Erik Erikson developed the eight stages of psychosocial development; the first, “Trust vs. Mistrust,” begins in infancy. Babies come into this world under a multitude of circumstances (obviously). People who’ve longed for a child, cherish parenthood. But, many children are born into circumstances where they weren’t “wanted” from their first breath, and quickly learn that they’re not loved (important, smart, pretty, or valuable). There are many reasons why you’ve become who you are today.
Most people have at least one story of crossing a bridge to build a relationship and having it fail. If you’ve moved around a lot, you’ve likely crossed new bridges regularly—putting on your best outfit, arming yourself with your best smile, and starting over again (and again).
Most of us desire interaction with other humans. Those connections range from downright surface ones (hug-hug, “oh my gosh, your shoes are stunning!”) to the ones where you can be yourself without any editing and still be loved. For many, it’s easy to build “peripheral” relationships—where you “know” people, but there’s no significant connection or truly being “real.”
If you’re in a relationship where:
• you’re always on “high alert” because one sentence, or action, could send the other person into a tirade
• you know that you’ll never do, or be, “enough”
• you’re playing a role—watching yourself through the eyes of another
• you never feel like anyone “has your back”
• you’re being hurt —physically, verbally or emotionally
• it’s always what the other person wants/needs,
it’s no wonder you don’t want to add another “bridge crossing” to your life resume!
When we’re young, many of us are naturally open to experiences like interacting with new people, but, too often, it doesn’t take long for the “shininess” to wear off. We don’t understand why we’re on the outside looking in, why we’re not lovable, why we keep getting hurt. So, we decide we need shelter from life’s storms, and start building walls, to make it challenging for people to reach us. Those barriers can be anything from: “going with the flow,” allowing others to decide everything for us (with perpetual smiles on our faces that hide internal angst) to completely shutting down.
Building walls can seem much easier than boldly braving the bridge. We build a little wall first—just tall enough so that when we venture out (into the sometimes scary world), we can turn around, run fast, jump over it, get really “small” and hide behind it. It’s the “level 1 protection wall” built from something like sand or leaves (sad, lonely). If we have to jump over that wall often enough, we end up creating a sturdier divider. This “level 2 protection wall” is made of materials like brick or wood (bullied, wounded). It still allows us to venture out into the world, but now we have to climb over it to safety. When we’ve had to retreat behind wall number 2 long enough, we finally build the “level 3 protection wall”. This one is serious stuff, an impenetrable structure that no one is getting through! It’s made of steel or concrete (scarred, crushed) and reinforced with pain and abandonment.
At level 3, we’ve given up on the idea of ever crossing a bridge again. We’re hunkering down for the long haul. We’ve gotten to the place where we know that it’s a lot easier to hide in our safe place than venture out into the world. And, sadly, that’s where we end up choosing to stay permanently.
Don’t build a wall that cuts off your opportunity to see beyond it. Decide to give crossing a bridge one more try—our world needs you. And, when you decide to step back out into the light:
be vulnerable but not a doormat,
be open but not a blank slate for others to write on,
be outgoing but not disingenuous,
be filled with joy, but don’t feel like you have to be the life of the party.
Be yourself. BE yourself.
Some bridges are easier to cross than others, aren’t they?
Some bridges end in a forest, so dark that you can’t see what you’re walking into but others, end with sunshine and beautiful flowers. Some bridges have no one waiting for you on the other side but some have crowds of people happily waiting for you to get to the other side.
Take one more chance.
Choose to build a bridge instead of a wall.
I know you’re worth it.