Ask Us: How do I break through my protective shell?

Five years ago I learned that my husband of 40 years had been unfaithful to me. This information came out of the blue, and it has rocked my world. One of the awful effects of this is that I now find it hard to access any feelings, and especially any feelings of love. It’s as if my heart has developed a hard shell, and nothing and no-one can penetrate that shell. Is this something you can help me with?

Thank you for reaching out to us, and for sharing your very painful story with us. I’m very sorry this has happened to you. I’m not surprised it has rocked your world. A betrayal like this is truly traumatic.

Turning to your question …

We make ourselves vulnerable when we choose to love, and we don’t take that kind of risk with anyone. We only take it with someone we have judged to be safe, and with someone who we think will love and care for us. And that’s why betrayal is so devastating. That’s especially true in a case like yours, when you had been married for 40 years.

So, of course, it makes sense that your subconscious mind would build a hard shell around your heart. It is trying to protect you from being harmed again. But how do you break through that protective shell?

One thing you could try is to actively go over in your mind different times when important people in your life have shown you genuine warmth, love, concern and care. (For example, this might be your children, other family members you feel close to and trust, your best friend, people in your church, and so on.)

Begin by calling to mind one specific memory. Then try to remember and relive this memory in as much detail as possible. Focus especially on the non-verbal cues.

As you think about the non-verbal messages, try to identified what it was that communicated these positive messages to you.

– Perhaps the person made good eye contact with you, and they focused their attention entirely on you. This made you feel like you mattered to this person, and they wanted to be with you.  

– Or perhaps you sensed a tenderness in their voice; or a softness, and gentleness, and warmth in their smile.

– Or perhaps you were surprised by the way that they reached out, and they chose to make themselves available to you. And yet you got the sense that they wanted to do this. They were eager to spend time with, and listen, to you.

Take the time to create a very rich and detailed picture, and take some time to mull over the experience. Notice how you feel as you relive the memory.

Then repeat the exercise with another memory.

And then repeat it again with another memory.

As you do this, you might start to be aware of muted feelings (it’s unlikely that the change will be sudden or dramatic). But eventually the walls will begin to come down, and you’ll be able to access some good feelings again.

“After trauma you feel frozen in time and disconnected to everyone and everything, including yourself. It feels as if it takes forever to reconnect and feel alive again.”


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