When I was in my early twenties I was the classic “tough guy.” I was not about to let anyone into my heart or my inner life. If I was involved romantically with someone and they got too attached to me or said they loved me, I was out the door.
At the time, I thought I was calm, cool, and collected: how wrong I was! In retrospect, I was terrified of letting someone touch that place in me that was so tender, so raw, and so vulnerable. I put up walls (not consciously, mind you) and actually believed that I was a really openhearted person. Eventually, I met someone that I stuck with for a bit longer than normal, but after a few months I was so over it! I had convinced myself, as I do from time to time, that this woman was the problem and that I had to break up with her.
One night, while driving from Breckenridge to Utah, I was getting my courage up to end it with her. As we came over a crest of a hill on I-70 a gigantic elk was kneeling in the middle of the lane, stunned, having just been hit by a semi. We slammed right into it, skidded to the right and went into a roll. I was not wearing a seat belt, (but don’t worry, I always wear one now!), was ejected out of the passenger side window, flew through the air and landed in a ditch about 20 feet away. I was alive, but did not know the extent of my injuries. An ambulance was there shortly, I was strapped to a backboard, taken to a hospital, and preceded to have something amazing happen.
I was not aware of the magnitude of this experience at the time, but now looking back I see the beauty of it all. As I was strapped to the backboard, something in me began to open. I felt a tremendous energy moving through my body and experienced a willingness to let it happen. I could not squash it down; the accident unlocked something in me, and I have never been the same since.
After my hospital stay and surgery I was not able to do much on my own. I had always prided myself on being able to do anything, but now I could barely do the most basic things. I was forced to let people in and to allow them to take care of me. This accident, along with the internal opening from the energy, left me vulnerable, allowing the love of people around me to sneak in.
I stayed with that partner for four years. This was the first time I fell in love and allowed someone to love me. I learned about how beautiful that experience can be with another person, but the time eventually came for that relationship to end.
What I then discovered was that I had gone to the other extreme, to what some people refer to as “co-dependency.” While at one time in my life I wouldn’t let anyone in, now I was depending on this other person and our relationship to bring about a sense of being “ok” in the world. God, that hurt! It then became clear to me that letting go was my new learning edge.
Since experiencing these two extremes of co-dependency and narcissism I have been learning new ways to relate to others and myself in relationship. One of those ways is the title of this post, “Heart on Hands off.” I did not make up this saying, but it really embodies a perspective that has been useful for me.
Those we love a lot may chose do things we don’t like, for example: ending the relationship, harm themselves, participating in addictions, or even just not give us what we want when we want it. This can hurt because we are not getting our way, and it can feel like the other person is doing something to us, when in actuality, they are just living their lives as they see fit. We may not agree with their choices, but their choices are not statements about us; they are statements about them, who they are and what they want.
But the problem is that we love these people! So it gets all sticky, and icky, and weird because there are all these uncomfortable feelings happening, and we don’t want to feel these feelings! We want the other person to change so these feelings will go away!
Ok, I get it. I totally get it. Give it a try. Control and manage this other person’s behavior, and if you start to feel like you’re going a little nuts take note. Another option would be to turn your heart on and take your hands off.
To do this begin to notice how you think about the person or situation and how you’re going to fix it or make it ok. See what happens if you bring your attention back to your body. Feel your energy come back. Relax into what your experiencing in your body when your mental obsession about the other person is interrupted.
What you feel in this moment is what you are running from. This feeling is what you ignore and attempt to avoid when directing all your energy outward toward the other person or situation. All your plans about how to get the relationship to work is a process of abandoning yourself.
As you learn to bring your attention back and put the focus on yourself you may find this tender grief space when you experience something difficult in relationship, such as the other person leaving into addictions, or into another relationship, or onto a new path. Let that happen.
Grief and love spring from this same place of tenderness; they are deep, rich, and healing. Let both of them happen without judgment. To take your hands off the situation and trust the other person’s process, even though you do not understand it, is loving this person. We are then available to turn our heart on and experience unconditional love for them and ourselves. It is giving them the respect and freedom to follow their path, while at the same time getting closer to yourself and what you truly want and need.
You can trust your body, intuition, and mind to guide you as you practice coming back to yourself. This process is not just about relating to the other person, but about developing a relationship with yourself through continuing to come back and experiencing what is happening internally without judgment.
As I look back I realize I needed that accident to open me up, I needed that relationship that ended in order to turn my focus towards myself with compassion, and I needed all the experiences that came after to build trust in myself. I hope that these challenging relationships in your life bring you closer to yourself and to an awareness of your deep capacity to love.
Karolina Walsh Psychotherapy
Providing psychotherapy, counseling, and support for grief, addictions, trauma, PTSD, relationship issues, and GLBTQIA.
“Karolina walks her talk, her ability to meet another in their capacities is sensational because she has done her own work” -Diane Israel
"An effective therapist needs to do at least two things: be compassionate and provide constructive feedback that actually changes the way people experience the world. I see many therapists who can do one or the other. I routinely watch Karolina do both..." -Patrick Weeg