Take off your Armor: Lead a Fulfilling Life

“Let your guard down.” This cliché implies that a person is somehow “holding back” from being “all in” and we think it is safe enough for them to “loosen up.” These terms take a complex subject, like protecting our self, and simplify it into a statement which carries deep meaning but lacks direction.

How do we let our guard down?

This is not easy. Guarding is an unconscious self-protection called armoring. A phrase coined by Wilhelm Reich in the early 1900’s. Armoring is an automatic, unconscious tightening of the bodies muscles and a narrowing of our emotional range. It happens in response to an internal sensation generated from the triggering of deeply held stories about our emotional, physical, or mental safety.

Armoring creates blocks to our human richness. We become less efficient in our work, tired from protecting our self all day. It makes us choose jobs, people, or experiences that keep us safe, but do not fulfill us.

Armoring is the opposite of being vulnerable. Though we all have access to our self unarmored, vulnerability tends to surprise us. We know it is possible, like when we are with small helpless creatures or experiencing something that causes us to tear up. Yet, we usually cannot choose vulnerability. It chooses us. Which is unsettling and makes us protect against it.

To consciously choose vulnerability requires a level of awareness of our past, present and future, and a willingness to be uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable triggers our physiology to begin the armoring process. It is a self-fulfilling physiological process, unless we make space for a new choice.

Vulnerability is an act of courage. A conscious choice to stay unarmored when our bodies signals are telling us we need to protect. Researcher Brene Brown, in her book Braving the Wilderness, talks about vulnerability as the key to the connection we all desire, but do not know how to get – a deep sense of belonging.

With the insight of neuroscience and trauma healing therapies, we have discovered there is a method to de-armoring that creates sustainable vulnerability.

Here is how to choose to remove your armor, be vulnerable, and find real belonging.

  • Initially, we understand how and why we armored in the first place. Looking into our lives and asking the question, “Where was the first instance of shame or remorse that I remember?”
    • It is likely this is the key experience that shaped our armoring. We are searching 24/7 to never have this feeling again. We are in fact, using body resources to search for it and protect ourselves. This is exhausting.
  • Next, we must decide whether those unsafe situations we armored against are still present.
    • If they are still present, we seek the help of a trained professional therapist or counselor.
    • If they are not, then we take stock of our current situation.
  • Is there a place to safely remove our armor and feel the discomfort?
    • If yes, we begin by letting people know what we are choosing to do, why, and what we need from them.
      • “I am wanting to be vulnerable. I am choosing this space to experiment. I am choosing you to experiment with. Here is what I need from you to feel safe…. Can you do this?”
    • If no, then we need to build it.
      • We build it through bringing our attention to the body – called grounding. Taking our attention and putting it on our breath. Where is the breath free flowing? Where is it harder to bring breath? We begin to feel the armoring inside us. This feedback loop helps us know the difference between safe – breath within our range, and unsafe – breath outside of our range. This subtle practice retrains our nervous system and rewires brain synapses. It creates the possibility for new choice.
        • Through our attention, we begin to “crack the armor.” When this happens, we must treat it with the utmost gentleness. We do not want to scare the person being revealed back into hiding.
  • Once we begin to feel safe inside ourselves, we look for a safe space to be vulnerable with other people.
    • When we do this, the people in our life are scared by our vulnerability. They may respond inconsiderately by mocking us or taking advantage of our vulnerability in some way. This is normal. We must be prepared for this. If we have not practiced noticing our vulnerability and finding a safe place within ourselves, we might re-armor and get even further away from our goal of being able to choose vulnerability to find our place of belonging in the world.
  • Once we find a safe space, we can reveal a bit of our protected self to others in conversation and test the waters. This can be done with friends or family. Still, you might feel safer with a therapist or coach to help get clear about what safety feel like, and how to create safety for yourself first before venturing into conversation with others.

I hope you find your true place of belonging. If you need help or want to find a safe place, invite perspective. We thrive on helping all people step more bravely into their unique purpose.