LabiSiffre’s song ‘Something Inside So Strong.’ Especially with reference to the barriers and overcoming them.  I have included a link to a Primary School’s rendition of this, which I feel is particularly relevant as I send this to all who suffered and continue to struggle with the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse.

Podcast:

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