“If you do that again, I’m going to knock the shell off of you!” the boy warned his little brother.
His alarmed mother rushed into the room to separate the boys. “Where in the world did you hear something like that?”
“At school. My friends say it all the time.”
“But what does it mean?” she pressed.
“I don’t know. Like ninja turtles, maybe?” The boy’s bravado faltered while his little brother grinned.
Epiphany: A threat has no power to intimidate if no one understands what it means!
Now, if you’re a turtle, a threat to knock your shell off should be taken seriously. Your shell is your best source of protection against predators—not to mention, you’d look pretty ridiculous without it!
But, if you’re human, your shell could be serving the opposite purpose. When the fortress you’ve built around your heart imprisons you instead of protects you, it's time to consider a different strategy.
Human shells resemble walls that separate us from others and grow from conversations we have with ourselves about:
- Unforgiveness: someone hurts us, either deliberately or through indifference or insensitivity, and we’re unwilling to let it go. Forgiving them feels like giving them a pass to do it again, so we build a wall to keep them, along with anyone else who might do the same thing, out. The wall grows…
- Insecurities: we compare ourselves with others and decide we can’t…, we’ll never…, we’re less because… so we don’t even try. We build a wall between our present situation and our dreams to keep disappointment out. The wall grows higher…
- Guilt: the shame of past failures becomes a burden we strap to our backs and carry the rest of our lives. The weight convinces us that we can never become more than we’ve already been. We’ve let people down and don’t know how to start over, so we lock them out. The wall grows thicker…
Building these walls feels like an excellent form of self-defense but it's actually a form of self-immurement. Remember Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Cask of Amontillado, where the narrator obtains revenge on his enemy by enclosing the man behind a wall in his basement?
The process is similar to that, but with a twist: we think we’ve locked up the pain, but all we’ve actually done is sealed our hearts behind that wall.
This sounds like good advice. Let’s break out of our prisons and pick a fight with our weaknesses right now. Let’s turn them into strengths by tearing down these walls one brick at a time and stepping into the world with our arms wide open.
Whether we prevail or perish, one thing is certain: the person we set free will be ourselves!
Have you allowed self-defeating thoughts to imprison your potential, your dreams, or your relationships? What is one thing you can do today to liberate yourself?