Stop Protecting Yourself.

How to get beyond rejection to risk, connect & become a real advocate.

My friend put down his cup of coffee to tell me a story.

He began rolling up his sleeves, alluding to being betrayed by a former business partner, and emphatically expressing his desire to fight the world after being screwed.

He went on to tell me about the anger & pain he felt after being betrayed and how he began to notice himself living on the defensive. Never wanting to feel this kind of hurt again, he started making life choices inspired by simply protecting he & his family from others, no matter the cost.


Fortunately, my passionate-story-telling friend eventually made the choice to forgive – and not architect his life as a victim. But even then, he candidly shared how his instincts are still to withdrawal and protect at the first sign of mistrust.

His story was beautiful to me. And even months later, I find myself revisiting his dramatic recollection of it in my mind.

I hear so much of myself in the dark side of his story. Unfortunately, it’s become clear to me over the past 28 years, that when we choose to open ourselves to another person, we’re effectively giving them the choice to reject our invitation. Needless to say, I’ve often found it far less painful and all-around safer to stay guarded…task-oriented…emotionally unavailable.

Self-protection is the safe & easy path. However, it’s also inevitably a self-destructive one.

In her book, Who Switched Off My Brain, Caroline Leaf observes this protection mode from a scientific perspective.

“When your body focuses on protection, it reduces your ability to process and think with wisdom or grow healthy thoughts…You can’t have optimal growth and protection at the same time. Your body focuses on one or the other.” (31,53)

According to our brains design, we cannot be the best version of ourselves – or have any level of impact on the world around us – if we choose to live in self-protection. And to resist such an inviting posture in life, we must slowly – but surely – reset our default from “protect” to “risk & connect.”

I have no intention of trying to offer a one-size-fits-all-comprehensive solution to resisting self-protection. However, here are a few things I’ve been experimenting with that have made my protection-mode a bit less accessible & appealing.

Let’s learn to listen to our biggest advocate…

If there’s any question, God is not the old man looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re living correctly. He’s the one constantly speaking kind and empowering things to you. He’s the voice inside our heads, that often directly contradicts the negative self-talk. And, if we have any hope of staying out of protection mode, we must learn how to hear his voice that is always advocating for who we are and consistently inviting us to stay open and alive to the world.

Let’s make war on the fear of rejection & replace it with advocacy…

The fear of rejection tries to convince us that there is far more pain on the other side of someone not liking us than there really is. At some point, we have to simply resolve that rejection is a part of life. Not everyone is going to or even know how to accept us and the way people respond to us is not our issue. Our responsibility is moving out of self-preservation and into contribution.

Anytime I’ve recently felt like withdrawing, I’ve attempted to immediately change my state of mind from “How can I keep myself safe?” to “Who in the room can I champion?” In the end, the goal is not simply resisting self-protection or being an open person, it’s about becoming a true advocate for the one in front of you.

Let’s choose our closest friends intelligently…

I recently started an advocacy (or mastermind) group with 6 friends. We get together once a week with the sole purpose of championing the one next to us and its proved to be the most significant thing I’ve done for my career and my life since getting married.

Stop hanging with the critics. Whether it’s a weekly advocacy group or not, find the people in your life that have the capacity to champion and be championed. Let’s create an intentional space in our friendships to LEARN HOW TO TRUST AGAIN by speaking life into each others career, marriage, aspirations and spiritual journey.

Let’s do these things with the expectation of finding a far more expansive world than the small one that self-preservation creates for us. Let’s do it for our kid’s emotional health, our spouse’s sanity, our friend’s enjoyment and for a generally more fulfilling experience of today. Let’s open up in hope that our connectedness to the people around us plays its small role in God’s larger redemptive story.

Can you relate to me or my friend in having a protection mode? If so, what are some ways that it has robbed you?

If you’re one that has actively chosen to no live in self-preservation, what are some other tips you would add to my list?

  • Biscuet

    Nice article, Ty! It’s a good reminder that i’m not the only one who risks being shot down when opening up and being vulnerable. I’ve always said that vulnerability leads to authentic community, but at the same time, getting shot down leads to being shut down. You gotta wake up everyday and make a choice to be vulnerable rather than safe.

    You’re the man. Keep writing.

  • semath

    @tylerwardis thank you for the great thoughts. Have you looked at Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability? Book, blog, Ted talk…

  • A

    The inevitable consequence of not protecting one self is rejection, and the problem with rejection is the healing that should accompany it for one to give it their all in their next encounter. I get that the costs of self preserving one self is high, but the cost of rejection unhealed may impede one’s growth as well.

  • tyler ward

    Thanks Biscuet!
    Vulnerability and hope are def choices, arent they?! I know for me, somedays they’re harder choices than others.

  • tyler ward

    Thanks for sharing Orangeman!

  • tyler ward

    Its a great point on the necessity of healing. I’d certainly lump it into listening to our greatest advocate as an imperative to overcoming rejection.

  • AndreaAdella

    Honestly, it’s the reason I’m still single. I’m 28. Sure, not a spinster yet. But after being deeply hurt and betrayed 9 years ago by the person I thought I was going to marry, I’ve found it so difficult to move past self-protection and attempt to find love again. I rarely date. But, it’s a choice I have to make every day- does the chance at finding someone to share my life with outweigh the uncomfortable risk and awkwardness that comes with letting my guard down? Always. It’s rarely fun…but I’m counting on finding someone eventually, and that will be fun. :)

  • Michael Decker

    Finding a group of friends who will support you is key. Rejection (for me) is so much easier to handle with a group of friends lifting you up. Thoughts?