(Un)Harden my Heart

Posted by on March 14, 2017

Many years ago friends of mine had a big hit with the song Harden My Heart. The song is about ending a relationship that turns bad. The connection to abuse is palpable.

Cryin’ on the corner, waitin’ in the rain

I swear I’ll never, ever wait [trust] again

You gave me your word but words for you are lies

I’m gonna harden my heart

I’m gonna swallow my tears

Those words are exactly how I entered adulthood and I suspect they are the unconscious mantra of many survivors of long-term child sex abuse. That level of betrayal and personal violence for most of us came from someone we knew and trusted, and for many, someone we actually loved. For me this was probably the most destructive outcome of my abuse. How am I supposed to learn to let anyone else in when the boundary between love and abuse was not just walked over, it was shattered. If love equals being abused, then I guess I must live with both, or give up on love.

I’m gonna harden my heart

I’m gonna swallow my tears

We have a lot of science now to help understanding people living with severe trauma. Our brains are short circuited and rewired so when we feel a threat, imagined or real, instead of processing through the reason centers of our brain, we move to fight, flight, or freeze in a split second.

Everyone falls into one of those three reactions. Some are fighters. You can tell by the anger that is kept at the ready. Others take flight. I’m outta here! And a third group freezes. They often fall back into a victim mode and risk repeating abusive relationships.

As a child I froze. Then I did a lot of fighting back as an angry young man. Flight is the best description of me now. Once I feel crossed, it is over. No discussion. No explanations. I am gone and you are out of my life. Period. I am a pro at pushing people away. I have often said that I am tough as nails, which is an inaccurate description. My soft heart is protected by almost impenetrable steel.

Cryin’ on the corner, waitin’ in the rain

I swear I’ll never, ever wait [trust] again

Harden my heart, harden my heart

Living most of my life not having the slightest awareness of all of this, you can imagine I have a trail of people and relationships left in my wake. It also means that there are very, very few that actually know much about the man behind the tough bravado (except through my advocacy work).

The relationships that have survived are ones that never threatened me, or my secret. Family who were there before and after revealing are probably the most challenging. My learned patterns are that of a PTSD survivor, and that is entirely different from me as a survivor on a healing path. What happens in many conflicts within that circle is that I get frustrated trying to express my feelings, and I walk away feeling hurt, angry, and judged. I believe my reaction is actually based on fear of not being able to say no or defend myself. So instead of showing who I am, I run to the safety of my fortress, alone.

I’ve been waiting for a feeling [of safety] that never, ever came

It feels so close, but always disappears

Now I find myself at a crossroads. I no longer wish to be in relationships that I do not feel fully safe to be myself. The feeling of dissatisfaction and unhappiness has grown old along with me. I desperately want to learn to sit in a room with others and be able to express how I feel, without my protective walls going up.

It makes me start to sweat just thinking about that. How scary for that little boy in me that was so horrifically violated to imagine coming out into the light without protection. It is something I have rarely done one on one, and I’m honestly not sure I can, but if I am to give and receive the love and affection my heart longs for, I must.

(Un)Harden my heart, (un)harden my heart

Randy Ellison

A special thanks to Marv and Rindy Ross, not only for their amazing music, but their commitment to support others as they walk a healing path. Harden My Heart Written by Marvin Ross, Marvin Webster Ross • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc




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