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How do I let people get close to me after a death in my life?


This is a very interesting question I’ve received from someone who had many deaths in their life and now struggles to really let anybody in.

“I feel that I am dealing with the grief fairly well, but I notice that it’s very hard, if not near to impossible, to let anyone new close to me beyond a certain point.

 So my question is when and how does that happen again? I am fine with old friends, known quantities, even those I have not seen in a while, but not new ones, or moving any current friends to a closer level.”

How do I let people get close to me after a death in my life?

OK, so the why and how this happens makes perfect sense.  It’s about the part of you that simply wants to protect you.  You had a number of people you love die….and it can seem the best protective measure not to allow that to happen again. Now you can’t stop people dying….you can’t control that. But you can control whether anyone close to you dies….by making sure that there is no-one close to you.  Or at least no-one new. Though you may also notice a distancing/disconnection from existing relationships too. It’s purely a protective measure to stop you getting hurt.

As you probably already know, this strategy can seem effective (in the short-term) but ultimately very-ineffective and a source of great pain of it’s own.

At some point you’ll want people close to you – whether that’s family, friends, partners, etc, and you  can suffer because part of you wants closeness…and this other part of you stops it happening.  And this level of disconnection becomes very, very painful.  We are not meant to live so cut off from others.  So cut off from the love of (and love for) others.  Because this is ultimately what is happening here – you’re (unconsciously) stopping yourself from loving others or allowing yourself to experience that love.

Also you aren’t meant to be immune to life.  You stop learning if you stop experiencing life and stop allowing life to happen to you. If you make it so life can’t touch you…then life can’t change you and life can’t grow you…and what’s the point of that? I know stuff can be so damn hard, I do. But so much growth, and opening, and love comes through that.  And remember, you don’t just block yourself from the pains of life...but you block yourself from the joys too, inadvertently. In fact in this example that’s the exact strategy….block yourself from the joy of life so you can block yourself from the pain.  Is that really so desirable?

And this, in and of itself, becomes a source of pain. Disconnection from life, disconnection from others, and disconnection from your own feelings and experiences…and ultimately from yourself.

So…what to do about it?

The question I was asked is “when and how does this happen again?” Well the when is up to you. I don’t recommend passively leaving this to time and hoping it comes right. It may but it may not…and you don’t know how long that might be.

Awareness is the first step. That you can see that this is happening, that you can identify your own closed-off-ness.

The next step is to change this. So what you have here is somewhere in you the perception, the belief, that it’s better not to have people close to you so you can’t be hurt – the idea that it is less painful to be alone and not have people close to you than it is to have those people and then go through losing them. We need to switch this around so that you truly get that actually not having people you love at all would be a far more painful situation.

There are 2 things I’ll recommend here. One is around changing the beliefs that are causing this issue, and the other is around changing what is probably some habitual behaviour now.

Firstly, start with a very powerful writing exercise.  Write down all of the downsides to you of not letting anyone close to you.  How will this harm you?  What will you miss out on? What will life really be like if you never let another person close to you?  Come up with as many answers as you can. Ideally 50 or so, but at least 20. Come back to it if you need to.  The reason is, as I wrote above, that you hold the (likely largely unconscious) belief that it’s better to not have people you love so you can’t lose them, rather than have them and risk going through the same again. The goal of an exercise like this is to tip the scales of that belief so you can actually allow something different. This exercise I would recommend coming back to until you really feel it land.

The next step is simply about catching yourself when you pull back, when you don’t make an effort, when you feel yourself closing off……and challenge yourself, be brave…and just open up that little bit. Just a fraction. Just enough to not be too challenging but to halt the default shut-down.  Catch yourself and try something different. It might be a tough habit to break and you certainly won’t get it every time. But watch it, change it when you see it, and it will stop being a default unchecked reaction.

This, like anything, you have the power to change.  It will take some time and dedication but it is certainly worth it.



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