Breaking Down the Walls of Self Protection
by McKenna Lefever
Boundaries are intended to help you make hard choices before you are put in a position where making such decisions is extremely difficult. For example, purity. If you make the choice to be sexually pure and not have premarital sex, you will have to put up boundaries to protect this choice, like not being at home alone or in a bedroom with the person you're dating, and empowering people to hold you accountable. However, if you neglect to establish these kinds of purity-protecting boundaries beforehand, you will likely find yourself in a situation where you need to make a difficult choice about your purity in the heat of the moment – the most challenging time to attempt to make a rational or wise decision.
Strongholds can be healthy or unhealthy. They can be good or bad, dependent on what they are. If you make strongholds based on your core values, like "God is good" and "there is always a solution," you're establishing healthy strongholds. But if you have negative-thinking strongholds, such as, "no one likes me" or "I'm alone," you might find yourself miserable and friendless. Strongholds are made by repeated thoughts we dwell upon, that turn into beliefs. If you think about God and how good He is, you will actually find regular examples in your life where God has been good. This kind of thinking will make your healthy stronghold stronger. When you have a stronghold (a set or established belief), either a positive or negative one, your brain will actually ignore things that contradict it and rather build upon what you already dwell on and believe.
One reason we build emotional or relational walls is because strongholds have been constructed. We put up boundaries with trust. Trust is built in small, everyday situations. As Brene Brown puts it, "Trust is like a jar of marbles. When someone does something trustworthy, they get a marble and when they do something untrustworthy, they get one taken out." Building trust can be as simple as following up on what you say, like saying you will be somewhere at 6:00 p.m. and arriving on time. Or if you mention that you want to meet up for coffee and then take initiative to set up a coffee date, you're building trust. Mistrust can be built as simply as not being on time or saying one thing and doing another. We should put our trust in people who have "filled up their jar of marbles" with us.
When someone repeatedly breaks trust with us, (walks around with an empty jar of marbles in our eyes), we naturally build emotional and relational walls against that person. These are strongholds of thinking, and lead you to establish boundaries. We naturally trust our strongholds – good or bad, because we have them up for a reason. Emotional/relational walls are mostly put up because you stopped trusting something or someone. They come from a place of pain and reaction. They are a way of protecting yourself from what might seem to give immediate relief, but can cause horrible damage in the long run. That was my experience.
I grew up in a lovely, Christian family and I accepted Jesus into my heart before I turned three years-old. I don’t even remember it, but I knew that God was real and that He died for me. For some reason throughout my childhood, I had a knack for making friends with people who liked to move away. My family also moved a lot because my Dad is in the film industry. Even though we traveled a lot, we always came back to Los Angeles. I would travel to a places like Santa Fe, New Mexico or Wilmington, North Carolina for three months at a time, and then I would return to L.A.
I had fun as I was homeschooled because of all the traveling, but I never put my roots down for too long. As a result, I started to believe that I would never settle down and have a home. Sometimes, I would come back home to L.A. and realize it no longer felt like home. Even though everything looked the same, everything had changed. I always wanted people I could count on to be a constant in my life.
When I was nine years old, I heard God speak to me for the first time. He told me to get baptized. So, I did and when I came out of the water I felt the Holy Spirit on me. I felt like I was walking on air.
I did not really learn about the Holy Spirit until I was 11 and visited the Planetshakers Church in Melbourne, Australia. It was fun, but also a hard time in my life. When I came home from that trip, all my friends moved to different cities. So we went to new churches and I just kept floating after that from different friend groups to different churches.
In the years that followed, I became more bitter and closed off. I had walled off my heart a little at a time with each experience of hurt and mistrust. For every friend that came in and left my life, I started to believe more and more that people did not like me and that no one understood me. I believed that people were always going to leave and that if people really knew me, the true me, they would chose to leave. I felt forgotten, unloved, and put up with.
I made negative strongholds out of these lies I was believing. When people told me the truth, I would think they were lying or just trying to make me feel better. I believed the lies in my head so much! While at a winter camp, we had posters of everyone and we would write nice things about other people. On my poster, people wrote things like, “I want to get to know you. Let’s hang out. I would love to be your friend." Even after I read those beautiful things, I still believed no one liked me and that they were lying. My negative strongholds were so secure that they disregarded any truth.
As a result of these negative mindsets, I arrived at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) feeling alone, unloved, and hurt. I did not allow myself to express any feelings because all I had felt for a long time was sadness and loneliness. As a result, I did not want to feel emotions anymore. So I walled off my feelings and chose not to be vulnerable with anyone in my life. I lost so many friends to moving or them not talking to me any more. Subconsciously, I closed myself down. I chose to put up defensive walls, but all that did was make me sad or emotionless.
In my first year of BSSM, I realized that I did not feel emotions anymore. As someone told me their own story, I just sat there in school and cried all day. It was the first time in a long time that I had cried around people. I had always been able to hold back and wait. But finally revealed my heart to people and I would not hold back the tears. That was such a big moment for me! A crack in my emotional walls started to form. I talked to one of my roommates at that time. For the first time in a long time, I allowed someone to see my heart. I felt permission to cry in front of her.
It is interesting that vulnerability opened the door for me to open my heart. At that time, all I wanted was love and acceptance more than anything. God showed me that people do love me even in the midst of my messes. But, I was still scared.
The following year, I went back to BSSM to do second year thinking that I had gone through the worst of it and I was emotionally healthy now. HA! HA! HA! How wrong I was! I started the year asking God a simple question and it was one that I thought I would get a simple answer with an easy fix.
I asked God, “Why is it that when I ask you a question, I don’t think I will get an answer?” He replied, “Well, because you don’t trust me.” I went berserk, “How can you say I don’t trust you?! I’m in 2nd year BSSM. I have followed you all my life and have always loved you!?!?! I stopped trusting people a long time ago and I thought that it did not reflect in my relationship with God. Boy, was I wrong! I not only walled myself off from people, but I also did so from God.
Something I learned later that year from Melissa Amato was; ‘When you stop trusting people, you stop trusting God!’
At this point, I went to my Pastor and talked to him. He saw right through my crap and he helped me out. I was told me that I needed to start journaling so I could write out my feelings. Then, I was to ask God what He thought. Well, I hated anything to do with writing because I was dyslexic. So in my own time, I threw a bit of a fit about it all until God brought me to my senses. It was more like He convicted me and He told me I needed to do it.
I went out and bought a journal thinking that it would be easy to write down my feelings. Oh no. I learned I had such a trust issue that I could hardly even trust a journal. It would be written proof that I was not perfect and that I had issues. If anyone picked it up, they could see them on a page. I had to learn to trust my book and that it would remain unread. I then needed to trust my roommate with my feelings and then my home group.
It was a messy process, but God told me that I was beautiful even in the process. I didn’t always believe Him. He made me feel loved even when I felt all messed up. God not only changed my life that year, but He changed me.
I am now in a place where I let people in and I have people I can count on. I can stand in front of a group of people (when forced) and share what God has done in my life. I can show people what vulnerability is.
These are the strongholds that I put up, the walls I surrounded myself with. There is not a formula for breaking down strongholds and walls. In some ways, writing and declaring was huge for me. It was the people who surrounded me and God.
If you are in a place where your emotions are walled off, you feel unloved, or your mindset has been holding you back, I want you to know I am praying for you. Let your walls fall. Find people who you can really trust because they have proven their trust.
About McKenna Lefever
The lovely, well-travelled McKenna is a part of the Backlund team, interning specifically for Melissa Amato as our 2015-2016 translations intern. She is passionate about people coming into emotional health and into a relationship with God.