Mental Health

Finding Safety Without Armour

woman wearing suit of armour
bstad on Pixabay

I’ve had a pretty shitty last couple of years.  There have been multiple people in a variety of different contexts who have treated me like crap, including people whose role (in theory) was to help me.  While I don’t have PTSD, I do feel traumatized by the things that have happened to me, and that (in combination with my depression) has made me really withdraw into myself.  I don’t trust people, and I don’t feel safe with people.  I feel like anyone could harm me or turn on me at any time.  I expect to be thrown under the bus because I have learned that this is how people treat me.  So for the purpose of self-preservation, I opt to hide beneath a heavy suit of armour, hoping that people won’t be able to get through it to hurt me.

There is one exception to this psychological mess-fest of mine.  He’s someone I work with, and right from the beginning I felt safe with him.  To some people, “safe” may sound like an odd choice of words, but for those of us living with mental illness, psychological safety is huge.  And I trusted him.  I’m not sure why, but it just felt right.  I told him about my illness very early on, and he was totally ok with it.

As time has passed, I’ve shared with him some of the really messy bits, but it’s almost as though the more I show my imperfections the more perfect he thinks I am.  It seems like he’s able to look past the illness and see the real me, which helps me feel a little more connected to the real me that’s lying buried beneath the depression.  In a lot of small ways, he takes care of me.  While I am fiercely independent, it feels nice to be taken care of once in a while, and it had been quite a while since I last felt that way.

Lately, we’ve started communicating quite a bit outside of work, which has been really nice.  I’m not sure where exactly this will end up taking us, but I’m enjoying the ride.  It’s interesting to reflect on how easily I felt safe with this person despite my internal scars and deep-seated mistrust of others.  Is it possible to “just know” that someone is not going to hurt you?  Probably not, but I guess it’s reassuring that I am still able to trust, albeit highly selectively.  I’m not so completed disconnected from the world that trust is impossible, which on some level kind of surprises me.

I think we all put on armour as needed to protect our vulnerable inner selves from the world around us.  The challenge is finding some sort of balance so that we’re not completely closed off, and establishing a dividing line between self-protection and avoidance.  I have a lot more work to do on relaxing my own armour, but at least I’m making a start.

What sort of armour do you wear to keep yourself safe?

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25 thoughts on “Finding Safety Without Armour”

  1. My armour is not really talking to people at all, certainly not about personal things. I’ve only really opened up a tiny bit to a couple of my colleagues this last week about my mental health issues out of necessity (because I missed time from work) and some of them I still haven’t told anything at all. I told my boss about it a while back, but that was of necessity too.

    Most of the people in my religious community, including some of the three or four who are probably open to being, in some sense of the term, friends with me don’t know about my mental health either and, again, the ones who do know don’t know much and none of them know certain opinions and hobbies or interests of mine that would mark me out as unusual, possibly somewhat heterodox or even perhaps slightly dangerous in the rigid world of Orthodox Judaism. Sometimes I want to speak, but I don’t know how.

    Even beyond my mental health and opinions, I find it hard to speak to people at all a mixture of social anxiety and borderline Asperger’s and fear, based on childhood bullying, that if people knew the ‘real’ me, they would reject me or worse.

    1. I used to be more open about my illness, but now I’m very careful about who I’ll talk to about it. I wasn’t bullied as a child but I have experienced workplace bullying, and it’s hard not to be guarded having gone through things like that. It’s a tough thing to navigate, and I’m really not sure how to find the right balance of opening up vs self-protection.

  2. I was in your shoes for a while in that I had my guard up and never really let anyone in. I wore that armor for a long time until I thought it was safe to relax. There are safe people out there, you just have to dig and search and look very keenly. I’ve let some people in my life know about my illness, which was a really big deal for me. I’ve also always had a strong distrust of men, but I hug my male therapist after almost every session. He always opens the door first so there is no questioning of propriety, and I appreciate that. He’s the first male in my four decades of life that has never been inappropriate with me. It is such a relief to find someone with whom you can be safe. I hope this coworker is that for you. Becca X

  3. Very interesting post! I do not find the “like” button…I wish there was one…
    I’ve learned to always wear my armor. I’ve learned not to trust anyone (especially men). I’ve learned not to tell/reveal too much because what you say could be/will be used against you later on. Apparently, that’s how things work…Basically, I’m building a fortress around me. I doubt anyone worth to trust/love will reach me with all that. All they see is the outside. Not the inside. Oh well.

    1. I know what you mean. Even the thought of taking off the armor is terrifying, so it really surprises me that this one particular person has managed to reach the inside of the fortress.

      1. I’m glad you have that person you can feel safe with 🙂 It would really surprise me if someone reaches me because my expectations of people have become really high…And to be quite frank I highly doubt it will happen. In my world, nothing changes no matter how hard I try to make things change *sigh*

  4. I am like some of the other commenters on here in that I believe my armor is being careful who I share my thoughts and feelings with. For many years, I did not wear that armor. I reached out to whomever showed me the slightest bit of kindness, desperate to forge some kind of connection. But I have found that this just pushes people away and my expectations are too high to really find anything overly helpful from these interactions anyway. So I keep a lot of it close to the vest, partially because I don’t feel like people understand and I can’t tolerate the negative feelings of not being heard and partially because I don’t trust them not to abandon me.

    I think it’s wonderful that you are finding someone you feel safe with. I hope that this continues for you. I hope you will keep exploring what it is about him that draws you in. Maybe that can help you with trusting others a bit more too!

    1. I know what you mean about feeling like people won’t understand and worrying about abandonment. Being vulnerable and letting down those defenses carries so much risk.

  5. I totally relate. I have had that sense of just knowing I can trust a person. It is always nice and of course questionable. I like all who have commented have trust issue’s, mostly with men, but as of late I want to let my guard down a bit to see what is possible. It is nice to hear you have someone who you can trust and even better that someone can relate to your work environment.

  6. I’m the same way with having an armor on- I used to let anyone and everyone in, but had a series of distasteful experiences with people (who were supposedly my best friends) that made me climb back into my shell. Nowadays I tend to isolate, which I admit isn’t the healthiest thing, and I’m more cautious when approached by strangers, especially when they seem too nice. I developed a bad habit of questioning people’s motives if I notice any kindness at all because those kinds of people, or the relationships I can have with those kinds of people are unfathomable to me at the moment. I hope that future experiences will bring change in my thoughts I have about people, which will probably come after I finish licking my old wounds. I’m happy that after a couple of bad years that you’re experiencing something nice for a change!

    1. Thank you! I’m definitely still in the process of licking my old wounds, and hopefully if/when that’s done it’ll be easier to open up on a broader scale.

  7. I hate burdening others with who u truly am so my armor is always on and I push people away when they get too close. I’m glad you found a safe person. My husband is mine even though I still hide quite a bit from him but he tries to pry it out of me.

  8. Humor and active listening are my armor. People only see that side and keep going and don’t find out the rest. I answer personal questions quickly and then ask questions of my own. Most people fall for that, talk about themselves instead, and then I don’t have to. Avoidance I suppose. The few friends are those who bother listening to the little bits I do share.

  9. Apologies if I haven’t already thanked you for visiting and following my blog, Ashleyleia – I seem to have lost track a little. Thanks for the connection and the chance to read more of your blog.

    Re your post – I hope life’s improving for you since you wrote this. I guess we all could do with more love and understanding.:)

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