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Emotionally Closed Off: Healing Pain and Learning to Love

“Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.” ~ Buddha

There’s only one way to survive life. Shut down, or get hurt and die.

Well, that’s what I once believed.

At some point during my childhood I decided that the only way to survive in the world was to shut down and close off my heart. I’m sure given a choice I would have chosen only to avoid the pain of life (not the pleasure), but open or shut are the only options available.

Growing up, everyone and everything around me was inconsistent, physically and emotionally. My family moved many times throughout my childhood, and my parents were busy, professionally and socially.

One minute, there—warm, light, and safe

The next, gone—cold, dark, and alone!

Every time I started to get settled, it would all disappear. I had no control, and I couldn’t trust anything. It became unbearable.

I couldn’t make people or the world go away, so instead I shut up shop and hid my true self away from them, behind a false exterior.

I put a smile on my face, and became a reflection to others’ wishes—like the princess in the tower, a prize to be admired, completely untouchable.

I had a perfect facade.

Today, years on, I am very much real.

I work as a therapist and a writer now, and I’m on a soul quest to enjoy and share with the world.

On my journey to get to this moment, I felt like an adrenaline junkie. I was always maxing out and pushing it to the edge to do anything to feel alive, through the darkest rivers of life and illuminating heights of spiritual enlightenment.

I became ensconced in the spiritual world seeking practices to elevate my soul through meditation, esoteric reading, tarot cards, alternative religions, and mediumship. I experienced moments of peace, but I was still shut down.

I know I was not made to live separately from the world. As I grew older it was sexual desire that motivated me to get closer to people.

Still, I was set on a path of destruction.

Out of fear I tried to control the relationships in my life, as I had learned to control my emotions. I also looked for others to control me instead, always believing that power equalled love.

The more I allowed myself to get involved with men, the more fear I felt, but I couldn’t give it up. I had become addicted to feeling alive.

I didn’t want to go back to being cold and alone in the dark again, and would do anything to avoid it. That feeling I tried to avoid was ultimately what set me free.

Like Orpheus going into the underworld, I took my own path downward and became fascinated with the dark recesses of the human soul.

I got closer and closer by observing extremes of pain, loneliness, fear, and rage, through my training and clinical work, always drawn to tortured souls.

I wallowed in that dark place with addicts, abusers, and victims, believing I was doing “good” by trying to save others.

The truth, though, was that I was still avoiding the depths of my own personal darkness, even in therapy.

It was falling in love though that would take me there.

With no warning a man came into my life, and I fell uncontrollably and unconditionally in love for the first time. I was completely unprepared and terrified.

But this wasn’t a fairy tale.

He didn’t rescue me, and I didn’t rescue him. Instead, I saw myself reflected in his confused and sometimes harsh approach to my deep longing, and his eventual rejection. I came face to face with the pain of my childhood, my choices, and my own cruel, utter rejection of self.

And just like that, my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.

He couldn’t love me, because I didn’t.

All the bottled pain, loneliness, and rage came crashing out of me like a wild thing let loose. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, I was about to be reborn.

It wasn’t neat, tidy, or controllable. It was messy, scary, and tremendously painful. It took time to heal the wounds that had been left unattended for so long.

I became my own client. I needed saving and had a lot of healing to do. I had to learn to reconnect with my body, through yoga and meditation, and had to believe that I would not die from the immense grief, shame, fear, and pain I felt.

Instead, I had to learn see it for what it was—just stuck energy that I needed to release to be happy.

Letting go came with what seemed like an ocean of tears and unchartered anger, which I shouted, screamed, swore, prayed, talked, and physically used to punch my bed; but gradually the light started to creep in.

I began taking baby steps everyday to openly reconnect with the world and the people in it.

I also reconnected with my instincts to know what was safe or right for me; to share my true feelings about the past and present with my family and friends; and to rebuild the foundation for a secure adult life, lived true to myself.

The boogie monster hidden under my bed could no longer frighten me. The illuminating truth had set me on my path to freedom.

Gradually and over many years, I worked through resistance and acceptance to forgiveness, to make peace with my past and forgive the mistakes and harm caused by others in my life. Above all, I forgave myself for abandoning me.

Every step led me closer to falling in love with me—strong, gentle, complicated, weathered, beautiful me, and like many others, more beautiful, I now believe, because of the scars, which are part of me.

Darkness is only where there is a lack of light. I am no longer of afraid of either, and I know I am both.

I now generally live my life playing freely in the wide expanse where the two meet, being aware of me, the best I can.

Knowing that if I wander too far to either extreme, something is out of balance inside of me, and I need to give it some attention.

Sometimes I might be separating myself from the physical world, by floating too far upward in spiritual euphoria. Or I might begin to feel darker, because I’ve given too much of myself to others, and fear has kicked in to close my heart again to the love, people, and the life that is all around me and within me.

It’s a balancing act—avoiding those extremes. It’s when we master this that we can love freely and live true to ourselves.

Photo by h.koppdelaney

Avatar of Joanna Warwick

About Joanna Warwick

Jo Warwick is a writer, therapist and the creator of www.rediscoverthemagic.com. She is passionate about empowering women to love themselves and be free. Go grab your free copy of Don’t Screw It Up ~ Top Ten Ways To Create A Relationship That’s Just Right For You.

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  • Dawn B.

    Wow. I sure can relate to the way you describe shutting down / locking your true self away. I am TRYING to get in touch with the REAL me, but I continue to withdraw with each perceived threat. Your entry was inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  • LBee

    I relate deeply to this post. I recently lost the love of the only man I ever truly loved because I did not know how to love myself. I expected him to do it all for me. And yes it exhausted him and he left not because he didn’t love me but because there was nothing else he could give me without destroying himself. I see this now, and I have been working on being open, loving myself and forgiving myself. It is too late now for the two of us, but I am keeping my heart open for the future.

  • alleykat_

    I couldn’t relate more… thank you!

  • lv2terp

    This is a beautiful post with so much insight! Thank you for sharing your journey and wisdom! :)

  • Leturfancyflow

    I too am drawn to darkness, working as a nurse who is often around pain and death. Regular yoga practice has started me on a grand journey. Thank you for this post, I too seek the middle road in life, as the Buddah taught, thank you

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Thank you for your kind words :)

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    :)

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Thank you for sharing your story – I have come to learn that the love I felt for him was not wasted but a gift and he gave me the best gift I could ask for, because if he had loved me as I longed for I would not have grown in to me! may you find the greatest love of your life – YOU! x

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Thank you – it was a big step for me to share something so deep and personal.. :)x

  • Stephen

    Lovely piece..as a therapist, your story resonates deeply with me…”Above all, I forgave myself for abandoning me.” this line in particular…thank you for sharing this..

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Thank you Stephen

  • tia

    thanks for sharing, Joanna, I am sure that – just like myself – there are many of us who can relate too well.

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Thanks Tia – sadly I agree that is the case – hopefully though as many find there way free ;) x

  • debbie

    Thanks Joanna for sharing your story. We do have to learn to love ourselves before we can really be loved. I guess I was luckier than you. I have made some not so good choices when it comes to love, but kept coming back for more. For some reason I always knew I had to keep my heart open.
    Thanks again for sharing.
    debbie

  • Jamie Wyatt

    Love your story! Glad to see you on Tiny Buddha!

  • Caitie

    Wow, thank you soo much for sharing! It has given me a different outlook! When I was reading this story, it sounded like I was reading parts of a story of my life and I’m only 22! :D

  • LBee

    Thank you Joanna. It is a difficult road, but I’m doing it :) each day is a blessing and a new beginning!

  • LadyEm

    What an honest post, thank you for sharing. I’m now realising that I closed myself off to the world for fear of getting hurt & being vulnerable. But that self-imposed prison has resulted in more pain & self destruction than I ever imagined. Opening up doesn’t make us weak, it allows us to love ourselves by accepting the love & support of others.

  • HaleyMia

    I’m in nursing school now. I tell people it’s because I want to help others, which is true of course, but I also feel as though it is because I too am drawn to tortured souls. Do you think this is a bad thing? I want to be the best nurse I possibly can…Thx, HaleyMia.

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Thank you; Sounds like your on the right path :)

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Im pleased that it has such an impact for you – change it young and be free :)

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Thank you :)

  • Irch

    It just amazes me how someone youve never met can basically tell your life story with simular experiences. This passage has made me see what Ive been avoiding for so long and still trying to do now, loving myself. It really is the only option for me, Im just greatful to find this message now!

  • Rachel

    This is absolutely beautiful.

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Im touched that you found some enlightenment for yourself through my story – things always appear when we are ready ..;)

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Most healers seek to rescue first and then learn to find balance in themselves so that our gifts and love can be the positive effect that they were intended instead of controlling … we have a journey to take and our each indivudal steps are important even it leads you into the dark for a while – you needed to go there.. x

  • Rosalba

    Beautiful post!! Real Love by Greg Baer is an amazing book I highly recommend to anyone on this journey.

  • Tan

    Its very painful when you lose someone from making changes in your life, when loves not enough, and learning to love yourself is such a struggle. Its hard to trust that you are on the right path but it can be so rewarding to forgive youself for the past when you accepted things that just werent right for you. Bringing up all the things youve suppressed and integrating them into your life. It seems like its too late for us as well, perhaps its just time for something better for me.

  • Britt

    Wow, I couldn’t relate more to your description of early adulthood as the way I find myself living now as a young adult. Thank you for this moving piece of literary art; a product of your genuine openness and gifted use of langange.

  • http://isitallaboutme.com/ Tim McAuley-Soul Surfer

    WOW! I am so glad I Know you Joanna!

    I would have allowed this article to go unread otherwise. Since we’re FB Buddies I made a note to read this on Sunday! SOOOO GLAD I DID THAT!

    This is such a beautiful Piece. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    TINYBUDDHA! rocks!!!

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Thank you Tim! I would agree that Tiny Buddha does rock..:)

  • http://twitter.com/Grownupkidsonly Joanna Warwick

    Thank you so much Britt…

  • Brokendreams

    I’m still trying to forgive myself.. And it’s hard… I’ve been through two heartbreaks..almost married twice.. and just can’t forgive myself for allowing myself to fall in love again and getting hurt again.. I can’t forgive my stupidity..

  • Latinman

    Thank you for this article, it was very insightful and things that I know I do and need to work on loving myself more and letting go of things, regardless of how hurtful they may be. Thank you!

  • Morgan

    Thank you for this wonderful piece. Recently, I have been going through a very similar situation to what you had described. I was madly in love with another person, only to have them reject me out of the blue. Life taught me to be cautious and then I finally became vulnerable and trusted someone else with my heart. For awhile after the separation, I felt much like you had felt. I simply didn’t feel alive. I became angry at myself for opening up to someone, for being vulnerable, for being human. Now I have just begun to realize that pain, suffering, and heartache can feel like they are killing us, but sometimes they are the exact catalysts needed to bring us to life. I’ve realized that I wasn’t truly living before and your post reiterates the new lessons I am learning throughout this entire process. So once again, thank you for writing this and sharing it. You are bringing light and solace into my life that I have been so desperately searching for.

  • Michelle LaLumiere

    I loved this post. Initially started reading it at work but needed to stop because it brought tears to my eyes. This post was very truthful and reminded me of myself and my own struggles. Thank you for sharing.

  • Shoua

    Thanks for sharing, I also have similar issue, I currently met a really wonderful guy, who is telling me that he is willing to stick around and help me work through my problem. I decided to take the plunge and reveal all to him and his presence has really opened me up. I am now riding the wave and just going with the flow because I’m tire of wanting, I’m ready for action. I hope you find your joy and happiness, it’s there within you, where it’s always been. You only needed an outside trigger to activate it but since it’s been activated, you can revisit that feeling anytime you want. Think of the good times, and let go of the painful ones once you find out why they were painful.

  • B Vang

    I cant agree more. It was simply, utterly, beautiful. No one can love us if we do not love ourselves. The truth frees us.

  • Sagittarius

    Reading this post was like reading my own thoughts and soul. Well done.

  • Still Learning

    This post resonates deeply, and your response to it does too – I too was angry at myself for opening up to someone I loved, who I was sleeping with, who turned out to be too tortured to love me back – I felt foolish, even though we remained friends. But those dark times made me realise that while someone like him, who brings out the drinking-til-six-am-on-a-weeknight, reckless wildchild in me might be fun for a bit is not healthy in the long term. I’ve tried to connect more to my love of nature, the outdoors and climbing and slowly come to realise that someone who reflects more of the light in me might be better than someone who reflects the dark, however intoxicating that darkness is… Not that I don’t still get up and drink and dance, but it’s no longer the only thing in my life.

  • Klo

    I think this is my favourite, and the most relevant TinyBuddha article I’ve ever read. Namaste! :)

  • Velday

    Wow I think I am in this battle as we speak! I am a disaster n I see life very dark right now. Very scary

  • http://www.facebook.com/arians.karlovics Arians Karlovics

    My story seems identical, except only a few days ago I realised that I bottled up all my emotions and have difficulties getting out. Thank you for sharing.

  • Vicky

    WOW x

  • JAHH

    I am grateful you did! The parallels in your story and my life are surreal. I think I’m on the path of living a truthful and authentic life, now. It’s uncomfortable and unfamiliar and vulnerable, but I know it has to be the right thing. Thank you for your story! It is helping me forgive and be okay with falling in love with me! ;)

  • Anonymous

    Really, people are not so interested in you that you have to be “closed off”. Just be yourself. If people don’t have a use for you, you just won’t exist.

  • shygirl

    How beautiful. I can relate to this very much.

  • Sajni

    I fell madly in love with a man many years ago. I felt hurt by him and did not have contact with him for many years, but my love for him never diminished. He contacted me recently and the last four months were the happiest in my life. All my old feelings were rekindled. I was very clingy and he abruptly ended our relationship. I am miserable beyond words. I love him very much. He refused to reason with me saying that he cares for me too much and that is why ending our relationship. Now all I could think of is the life that I could have had with him. I read your article. How do I come out of this? It is eating me up!

  • Tamsyn

    Thank you for this article. It really clicks with me at the moment. Can I ask a question? You mention “I began taking baby steps everyday to openly reconnect with the world and the people in it.” I am really struggling with feeling connected to the world and particularly myself at the moment following some discussion of childhood trauma in my therapy. I was wondering if you could perhaps elaborate on these baby steps and perhaps share some of the things you did, or techniques you used to reconnect? I’m battling with this sense of depersonalisation and ‘unreality’ at the moment. Thank You x

  • Valerie

    Sajni, Perhaps it’s because you are attaching your happiness to him. He is not the carrier of your happiness. You are. He is also not the responsible party in charge of the relationship. You are too. Being clingy doesn’t sound healthy. Nor does maintaining such an investment in this. I notice that you say “now all I could think of is the life that I could have had with him.” as a way of describing your take on the future. To be honest, it’s a selfish statement. Your attachment is not with the “us” and the “love” but in how you could have been fulfilled by him. That’s not love. I’d say to absorb the reality that nobody is going to make your dreams come true for you. It’s your job to get up everyday and work toward the things that are deepest in your heart and to enjoy every step of the journey rather than wishing you were already where you want to end up!

  • ellemelle

    I lost and destroyed love of my life because of my fears of being left and all time no secure if still he loves me i was testing testing to feel secure untill he finnaly gave up…i was mean when i wanted to be sweet i couldnt control my anger now he is gone. I know he rly trully loved me why i didnt put all he did and behaved to me before i said sth stupid and hurt him…he didnt deserve pain i gave him. I wish he could forgive me and give another chance….now im left with memories and knowing he found already someone else… and most painful was to hear “i would never leave you,but u made it”and i know its 100% true… i was pushing him away even though wanted him to stay now im left and regreting….he loved me purly and didnt hurt me even once…treated like princes while i was a frog… :(

  • ekdmdkd

    Its excatly what i did. :( i loved him deeply but out of fears and not handle well anger (as we were far distance for 4,5 years and together 5,5) I rly loved him and hoped to make him also as happy as he made me…but i couldnt…he warned me that i need to take care of myself,that he wanna help me but i need to feel happy with myself,i tried to do sth think more positive and find some things to do…but shortly later i broke again and he said he cant do this anymore. That im like sponge eating his energy and he did all for me through this 4,5years but now he needs to take care of his life too….soon later he got to know a girl..i asked him what attracted you to her? He said…she reminded me of who i were once…like most happy person without reason and i wanna be that happy again. :( I wrote him that im working on myself…etc but he said its too late he would never leave me…but i wasted my chance…and now he gives this chance to this new girl. And i know he treats serious….Wish i could let him get to know me again. :( I had problem to trust but he was perfect,inteligent,sense of humor ,caring,handsome,ambtious and hard working but with strong family values…and i destroyed it…

  • Christine

    “He didn’t rescue me, and I didn’t rescue him. Instead, I saw myself reflected in his confused and sometimes harsh approach to my deep longing, and his eventual rejection. I came face to face with the pain of my childhood, my choices, and my own cruel, utter rejection of self.

    And just like that, my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.

    He couldn’t love me, because I didn’t.”

    This absolutely killed me. It is everything I’m going through put in to the most perfect group of sentences I could ever ask for. Thank you.

  • Jennifer Mixson Stringer

    I had this exact epiphany last night!! including the love lost and the shattered heart because the person i fell in love with with the same intensity that you did, reflected my fears back at me. I realized he wasnt trying to hurt me, i was hurting myself and him…I could go on for hours!!! WOW same experience with fear and loss as you alomost identical. thank you for sharing, im not alone!

  • J

    In all the blogs I have read this has touched me the most, I feel like I could have written this. Your feelings and life growing up is precisely what I encounter, but I discovered men at 13 and the addiction started. I am now 36 until 4 years ago I was following the love/drug addiction high to stop me from feeling this deep agonizing pain, but those things are no longer. I do on the other hand have a best friend in my mate who I told from the start about my issues but he never ran or swayed and on my good days he just loves me same with the bad, he is a rock while I go through this transformation. Sometimes I feel like its grief, other times it is generalized anxiety and depression running rampant but I know I have to go through this to be a whole person. Every fiber in me tells me to run to escape this reality of pain but I know it wont help me and even if I left the relationship (there are no reasons to go he gives me all the space and time I need) these stagnations would be there. It gives me hope that you got through it and shattered your being but pieced back together yourself in to a beautiful soul, I just wonder how long it took you. I need to find my balance and to know that just because I feel this darkness doesn’t mean it is forever. Thank you for your words.

  • barbz

    Same thing happened to me. A man came to my life and show me the way to love myself truly which I thought what I was doing. It feels good to know that someone out there has the same experience of realization. I am seeing myself from this post so thank u for sharing this.

  • K

    “It wasn’t neat, tidy, or controllable. It was messy, scary, and tremendously painful. It took time to heal the wounds that had been left unattended for so long.”

    I relate to everything you said – after weeks of trying to come to terms with things. But I am in the stage quoted at the moment – sometimes it feels like the pain will never end. I have good days – but they’re followed by really really bad days. I can see progress – but ever being happy and balanced seems so far away that it might not even be a reality.

  • Barbara

    We are reeling from the murder of our daughter’s husband and the father of her four children in Brazil last December. We are lost and adrift not understanding what has happened and how we can go on. Can you help? Please.

  • Amanda Eve

    thank you so much for your words that seem so close to the way i am feeling. You are not alone, thank you

  • CNikki

    Unfortunately I think I’m experiencing something like this. Years worth to try at least caring about people who I thought were ‘friends’ but they ended up going against me some way or another. Even just people who I’ve barely even knew would want to do something that would hurt me in any way possible. I know life isn’t fair and people are going to push you around. I guess I am not fit for it… I’ve isolated myself to the point I think I just became numb and when there’s certain points I’m supposed to feel something I fail to fully have it take effect on me. I’m tired of it and tired of living like this.

  • Nina

    How did you reconnect with yourself? Do you have some advice on how to do it? I have disassociated from my body and am trying desperately to turn it around, but I always run into a wall when I realize that some things are just instilled within me, things that used to be defense mechanisms to help me survive when I needed to, but that are now holding me back from truly living my life… I would appreciate learning about how I can get back in touch with myself and my body, and learn to accept and “love” myself. Thank you!!

  • Queenie79

    Thank you.

  • mina

    I enjoyed your article, and I wish I could see the light in this dark place I live, I cant really share it with anybody. Because it’s so horrible to relieve. I do hope one day to feel alive again, I am almost a hermit now. Change is scarey…