Do You Put Up Defensive Walls?

Everyone has experienced trauma in their lives, whether, abuse, divorce, death of a loved one, illness, even hospitalizations can be traumatic.

Many people who experience trauma may build defensive walls to help protect themselves psychologically. Sometimes without even knowing we have.

While this may work as a defense mechanism for awhile, it can create problems later in life. I actually thought I had torn all my defensive walls down years ago.

One of the most common of those defensive mechanisms is to create an emotional wall that helps to separate the person from an event. I tend not to trust people and I avoid saying what I feel because I’m afraid of being judged. I tell everyone around me, including myself that I don’t care what others think about me, but deep inside I am afraid of someone saying something to me and pushing my “button” causing me to fight or walk away from people indefinitely.

An emotional wall is a private and hidden haven in which a person can somehow control anguish from which they cannot escape. Sometimes it’s a wall the people aren’t even aware they have put up.

Many people carry these escape havens into intimate relationships in their adult lives, whether they realize it or not. They are unconscious default responses that are ever ready to avoid the pain of potentially re-emerging past traumas. When they are activated they allow a person to unconsciously or consciously hide behind the walls that are still there or have a fight mechanism to deal with them. They become prisoners to their prior experiences and are unable to be fully present in their current life.

These walls show up in many different ways. Sometimes they are subtle and slow to emerge, but at other times, they are intense and reactive, seeming to come out of nowhere. The person retreats behind protective walls and May no realize they are experiencing the buried pain of the original trauma.

Here are a few examples to help you recognize the emergence of defensive walls in yourself or others:

Suddenly Erupting Defensive Walls

These sudden eruptions seem to come out of nowhere and often leave the other person surprised, wounded, confused, or defensive. Often, they have been smoldering for some time without evidence they are brewing.


When a trigger to a prior trauma is activated, the person experiencing it is re-experiencing the original anguish as if it were happening again in the current moment. It can be triggered on the other end of any behavior that rekindles the memory of the past trauma. Almost like a invisible button being pushed.

The person re-experiencing these intense feelings may suddenly snap, walk out, counter attack, or become immobilized, unable to function. They are clearly responding to the other person as if they are someone from the past. Their emotions are out of control, and they can react as if they are about to be morally wounded, and immediately retaliating into their once protective haven.

The other day I was talking to someone who said something about one of my children. Instantly I retaliated and they were shocked, saying it was only a joke, but to me it took me straight back to my childhood. I screamed at them and then went right back into my protective shell, and didn’t speak for two days. That’s when I realized I still had some defensive walls put up.


If people are re-experiencing trauma cannot get their walls for protection up fast enough, they may fall apart. When they are exposed and vulnerable in that way, they often decompensated, exhibiting pain, rage, confusion, or helplessness. Seemingly out of nowhere, they cannot control the flood of emotions that overtake them like a bursting dam.

Meltdowns often accurately qualify as a PTSD response, erupting because of long-term suppression they can no longer bear. If other people have no knowledge of the past traumas you’ve experienced they can feel helpless and don’t know what to do. This can cause a immediate deepening need to disconnect as they once did.

Personality Changes

People on the other end of spontaneously and emerging walks often report that the other person seems to be someone they don’t recognize. Drugs or alcohol can too easily be blamed for the sudden eruption, rather then the realization that the hidden trauma is the true culprit.

Eventually, the sudden eruptions and personality changes that often accompany them will emerge independently. A person who is normally quite capable and easygoing can, all of the sudden, erupt in anger and blame, threaten to leave, make wipe-out statements p, or not be amenable to any resolution in that moment.

Rage is not always the on,y reactive behavior. I for example just retreat in silence and have a urgent need to be at a physical distance between e and the entrapping situation. People may also have a present urgency of finality, as if they are never coming back, which may create panic and fear in the other person.

Slowly Emerging Walls

Most people are drawn to other by a sense of familiarity, even if that ensures that these trauma-induced behavior are more likely to happen.

If over time, they begin to be triggered by the same familiar patterns that were part of the original need to separate, they may begin withdrawing into those places that once protected them. Their outward behavior may seem unchanged for a while, but as behaviors begin to emerge that the reminiscent of past trauma, the warning signs of retreat become evident


When people continue to present themselves as stable and fine while feeling disappointed or wounded inside, they are likely slipping into martyrdom. They have less and less ability to receive for fear of losing control. They may begin to keep score internally while seemingly fine on the outside, presenting a “brave soldier’ out-ward appearance while withdrawing internally.

Signs that martyrdom is beginning are subtle. There is less talking, less frustration tolerance, resistance to simple requests, denial of distress, and less interest in events that would normally be more intriguing.


People who are slowly retreating behind their emotional walks often turn to outside relationships or situations while simultaneously being withdrawn in the primary relationship.

When challenged by others that they seem happier elsewhere, they are likely to defend and excuse what they are doing, not wanting to risk their primary relationship by admitting what is obvious. If it’s a partner they might challenge the reality but often might feel futile and powerless to stop it.

Sometimes these escapes are temporary and do help the trauma reaction quiet down. If a person who normally retreats behind walks instead embraces now challenges, commits to self-healing, or just takes time for themselves, it may help them put things into perspective.

Sometimes these escapes can cause love affair, or just giving up and the entire relationship with friends.

Even though no one can change what’s happened in the past, some people just keep repeating the behaviors that continue to harm them. Maybe it’s time to accept the challenges of breaking down those walls for good.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.