Recently, I had a rich conversation with a friend about our relationship. For the longest time, I would describe our relationship as cordial and guarded. It’s hard to explain what was really happening, however, imagine there being a wall between us. Neither one of us wanted the wall (I know this because we talked about our perspectives), and yet there it was keeping us from a truly intimate relationship. Our wall made it difficult to truly see each other, and to have the relationship we’ve always wanted.
Building a wall
The Berlin wall stood as a shining example for decades of what it means to build walls between people. What you may, or may not be aware of, is the Berlin Wall was always under construction. The actual wall started before the physical wall existed when the soviets wanted to restrict free movement between east and west Germany. Then apparently in an attempt to stop the movement of Western spies or the exodus of so many citizens, the soviets started building the physical wall between the two Germanies.
The Berlin Wall started with just barbed wire guarded by soldiers to prevent crossing and stood from 1961 until it’s fall in 1989. In this time they never stopped building the wall taller, stronger and ever more dangerous. In many places, the wall had increased to include two layers of wall with a very dangerous no-mans land between. There were land mines, barbed wire, machine guns and likely countless other ways to stop and/or kill people trying to cross this wall.
I visited Berlin in the early ’80s at a time when the wall still stood preventing the German people from connecting with each other. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to return to Berlin. This time there was no wall and only a memory of what once was. We were able to go stand under the Brandenberg gate, which as impossible on my first visit as it was between walls. This time instead of border checks there is a free flow of people between what was the East and West. Berlin is a beautiful city worth visiting today. It’s also a dramatically different city from what I remember all those years ago as they tore down that monument to how humans create so many problems between us.
Building my walls
I have noticed I build my walls in life much like they built the Berlin Wall. Initially, there is just some thought or consideration about another. I make some assumptions about the other person, and all of a sudden a wall has started to emerge. It might be just some guarded behaviour on my part, however, it’s very real in terms of what is starting to emerge.
This initial barrier I put up between us starts to form some behaviours in me, where I am careful about letting the other person on my side of the wall. When I start to see them peaking over the wall, I build my wall a little higher. Eventually, the wall becomes so big and fortified, it becomes difficult to even consider letting others see into my side of the wall.
When I have that wall built, it has historically been difficult to tear it down. I would use avoidance tactics to stay away from the person, I would discount things they said just simply because they’re on the other side of the wall. I would find all kinds of creative ways to reinforce my wall, and essentially keep me from them.
Tearing down walls
I’ve learned the easiest time to tear down a wall is before it’s built. To stop the construction before we even lay one brick in the foundation. It’s not always easy to tear walls down or in some cases to even know they are there. However, when I can see them I do start looking for the underlying assumptions I’m making about the other person which had me construct the wall, to begin with.
It’s true, at times I find there is something which has happened in our past which makes me want to keep the wall constructed at this time. It might be a protection mechanism, or it might be I’m just unsure whether I’m strong enough to safely let this person into my life. Perhaps one day I will take down the wall, just right now this isn’t the right time.
There are other times I’ve torn down my wall, just to find the other person has a wall in place. There was a time this would have bothered me, however, these days I let the other person have their wall. The truth is I know I will not see eye to eye with everyone in this world, and that doesn’t make them or me a bad person. It just is what it is.
I know I’ve put too much effort in my lifetime building walls. These days when I notice I’m starting to build a wall, I am now confronting the truth of what’s going on. Often at this point, there is only something I’m considering rather than a real problem. I am looking at what I’m assuming about the other person, and what is it I am wanting in this relationship. I am examining what assumptions I am making as almost always they are stories I am telling myself impact the relationship.
I am increasingly finding when I tear down the wall I’m building, it becomes so much easier for the other person to do the same. They may still leave the wall there and that’s OK.
Where have you built yourself some walls in your life? Do you want them? Are you ready to live a more open and fulfilling life, knowing you have the strength in you to live without building all these walls around you? It’s time to choose how you are going to live.
First, notice those people in your life where you are feeling a little distant and yet you’re not sure why. Reflect on the relationship between the two of you. Examine what you are assuming about this other person. Assumptions are almost always a reflection of you, rather than being something true about this other person. What is it you are not confronting and/or accepting about yourself which will help you have a closer relationship?
Tearing down the walls in your life is a matter of choice. It just doesn’t have to be that way.