This defense likely served a valuable purpose at one point in your life, protecting you in a situation that was truly threatening. These built-in protective shields become problematic when they stay out of habit rather than necessity. These emotional walls can often become unconsciously attached to your identity and cause you to detach from relationships.
Some may never have created an adaptive mechanism and feel overwhelmed by chaotic social environments, high-intensity work experiences, confrontation with another person and even emotionally intense movies. These are often Introverts or Empaths (people with high emotional intelligence).
For those who absorb other people’s negativity or emotion and need to build up their emotional boundary, visualizing a shield can make your abstract emotional boundary concrete. If you identify as an Empath, this skill is VITAL to preventing burnout. I encourage you to personalize this shield.
** See examples below for ideas **
Emotional Boundary Exercises
Example 1: Imagine a superhero shield. When you feel like you need to deflect the negativity that someone else is trying to throw at you, place the palms of your hands up slightly. As you flex your hands, imagine this invisible shield switching on. It acts as a mirror, causing any negative emotion or comment to bounce right back at the person projecting it toward you.
Example 2: Have you ever seen Harry Potter? Remember the scene where Voldemort and Dumbledore battle in the Ministry of Magic? Dumbledore protects himself from thrown shattered glass by creating a shield. In this shield, anything that passes through is morphed into soft sand and rendered harmless. Use your finger as a wand when you want to implement this skill (a finger moving is inconspicuous in public and the physical cue can help formalize the shield visualization for your brain).
For those who have developed too rigid of a boundary with others and want to break down those bricks to connect again, reflect on people or environments that you can rationally identify as “safe”.
Example 3: Imagine stepping through this removed space of your environment and into open air. Join the world. Your brain has gotten so good at compartmentalizing that making a choice to join the present moment in your mental and emotional entirety will likely feel very uncomfortable. When you consciously bring down your emotional shield, do you feel lost, vulnerable or naked? The discomfort is temporary. The more you practice this skill and gain control, the associated anxiety of the unfamiliar will dissipate.
As with most concepts in the therapy and coaching, we seek healthy moderation. Having an ability to turn on those protective walls in a future threatening situation can be a useful tool in keeping you safe. But we also don't want it to be turned on all the time. Having control of the emotional fluidity between you and your outside social environment can help you connect on a deeper level with those you care for. Moderation can help us remain safe while still prioritizing our quality of life.
Good luck in your practice of healthy emotional boundaries!
DR. STEPHANIE P. BATHURST, PH.D., LCMFT, CKCT, CPLC
Board Certified Clinical Sexologist
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist