Several years back, I got into a deep conversation with a man who avoided closeness with his young son because of his belief (and fear) that either of them could die at any time. He loved his son so much and thought being a guarded, emotionally unavailable father protected them both. In his mind, it meant that he wouldn’t be emotionally devastated if something happened to his son. He’d be ‘prepared’. It was also that he was protecting his son from being hurt ‘too much’ if he were to die suddenly. 

This man is far from being alone. Much of what we do in our frustrating and painful patterns is about protecting us from hurt and loss. We’re trying to meet our primal need for safety and security, and we’ve also been through some things. We create defence mechanisms so that we won’t be ‘back there’ in the past again.

The problem, though, with this mentality is that it robs you of your present and future while you are here.

I pointed out to this father that if he lives for another forty years with this attitude to protect himself, he will have robbed himself of a beautiful, rewarding relationship with his son. And all because he thought that he was going to die before then.

About a year or so later, I heard from him via my husband about how his relationship with his son had changed dramatically.

He’d realised that being a detached father was a far greater problem than the possibility he would die one day.

I get the preoccupation with feeling that life is a risk. Avoiding vulnerability and intimacy is often our answer to this. Losing people does that. As does disappointment, rejection, hurt and trauma.

I’m so much more aware of my mortality after losing my father in 2017. There was also niggling anxiety in the past about ‘missing the boat’. Like so many women, I’d internalised messages about having little or no value or opportunity beyond forty.

On becoming a mother, I also went through a period of deep anxiety about something happening to the kids or Em. His train would be delayed, and I’d imagine the police turning up to say that he’d been in an accident. Recognising near panic attack feelings shook me out of it. I realised that my preoccupation with how it could all come to an end was bringing me to an end.

Of course, when my eldest started secondary school, my anxiety ratcheted again. My mind started running to places about how to protect her against all the awful things I imagined. I was already imagining how she could be invited to a party and someone might spike her drink. She was eleven! This was all the protective overthinker in me that tries to pee on my parade or scare the bejaysus out of me. It doesn’t want me to get too comfortable or too happy.

There’s no easy answer (or solution) to the inherent risk contained in life and living.

At the end of the day, you can’t focus purely on making things ‘safe’ because it’s all relative to what’s in your field of awareness. And ‘safe’ can mean a variety of things, and not all of them are in your best interests. Like emotional unavailability. Or avoiding your potential, purpose, or moving on to the next stage or step of your life because you’re hiding out and sabotaging.

You don’t know how your life is going to end or when. Avoiding closeness because you will die one day is daily prepping for something that might not happen for a hell of a long time.

Dodging intimacy because you were hurt before or you might get hurt gain creates a different kind of hurt.

It cuts you off from connection and no matter how many people are around you, you wind up experiencing loneliness.

Let’s say you do get hurt in a year. Is it worth not showing up fully and being prepped and on guard every day for the previous 365 days? Aren’t you missing out on so much in the meantime? 

We all have lifetimes with a beginning and an end that we live in between. 

The deeper question to ask if this is something on your mind is, Why now?

Why, when you could be, for example, living deeper in your relationship(s) or enjoying aspects of your life, is this your focus? What is the purpose of your mind going to these places? You will see that it’s a distraction from something else that you feel out of control of. 

It’s also likely, however, that something has pinged on an old event from the past. All humans have emotional baggage, and our old pain, fear and guilt resurface in situations that remind us of old hurt and losses. A present-day disappointment, which is a loss, incidentally, resurrects old losses and fears. So what’s the baggage behind the anxiety you’re experiencing the possibility of being hurt? Who or what else does the current situation remind you of from the past? Where else have you felt, thought and acted similarly? Now you can compassionately get to the real truth of what’s going on.

And, of course, if anxiety about potential risk and loss is impacting your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing, make sure to consult a health professional. Doing so will allow you to access support to manage and work through the thoughts and feelings.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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