“It’s as if I have a wall in front of me,” Joe reflected. This is not an uncommon description from many who enter counseling. The image of the wall has obvious implications but is always more complicated than it seems at first glance. Joe’s wall is a barrier between himself and others, protection from getting emotionally closer, and therefore, hurt.
Joe talked about the hurts in his life, growing up in a family where there was alcohol and physical abuse. Protecting himself both physically and emotionally was essential to his survival, and he became expert at hiding his needs, wishes, desires, hopes, and dreams. He developed a demeanor to look confident but relied on the wall to protect himself.
Being friendly and caring came naturally to Joe, but being open and sharing on a deeper level . . . well, that part of him remained hidden behind the wall. He felt great sorrow and at times anger for what had happened in his lost childhood and had good insight into understanding the impact his early life experiences had had on him. Finding his way out of this pattern of hiding behind the wall was more elusive.
Because Joe expressed himself with metaphors and a lot of visual-spatial language (it looks like; I see; when I picture it; etc.) and often used gestures when talking about his feelings, we focused on these processing strengths rather than primarily relying on words (linguistic) or reason (logical). And we began by considering the image of the wall. Picturing the wall and studying what it looked like made it more real: He could feel it with his hands, smell it, and make alterations to it. As he explored the wall, he discovered a ladder leaning against it, which allowed him to stay protected while looking on the other side to see how he felt.
Staying connected to the wall but changing his relationship to it resulted in Joe learning to take more emotional risks in his life. Eventually, he reconstructed the wall to include a door so he could more easily move to the other side when he chose to. This was not a happily-ever-after experience, but it did create opportunity and hope.
Words, reason, and reflection are not unimportant in Joe’s struggle to reclaim his life. Using his core processing strengths, however, gave him a more direct pathway to healing. The Communication Styles Framework lets this happen, an invaluable tool for connecting experiences when dealing with complex emotional dynamics.