Katja Laurien

Inspiring your spiritual journey

Living with an Open vs a Closed Heart

5. September 2021 • Katja Laurien

We all want to live with an open heart - theoretically. But in practice we see that the majority of people keep their hearts closed to a certain extent. Some of us do it consciously, but most people are not even aware of it. Those who are aware would say that they “protect” themselves from being hurt and would even call it a form of self love to not let anyone enter their hearts without proving themselves worthy of it. 

This sounds plausible, but in fact it’s nothing more than just another defense mechanism. We want to defend ourselves from being hurt, thinking that people we don’t love can’t really hurt us. So, we decide to start to “love” them once we have decided that they are safe enough. But life is never this simple and therefore I want to present to you a couple of scenarios in which I want to illustrate why defending yourself from being hurt can actually lead you into a lot of pain and how opening your heart eventually makes you immune to suffering - regardless of whether the love is reciprocated or not. 

Before I dive into the scenarios I want to clarify that opening your heart is not the same as letting someone know that you’re into them and pursuing them relentlessly. This is also a form of control and real love doesn’t control but allows things to flow - even if it means to let people flow out of your life. The scenarios I will describe occur mostly in romantic relationships, but can as well be applied to friendships, family members or even complete strangers. 

So, what do I mean by living with an open heart? It means we can simply see people for who they are without projecting some kind of role onto them. We just see them as fellow human beings, who happen to have amazing personalities and a couple of flaws as well. When we manage to connect to someone from human being to human being - without expectations or judgement - it’s easy to share feelings and thoughts. When we don’t expect the other to fulfill some kind of role in our lives, we can accept any situation we are in. Life will then decide for us which role this person is going to play in our lives, not us. All we need to do is to always opt for the loving option - towards ourselves and towards the other. Living with an open heart oftentimes doesn’t even require you to make major decisions, because you’ll be in the flow of universal laws and the universe will sort things out for you - leaving you unharmed and without resentment.

Living with a closed heart, on the other hand, is all about control and playing it safe. When we interact with people, we decide how they are supposed to serve us, how they are supposed to treat us within their role and how we can control them into staying in their role, so we don’t get hurt. When our hearts are closed, we are primarily interested in defending ourselves rather than simply exploring the connection with another human being. A closed heart has an agenda, consciously or unconsciously, but this agenda doesn’t allow things to simply unfold, because anything that’s off the script is potentially dangerous. 

So, let’s get started with the first scenario: The hearts of both parties are closed. Obviously, this is the worst case scenario in which both parties are waiting for the other to make a move, playing it safe. While we are waiting in vain for the other person to show some sign of interest or affection, we start to harbour resentment towards the other for not giving it to us. Conveniently, we forget that we also don’t show any sign of affection. Instead we start to doubt ourselves. We wonder whether there is anything wrong with us, thinking that the other person  doesn’t want to spend more time with us because we are flawed. Result: Pain. 

But this scenario can also take a different twist. For some people it only feels safe to open our hearts slightly, when we feel that the other person’s heart is closed. Most of us aren’t used to being loved by an open heart, since this is a quality few of us master. So, in a way we feel safe to “love” someone whose heart is (partially) closed. It’s familiar (and therefore safe) and at the same time we inherently feel that it doesn’t require us to really open our hearts. Keeping a closed heart and attracting a closed heart allows us to not have to change which is obviously very scary from an evolutionary standpoint. We think that keeping our hearts closed will protect us and so far we have survived with this mechanism, so why should we run the risk of jumping in the unknown? In a way, we’d rather stay safe than happy. 

Obviously, all of this happens subconsciously but it’s a widespread relationship model. Oftentimes one person is the one who pursues (note that pursuing still doesn’t mean your heart is open) and the other is avoidant. The magic in this kind of relationship doesn’t necessarily lie in the intense love the lovers share, but in the game (and the familiarity of the game). It’s a cat and mouse game in which at times cat and mouse also reverse their roles, just to spice up the game. This game has been a role model of love for many of us, so it’s hard to let it go. Our parents, society and media show us it’s “normal” to play hard to get, to be cautious in love and to make people “deserve” your love, even if it entails a lot of drama. We’re almost addicted to carrying out our relationships this way, the mere thought of a stable relationship makes us yawn (though deep inside we’re actually terrified!). So, maybe this kind of love is exciting, but does it make us happy? No. 

In the second scenario, our heart is closed but the other person’s heart is open. We act the same as in the first scenario, waiting for the person to give us compliments or signs that they truly like us. Interestingly, the person with the open heart will actually do that, but because our heart is closed, their signs of affection and appreciation do not make their way into our hearts. We wait for more proof, thinking that the other must have said all those things out of politeness, because they want something from us or because they are desperate. People with a closed heart oftentimes don’t really believe in themselves, which makes it hard for them to believe anyone else will. They don’t trust the open hearted kindness, thinking they have to do something to “earn” this love. When someone gives them love simply for being their radiant selves, it feels inauthentic and not real to them, so they walk away or play “hard to get”. In the end, the person with the open heart will take the aloofness as a sign of disinterest and will take a step back, but not out of fear of being hurt, but out of respect for the (silent) decision of the other to not maintain the contact. Thereby, they also fulfill the self-fulfilling prophecy of the closed heart who has kept love at bay. Once again, this scenario ends up in pain, especially for the one whose heart is closed, who will only see this encounter as another proof of their unworthiness.

Now, let’s look at this scenario from the viewpoint of the open hearted person. With an open heart, it’s easy to see the beauty in other people, so it’s easy to share it. Seeing the beauty in others and ourselves comes naturally and it is not necessarily tied to some outcome. We share our appreciation and respect for others because it’s our authentic feeling and not because of some ulterior motive. On the contrary, we know that our open heart will eventually make anyone run away who isn’t able to truly open their heart. So despite the fact that we know that opening our hearts is not the way to guarantee a successful relationship with someone, we still open our hearts, simply because it feels good. In the end, the loving is not the painful part, but the fact that our expectations are not met. So, if there are no expectations, what is there to loose? 

We also wouldn’t want anyone to like us just because of some game we are playing and besides that we know that every little bit of genuine love we can share with someone is so much more valuable than the game. We are ready to “lose” someone, because not only do we see the beauty in every person, we see the beauty in every situation as well. When someone decides that we are too “boring” for them, because they can’t play the game with us, we let them go in love. Of course, losing someone will always hurt, but the pain is going to be pure and won’t include the suffering of self doubt, shame and guilt because we know that our worth doesn’t depend on someone else’s judgement about us. Next to feeling the pain of the loss, we also cherish the moments we have shared with each other, knowing that those moments and the love shared is eternal and can never be taken away. Most of all, we know we have saved ourselves from playing that horrible cat and mouse game and we can just continue enjoying ourselves and life instead. 

Some of us think that being in a relationship is better than being single, regardless of how unstable the relationship is, but then you have never tried being single with an open heart. When your heart is open, love comes pouring in from all directions. You’ll experience love from the most unexpected places, which is why you’ll never feel tied to one specific person or even to a relationship to fulfill your needs. You won’t settle anymore for painful relationships, because you don’t need them. Finally you’ll be free in relationships, because you don’t feel the compulsion anymore to pursue anyone who is avoiding you or to run away from what feels good. And remember: People with a closed heart will be automatically repelled from you- it’s a universal law. All you have to do is to lay back, enjoy life and simply love. Sounds pretty good, right?  

Let’s finish off this post with the most desirable outcome: when an open heart meets another open heart. With an open heart, the flow of love is enough excitement to enjoy life. We don’t depend on any game playing anymore. The fact that we can love is enough, regardless of whether we think someone is going to stay forever or not. We don’t give love because we want someone to stay, we give love because we want to give love. As you’ve seen above, this might lead to complications for someone whose heart is not open yet, but to someone who has an equally open heart, this is not a reason to run away which increases the likelihood for the relationship to have a more permanent character. But no matter how long the relationship lasts, one thing is for sure: Both partners will enjoy every second of it!

Now I know that living with an open heart doesn’t come naturally to most of us and involves a lot of awareness. Even worse, it can be a pretty uncomfortable and painful process to open our hearts. Closing our hearts is what we’re used to, it’s the state we trust and it takes a lot of courage to break through this old habit. It’s probably going to take a long time, but it’s never too late to start the process. It can be helpful to understand the mechanisms and the science behind the habit-changing process. Once you understand what is happening to your brain, you’ll understand why it’s natural to be afraid and to feel uncomfortable. You can read more about it in my post about changing habits. Just make sure to first of all open your heart to yourself. Once you can truly accept yourself, see the beauty in yourself, stop judging yourself and have unrealistic expectations towards yourself, you can start applying this to the people around you. Don’t be discouraged by your fear, by the discomfort or by what others tell you - just allow yourself to live life in bliss, with an open heart!