“I officially suck at guarding my heart.”
February 18th, 2011. That’s when I wrote that exact phrase in my journal. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as I skimmed through the remainder of my journal. I had a common theme in my processing that year: the idea of guarding my heart.
- Guard: a posture of defense or readiness, to keep under control or restraint. In sports it is to position oneself to obstruct or impede the movement or progress.
- Synonyms: shield, cover up, stonewall, barrier, conceal
We are taught to guard ourselves, to be on the defense constantly. Watch your back, people will stab you in it. But if we are on the defense, guarding 24/7, we are incapable of letting others in—the people who will help us progress and live our best lives. Instead we will live a life always on edge, wondering constantly what goes wrong, and living in a victim mentality. That type of life can be exhausting. Dehydrating. Unfulfilling. Lonely.
For years I struggled with processing and understanding rejection from romantic interest after romantic interest. Friends constantly fed me the “guard your heart” line as my defense, my shield, and my armor. As a result, my life became a sport, impeding my own progress, covering up, building a barrier, and concealing the one thing that allowed me to feel. To express my passion. To express my desire for human connection. To provide a space for others to do the same. Romantic interest or not, my guarding ended up defending against any type of connection. Caging it up and trying to constantly protect something from breaking that is meant to be free can create a very lonely life. If I’m not willing to share my heart with others, why would they want to share theirs with me?
Because guarding our hearts is supposed to be the easy path. Guarding our hearts is supposed to protect us. Guarding our hearts is supposed to be the wise decision. But guarding our hearts doesn’t help us grow, and it doesn’t make us stronger.
Guarding your heart does the following.
- Puts you in a negative mindset: The moment you put your guard up, you assume the worst possible situation. You assume that someone is out to get you; their motives insincere. You make the statement that history is repeating itself, thinking you never learn from the past, wondering why this is happening again. Before you know it, you are in your head questioning everything, doubting your worth, and believing you do not live up to others’ standards and expectations (which shouldn’t be what drives you anyway). You become so focused on the negative outcome, it seems nothing positive could be possible. As I turned page after page of my old journal and saw the guarding heart theme monopolizing my entries, I realized just how often I had allowed a negative mindset to control the situation. The moment I wrote my words of affection for someone, they were usually followed with words of doubt, fear, and self-loathing . I automatically shut down opportunity for friendships and connections to develop because I would rather simmer in what I experienced in the past—even with “guarding” myself—than be willing to experience connections that would help me grow and achieve a full life. By fearing rejection by others and allowing the negativity to prosper in every new connection, I was rejecting anything potentially positive from impacting my life as well.
- Doesn’t leave space for vulnerability and authenticity: We are human. We are flawed. We are broken. We are all unique in our own way. But we all still desire and need human connection. We aren’t meant to sort through our sticky messes alone. I had a friend whose response to my question of why it was a bad day was “hard to explain”. A comment that exposes just enough vulnerability, letting someone see through the screen door, catching a glimpse of the inside, but not inviting them in to fully appreciate and experience your whole house. It made me realize just how often I used the same reasoning to not be vulnerable with others. For me, this response is a result of trying to guard my heart. Rough days and pain aren’t really hard to explain, you just have to be willing to explain. Most of us don’t want to explain. Being willing to explain means being vulnerable which leads to the potential of emotional connection which leads to the potential of being hurt. This is too scary of an option. But this option is what will allow me to fully thrive, letting others share in my struggle, in my pain, in my journey. This will allow me to invest in the pain, struggle, and journey of others in return.
Eleven years ago I fell in love with my best friend and got my heart broken by him. I remember curling up on another friend’s floor, swearing I wasn’t going to let anyone else in ever again (I was in my 20s; I was young and dramatic). If there was the possibility to feel that kind of pain again, I didn’t want it. In my mind if the one person who knew my darkest demons, my struggles with my eating issues, my doubts, and also my good moments didn’t want me, who else would? To me, in that moment, shutting my heart up and the world out would protect me from any other hurricanes wreaking havoc on my life. This situation, this condition was the foundation I placed for years to shut others out, even the ones who would be beneficial to me. What I failed to see though was when I thought I was guarding my heart, I was actually declaring battle on it. When I experienced disappointment or frustration or hurt in a friendship, my instinct was to “guard” it, and remove that friendship, just like I had to do with him. I was on a rampage and didn’t realize how many bridges I was burning down. I let one moment define how I would treat other connections and interactions with others. As a result, I was left with a lot of burned bridges and partially-invested friendships.
Don’t let preconceived ideas and conditions dictate who you allow into your life and who you allow to stay. Every single person, every single relationship, every single interaction with another person is different. Every. Single. One.
Guarding my heart wasn’t building strength or resilience; it was creating a blockade. It trapped pain, negativity, and cynicism in, keeping everything else out. No wonder my initial response was to question and doubt when it came to my interactions with others. I had become flooded with a fixed mindset that didn’t allow me to trust anyone, not even myself. I couldn’t trust my instincts or my decisions. I couldn’t trust other people’s intentions. I couldn’t trust my own feelings.
Guarding my heart didn’t build a safety net for trust. It sucked all possibility of trust down the drain.
I used to think that sucking at guarding my heart was a bad, unfortunate trait. Hence why so many of my journal entries involved protecting myself and guarding myself from rejection and pain. But I’m ok with sucking at guarding my heart if that means I find moments amidst the painful in my life that are vulnerable and positive. This. This is what will help me thrive. Don’t be afraid to be real. Be broken. Be intentional. Be your own advocate. Be trusting–even when others tell you not to or someone might shake the trust. Still choose to trust. Don’t always be on guard.