Dropping the Armor
One day –
maybe because it’s time
or because the weight has become too crushing –
you drop the armor around your heart
so you can breathe
and love in this world
Lisa McCrohan, MA, LCSW-C, SEP
There comes a time in our lives when we just don’t want to go about life tense and contracted. The armor we have built up around our hearts gets too heavy. No wonder we built up this armor. Loving others presses all our buttons. Being vulnerable can feel scary some times. It brings up all our attachment wounds, losses, and insecurities. As I tell my coaching and psychotherapy clients, there is also the larger socio-political environment of mistrust that keeps us our sympathetic nervous system constantly prepped to take action at any little misstep. Someone hurries in front of us walking into the grocery store, a colleague doesn’t send us the email in a timely manner, our child rolls his eyes, or our spouse doesn’t ask us how your day went and we are teetering on losing it.
I don’t want to live that way. As a Somatic Experiencing Psychotherapist and teaching clients more and more about the polyvagal theory, I know all too much about the havoc that wreaks on our nervous systems — how the constant flow of stress hormones wears on our system, how the bracing in our bellies cuts us off from healthily digesting our food, how our “window of tolerance” narrows, how the tension in our shoulders and neck causes our jaws and heads to ache. I could go on!
Clients come to me every week with a desire for something to change. We see that flame of desire as something sacred calling us to life. Something sacred within us remembers that there’s another way to go through life. It remembers that we are meant for connection. It remembers our shared humanity. It remembers that risking vulnerability and connection is in our bones and holds the potential for deeper intimacy. It remembers that softening, turning toward one another, forgiving and opening toward love…heals us.
This isn’t Pollyann-ish. This doesn’t mean we neglect our own wellbeing. It’s wise to have healthy boundaries. It’s necessary to remember that we matter — our bodies, our thoughts, our creative impulses, our emotions. Wise self-regard and self-care are necessary for healthy relationships. It’s one of the main parts of the work I do with clients — resourcing ourselves in truly nourishing ways. So we spend time remembering what it’s like to regard ourselves — to see ourselves as worthy of taking time out for exercise, going to bed early, eating healthy meals, and nurturing friendships. We learn practices for communicating with compassion. We learn ways of gently dialing down that “sympathetic activation” to get us out of the “go-go-go-then-collapse” loop we often find ourselves in through body-centered practices that “turn on” our ventral vagal complex of connection, peace, and flow.
Yes, it’s possible to remember that we have that ventral vagal complex — the part of our nervous system that can recognize that not everything has to be a personal threat…that we can risk asking for a hug from our spouse, letting our teenager roll their eyes, and calling a friend and inviting them for coffee.
As we turn toward love and choose connection, we learn that it feels so much better to not have on so much armor. We can more clearly see the goodness and the suffering in our loved one’s eyes. We can more quickly remember that everyone just wants to be loved. We can give people the rare breathing space to be who they are. We can risk being vulnerable and opening up to someone we care about. And we soon realize that we don’t have to go through life alone, carrying suck heavy burdens, and that we are better together – undefended, with open arms to just love…love, love, love.