ASK ABDI: HOW DO I TOUGHEN UP MY TENDER HEART?

QUESTION: I can’t seem to change the fact that I continue to be disappointed when it comes to relationships - family, friendships as well as lovers. People keep telling me to toughen up, harden my heart. I don’t know how to do this. I feel like my heart is this big, loving, and open energy, and that people keep chipping away at it. Sometimes the hurt feels overwhelming and I actually feel physical pain. Is this my karma?

I’ve been in therapy for the last few years getting over a divorce (not my choice). I practice meditation and just sit with the disappointment. The pain of one situation lessens, but then another one is directly behind it to take its place. It feels like it will never end and that my life will be full of rejection and loneliness. How do I toughen up my tender heart?

ANSWER: This is not about toughening your heart. We all have to work to soften our hearts, not toughen them. Relationships are the most difficult place in our lives where all our unconscious material gets played out. Never pleasant, but certainly an opportunity to learn about ourselves. Change in this realm moves at a glacial speed, there are no fast results. Wonderful that you are working with a therapist, an ally in these matters is priceless.

You say that people chip away at your heart. True as this may be, this is only half the story. When an event happens once or twice, there is a possibility that we have been the unfortunate victims of an accident. But when they occur with frequency, something else is at play. That something else is our unresolved unconscious wounding that keeps picking situations that replay certain wounds in order for our conscious minds to heal them. Our conscious mind is rarely privy to this information, and hence the constant repetition. Just the fact that you are aware of their occurrence is a big step. Let me be clear that we are only responsible for our 50% in these transactions. The other person is also a player with their 50%. But we keep choosing these same patterns.

So step back and look at what commonalities all these relationships have. How early into them were you aware that something was off, that you were about to get hurt? What made you not listen? What were you getting out of being hurt? Do any of these patterns remind you of patterns that were mirrored to you in your childhood? Working with these questions will shed some light on your predicament.

It is important to realize that you do have power here to change this pattern and to not feel like you are being victimized. It is a beautiful thing to have an open heart, but it also means more self-care in terms of whom you let in and whom you keep out.