I often wonder, is it a good thing to harden my heart in order to protect my heart from hurt and disappointments? Or is it better to soften my heart in order to feel myself fully and be able to be in touch fully with others’ feelings?
First, let’s discuss the role life plays in hardening or softening our hearts.
I believe the more hurt, setbacks, pain, and disappointments in life, the more we tend to harden our hearts. Especially if it’s a situation that was very dear and important to our hearts. Or if the situation involved a close friend, family, or other trusted person or close work colleague.
If a loved one disappoints us, it leaves scars on our hearts and often causes us to harden our hearts. In essence, guarding and protecting ourselves from future pain or mistreatment. By doing this, we numb ourselves from getting too close to or opening our hearts to potential hurt from another person.
Many of us do this without realizing we’re doing it. We get hurt, then quickly build a shield around our hearts, and stay on 24-hour guard to identify any culprits who may be out to hurt us again.
This shield is strong, so formidable that people around us quickly notice it and head the other direction instead of trying to break it down—they think it may be too much of an effort.
Disappointment after disappointment, pain after pain, hurt after hurt, setback after setback often lead to hardening of our hearts. The more relationships that have hurt us, the stronger and thicker we build our safeguards.
In another context, a hardened heart is one that is totally self-consuming. One that is so prideful and thinks he or she is right all the time and will refuse to listen to truth or to correction. One example is a person with lung cancer who thinks there is nothing wrong with continuing to smoke. This is self-righteousness arrogance and extreme pride.
A softened heart on the other hand, even though it is quite self-aware, is also open, is sensitive to others’ needs and feelings, and allows others’ feelings in. There are no strongly armored safeguards. There is a deep sense of self, but also the deep sense of being open to others’ love, care, and help. The softened heart is more evolved. This type of person has come to terms fully with who he or she is and will allow themselves to feel, understand, and also be felt and understood by others, while at the same time deciphering positive from negative influences out in the world.
We have all hardened and softened our hearts in response to life and its happenings. These two states are on a spectrum. Some people maintain a hardened heart much more than a softened one, either by choice or by circumstances.
My divorce hardened my heart for a while. I placed safeguards all around me and was careful to not allow anyone to hurt me. I overcompensated in some ways and was not flexible in other areas of my relationships. I was on high alert to quickly sniff out any behavior from the other person that could potentially disappoint or hurt me. It prevented me from fully relaxing into a relationship and helped create a lack of compatibility with who I was in a relationship with. Lack of compatibility and lack of understanding in relationships leads to walking on eggshells and always being on high alert—which leads to hardening of the heart.
I have evolved as a person over the years. I have learned many life lessons, gathered wisdom from everywhere, starting from my upbringing with my parents to life in itself. I’m better in touch with who I am and know what to look for in friendships as well as romantic relationships.
To answer my question in the beginning, I do now conclude it’s much better to soften my heart to feel all my own emotions well so that I can also feel fully be open to God’s grace and be sensitive to others’ emotions.
In other words, having a softened heart makes us a bit more vulnerable.
Vulnerability, I believe, is the beginning of personal true character and relationship building.
Without a softened heart, there can’t be vulnerability. Without vulnerability, there can’t be authentic relationships and trust building.
May we be permanently happy by softening our hearts and being more vulnerable and authentic.