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There are people in my life who I put in jail. At some point in my life, our paths crossed, and I got hurt. I blamed them for my pain and locked them away for life so they could never hurt me again.

Many of the people I locked away have no idea they are in jail.

When I think of them, or if I happen to be in their presence, the walls go up. I’ve been hurt and believe that they are responsible for my pain. I can’t afford to let them hurt me again. The walls go up so they can’t get in.

Getting in would mean letting them see my joy and my sorrow, my worries and my pride, my confidence and my anxiety, my greatness and my fears.

But I don’t trust them with my sacredness because they have hurt me. They have proven they can’t be trusted. Letting them in would make me vulnerable to being hurt by them again.

Thank God there are so many people on the planet. There’s no way that in my estimated 85 years they can all hurt me.

I remember hearing someone say, “I have friends I haven’t even used yet” after they had experienced rejection. I always chuckle when I think of that. But why is that funny?

I suppose its funny in the same way that a comedian makes me laugh by saying the thing we’re not supposed to say. Its a little shocking sometimes to tell the truth instead of saying what is expected and acceptable.

Do I use my friends? Do I use people? I don’t want to believe I do. But if I’m really being honest…

Yes. I use people to make me feel good about myself. To validate who I want to be seen as. I use people to like myself.

I’m the sheriff in my life. If someone does or says something that triggers pain or discomfort, I just throw them in jail. No problem. I’ve got others I haven’t even used yet.

That’s one way to live life. That’s the only way to live life unless I know better.

Fortunately for me and for those I have sentenced to life in prison, I now know better.

I thought others were responsible for how I feel about myself. What is true is that I am responsible for all of my feelings.

I thought that external events determined my internal experience. What is true is that how I view external events determines my internal experience.

I thought people would never change. Once they hurt you, they will always hurt you. What is true is that people make mistakes. A mistake doesn’t define a person. What is also true is that hurt people hurt people. And its also true that people can heal and change.

I’m one of those people. I have been hurt. I’ve hurt others in an effort to protect myself. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and judged myself for those mistakes. But I am not my mistakes. I have been wounded but I have also healed. And as I have healed, I have changed.

If that is all true for me, then it may be true for others.

I am not who I used to be. My circumstances have changed dramatically over the years. And my responses to the circumstances of my life have changed dramatically as well.

Some who I have blamed for my past hurts haven’t been so fortunate. They haven’t yet had the opportunity to heal and grow like I have.

Given what I now know to be true, what stops me from letting them out of jail? Only my fear. Only the habit of believing that others can hurt me, have hurt me, and will hurt me again if I give them the opportunity.

There are hurtful people in the world. I am responsible to protect myself from them.

But not all people are intentionally hurtful. Most just make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and grow.

What would it mean to give those I have blamed for my pain a day pass? What if I let them out of jail just long enough to test my own progress?

It would mean recognizing that the person I interacted with in the past is not the same person who I’m thinking about now. Most people change. Can I find the courage to let them in a little?

I can’t expect to be vulnerable until I have learned how to resolve the pain of the past. I can’t make room for the possibility of more hurt until I have created more capacity to endure it.

The work I have done using the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model (www.IFS-Institute.com) has enabled me to stop throwing people in jail. I’ve even begun to pardon some of those who I convicted in the past.

Now I use the IFS model to help my coaching clients set themselves free.

To learn more, schedule a 30-minute discovery session.