How We Shield Our Inner Wounds
When you have an inner voice which is strongly self-negative, it is like having an emotional wound deep within you, which hurts — a lot — and yet you cannot stop poking at it, and this is what keeps it raw, unhealed and painful.
The pain of this unhealed wound will then drive you to make life decisions, large and small, in ways you otherwise might not have. When you have a painful wound, you will naturally do two very normal things to address it:
- You will shield the wound, to make sure it does not take any additional damage from the outside world.
- Safe behind your shield, you will then soothe the wound, in order to lessen the pain.
When a person shields an inner wound of self-negativity, they are doing things in life in order to not take further hits in any of the four kinds of self negativity where they have a wound — competence, body, identity or relationship.
Shielding can come in many forms.
Prestige and Money
One of the most effective shields is to pursue a career where you will amass wealth and prestige. As the old saying goes, “It’s hard to argue with success.” The only problem comes in pursing a prestigious, lucrative path which you actually do not enjoy, and for which you have to suppress large parts of your true self with brute force, in order to get ahead on the path.
This kind of shield is mostly used to cover a wound of competence self-negativity, and sometimes of identity and relationship self-negativity.
I’m not saying that prestige and money are “bad” in themselves — they are not. It’s just that when they are pursued as goals in themselves, in order to shield a wound, they can end up leading a person down a deeply unfulfilling life path, a situation which is not even realized until mid-life or later.
On the other hand, it’s a wonderful thing when a person’s life path is aligned with their naturally-occurring, inner lines of bliss, and money and prestige come as the by-products of following these lines, as a kind of amplification by the outer world of your deep inner nature.
By contrast, a person who lives for nothing more than his shield is, quite literally, hollow. And he will be a poor source of nurturing, inspiration and support for the life of the community around him.
Instead of devoting one’s life to shielding, it is better to just heal the inner wound itself — so you can spend less of your life on your shield, and follow a life path you actually love. I will cover this more in a separate note.
Perfectionism is a powerful shield where the logic is: “”If I am ‘perfect’ in every way, then no one can criticize or shame me.”
The downside of course, is that perfectionism is exhausting.
Deploying this shield requires the careful development of the outward image of the perfect body, perfect spouse, perfect kids and perfect career. The inward reality of these things is also desirable, but the outward image is the priority here, since it is the outward image that provides the shielding value.
For a younger person, perfectionism will often come in a more narrowly defined arena that can be “owned” as one’s own territory— good grades, prowess in a specific sport or other specific skill like piano, violin or coding.
Again, it’s not that any of these things are bad in themselves — they are not. But when they are pursued not out of passion and true enthusiasm, but as a functional way to shield against shaming and negativity inflicted from the outside, it will disrupt a person’s true life compass and literally “throw them off-track.”
Perfectionism pursued as its own goal can also lead to cheating, because even an honest loss at something (a bad grade, a bad earnings report) becomes a failure of one’s perfection shield, which leaves the person feeling fatally vulnerable to inbound attacks of shame and self-negativity. He will feel driven to do almost anything to maintain the outward image of perfection, even cheating. Even if he is never caught, he is still trapped — a slave to his wound and the shield that covers it — losing precious years of life that could have been spent on his true life purpose. He has cheated, above all else, himself.
When a family as a whole becomes gripped with perfection as a shield, it can lead to harsh image enforcement and silence enforcement behind closed doors, leaving the kids conflicted and utterly confused. This is one of the ways self-negativity is passed to the next generation, as an inherited trait.
The final downside of this type of shield, is that perfectionism itself is a conspicuous mark of self-negativity. The person who is obsessive about “being perfect in every way” is essentially saying to the world, “I feel am imperfect as I am.” Otherwise, why would she need to strive?
People will sometimes advise away from perfectionism because “it’s not real, it’s unattainable.” I do agree, but it goes further than that. Even if it were real and attainable, to pursue “perfection” is rooted in the self-negative view that “I am not acceptable right now, just as I am.”
To me, this self-negative view is a kind of inner wound — a pernicious and unrecognized wound — afflicting almost every corner of our modern, global society. Finding a way to heal it is the focus of my work.
Anger is a less commonly used shield, but no less powerful. Its logic is simply: “If I appear angry all the time, people will keep their distance and be less likely to wound and shame me.”
The person using a a shield of anger will often feel “prickly” to the people around her, they will walk on eggshells and keep a safe distance away.
The downside of this shield is twofold. First, it’s exhausting to keep up. Second, it tends to diminish the quality and warmth of all your relationships, even the ones you want to nurture. When used as your routine, everyday shield, it also becomes the first item you reflexively reach for in all disagreements, even when alone with a loved one, behind closed doors. Your whole life ends up being “prickly”, on the outside and inside alike.
In a family situation, the anger shield spreads quickly, and ends up becoming a part of the “family dialect” which is then passed on to the kids and future generations.
Bullying is the attempt to take one’s inner overload of self-negativity, and pass it onto another person. Similar to anger, it goes one step further to actually inflict damage on a target “other”.
The logic here is that “If I have the power to push down others, then I am still low but at least I am not the lowest one out there.”
Every teacher knows that the class bully is the kid with the biggest problems at home — because his overload of self-negativity is not random and spontaneous — it’s coming from somewhere, and he is desperately passing it off to others so as to avoid drowning in it himself.
There are many ways bullying is expressed as a method of inflicting self-negativity onto others, and I have covered this in more detail in a separate note.
Invisibility and Silence
Another kind of shield that is very commonly used is invisibility. This is the act of “making oneself invisible” — dressing in a plain and inconspicuous way, and acting quietly and passively so as not to draw attention.
This is almost always paired with silence — keeping quiet and self-censoring one’s remarks, again so as to avoid drawing attention.
Invisibility and silence are a huge problem because they deprive the world of the value of your input and wisdom, and suppress the full expression of your bliss and gifts to the world.
But even before that lofty problem, there is a more immediate, practical problem with invisibility: it doesn’t work very well, because it doesn’t actually block anything — it’s not actually a shield.
Invisibility and silence are more like camouflage — you are hoping that attackers will not notice you. But if they do, you are still exposed and vulnerable. This is why people who use this kind of shield are often very anxious as well — and they are anxious for good reason, because they feel self-negative and exposed, and that even with their careful camouflage, they can still be attacked at anytime, from any direction.
To make matters worse, in the eyes of a bully, a person using invisibility and silence presents a weak and inviting target. The attempted camouflage then becomes a kind of billboard, attracting precisely the wrong kind of attention.
A shield that is often paired with invisibility and silence is the tactic of people-pleasing. This is the act of tirelessly trying to “make everyone happy”, in order to stay on everyone’s good side, and thus avoid their attacks and shaming.
This is a tactic often used by kids raised in highly self-negative families, and when they carry this method into adulthood it leads to submissiveness and self-suppression in their relationships, both professional and romantic.
To make matters worse, the tactic rarely works. Like invisibility, people-pleasing is not a shield, because it does not actually block anything. It is rather a kind of attempt at appeasement, relying on the self-esteem and goodwill of the other. But if the other is a bully, suffering his own wounds of self-negativity, the people-pleaser will present a very inviting target indeed.
What you can do
If you feel you have some measure of inner self-negativity (as most of us do), there are a number of ways you can address it.
The first is to review the array of shields you already use in your life, and then try to optimize them. Every shield comes with its own cost, but they also differ in effectiveness. If you’re going to take on the emotional expense of shielding your wound, then you may as well get your money’s worth and pick a good shield.
Even better though, is to try and heal the underlying inner wound that is driving you to shield in the first place — to identify it, retrace how you got it, and then find a way to heal it.
Much of my work in teaching meditation is devoted to helping this process.
The beauty of learning how to self-heal an inner wound is that it frees you to live your life without the need for a heavy shield — because you know that if you get hit again, you can just heal it again. Negativity attacks become less threatening then, because the wounds themselves are less threatening — you know how to self-heal them.
If you consider the list above, many people will spend a good majority of their lives engaged in multiple forms of shielding activity. Let me list them again here:
Prestige and Money
Invisibility and Silence
Imagine what you would do if you didn’t have to shield anymore, and spend so much of your single, precious life consumed by these purely defensive pursuits — imagine what you’d do with all that extra time and energy!
I have imagined this a lot.
And one thing’s for sure: You’d finally have the time and ability to find and follow your bliss — and fulfill your true life’s purpose.
For the benefit of not just yourself, but for the benefit of the life of the entire world all around you.
These are the fruits of healing.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this note. You can comment and reply here, or email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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