Threatened? Out Come Your Defense Mechanisms
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
(This article is excerpted from my book – Your Quick Anger Makeover Plus Twenty Other Cutting-Edge Techniques to Release Anger!)
Defenses are tension-reducing behaviors that come out of an earlier need to survive to keep the ego intact. The defense mechanisms are conditioned ways of responding to threat. They were learned when the child was small and are primitive ways of coping that were initially and superficially adaptive but do not work for an adult. They function to help the person avoid any trauma-related stimuli by distracting away from the earlier memories and feelings that seemed dangerous.
Understanding the defenses is important to comprehend how the ego uses them to ward off painful feelings. They were first described by Sigmund Freud and embellished by Carl Jung as ways to guard against ego threat. They are the ways that the ego protects itself from unpleasant emotions of anxiety, depression, guilt and shame. They jump out automatically when the person is threatened to keep the self from being hurt again. They are the way the traumatized child tries to guard himself and escape from unbearable feelings to stay safe.
Freud said that the feelings that we defend against are the ones that are most likely to dominate our lives. Psychologist Louis Cozolino explaining the neurobiology of psychotherapy said, “Defenses are often invisible to their owners because they are organized by layers of neural processing that are inaccessible to conscious resources. Essentially, what Freud called defenses are ways in which the neural networks have organized in the face of difficulties during development.” People often see their own behaviors as “normal” and overestimate the worst in others. One man said, “I hired those defensive guards years ago. They still are on the payroll. I don’t even know their names anymore. I better haul them out and take a look to see if I should fire them.” He hauled them out and found he didn’t need them anymore; they were left-over relics of his childhood.
There are numerous defenses and not all of them are bad. Some are hidden away in the unconscious mind and the person is unaware that he has developed a habitual pattern of acting that prevents discomfort to the ego. The unhealthy defenses are the possessive artists of distraction and keep the person from knowing the original hurt to the psyche. They use up major amounts of energy and keep you from forming loving connections with others. Jung said, “Whenever we are still attached, we are possessed; and when we are possessed, there is one stronger than us who possesses us.”
The defensive protections of the ego are like the layers of an onion to be peeled away. The antidote to being possessed by a defense is to bring it out and work it out or you will most likely act it out! Understanding and acceptance are the keys to bringing the unconscious defenses out to your conscious thinking where they can be released. Jung believed that healing is moving past the entanglements of the ego to move into self-acceptance: “We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” Releasing those beliefs that hold your unproductive defenses in place gives you your very own “Get out of Hell” card and opens your flow of energy and love.
Common defensive maneuvers that operate in people with anger are repression, blame, denial and the need to be right. The skill of being able to tolerate ambivalence is necessary for questioning assumptions and generating options during conflict resolution. Wrestling with an issue and being able to weigh conflicting data in your mind while seeking a solution opens you up to more possibilities. Successful problem solving requires you to allow feelings of uncertainty, doubt and ambiguity as you hear opinions that differ from your own.
Excuses! Excuses! Excuses! So You Say You Want to Change, but Never Do
Look for your Memes or Psychological Reversals:
Question: How many therapists are needed to change a light bulb?
Answer: None. The light bulb has to want to change itself.
My take on this old joke: The light bulb not only has to want to change but has to actually do something different to make change happen! You are the change agent in your life. Granted there are things in life that you have no control over and you cannot change. However, there are things that you can choose to do differently when you consider how anger has harmed your life. Grabbing hold of your negative thinking is one way to change and you can do it all within the privacy of your own mind.
Does it seem that the anger habit is so ingrained that you respond the same negative way repeatedly? Do you feel stuck with resistance to changing your bad habits? Does there always seem to be road blocks, obstacles and hidden reasons why you can’t learn to use your anger in constructive ways? You may be psychologically reversed!
Psychological Reversals (PRs) are those perpetual blind spots described by Thought Field developer Roger Callahan who gave us the first Energy Psychology technique. Other writers call beliefs that keep us stuck memes. We all have our blind spots which carry chronic patterns of energy that keep us caught in unproductive thinking. Psychological Reversals are pervasive mental blocks that prevent you from experiencing healing. They were programmed into you when you were naive and open to the condemning judgments of others.
PRs and memes are the dogmatic ideas which keep you caught even when you want to change. They are the decisions you made when you felt overwhelmed that continue today because you have not had the tools to release them. They create systemic energy blockages and energetic imbalances in your body and deplete your life energy. PRs are like having your batteries in backwards. Nothing will work for you until you get your energy field straightened out. The belief that nothing you do will make a difference to make your life better is a reversal itself that needs to be corrected.
Psychological Reversals come from the ego’s desperation to stay alive. They are the sneaky, ingenious reasons for staying as is! They are the character flaws born of your deepest fears and attachments. Many of them lie dormant in the subconscious mind and then pop out as an unhealthy defense when you feel the threat of uncomfortable emotions coming up. PRs hold great power sabotaging you from having loving relationships. Most arguments and distancing in relationships are due to unconscious PRs causing you to react to triggers when the defensive ego feels threat. Sometimes they are another term for secondary gain or loss-those hidden reasons you hold when you want to act differently but you can’t.
Releasing Defensiveness and the Need to Be Right Issues
Acupressure can help release body tension and help Psychological Reversal beliefs about self-righteousness. You can do acupressure on yourself by tapping or pounding on your body and doing deep breathing patterns while you think of a limiting belief and then say an affirmation
Make your hands into fists and start to gently pound over the top of your skull and the back of your neck. Pound down your arms and back up again. Pound across your chest from one armpit to the other. Pound up and down both sides of your body and across your lower ribs. Pound from your sternum to your pelvic area. Pound across your toes. Pound whatever part of your spine you can reach. Breathe deeply to get the energy flowing. Repeat to yourself:
- I forgive myself, even though a part of me believes _____.
- I choose to stop this limiting belief of needing to be right.
- I forgive myself so that I can correct this error and learn from it.
Do the three cleansing breaths:
- Take a long, slow deep breath and hold it for a few seconds releasing the air from your stomach.
- Stay focused on this belief. Take a half breath in and hold it briefly. Take the rest of the breath going to a full breath. Then let half of the breath out and hold briefly. Then let the rest of the breath out slowly.
- Take small, rapid, flutter breaths in as you breath up, up, up, up as if you are going up a musical scale and then go down, down, down, down the scale breathing out in short staccato breaths. Repeat the small shallow breathing up and then down, while you think of the PR. Even though _____ [add an issue here], I forgive myself and choose to be a strong, powerful person facing my fear of being wrong. I state boldly, “Out, out darn doubt!”
Use the acupressure and three breaths on each of these statements that apply to you. Note how your tension level shifts and your defensiveness lessens while you tap on each of these beliefs that apply to you.
_____ [I shut my ears to keep from hearing things I don’t want to hear and shut my mind down]
_____ [I feel ashamed and like a small child inside when my behavior is questioned]
_____ [I hate ambivalence so refuse to allow new information in that makes me uncertain]
_____ [my body gets anxious because I’m uncomfortable hearing the opposite opinion]
_____ [I hate feeling that I might be wrong, so become defensive closing off my mind]
_____ [it’s frightening for me to have to change my mind as I feel _____]
_____ [I’m afraid of conflict, so push any opinion away that differs from my own]
_____ [fear of feeling uncertain and ashamed keeps me from making decisions and taking risks]
_____ [my shutting down in shame and becoming defensive has cost me opportunities]
_____ [I’m afraid to take a stand because I might be wrong and I can’t stand feeling _____]
_____ [I’m afraid to make a decision because I might feel regret it later]
_____ [I can’t tolerate seeing things from a different perspective]
_____ [I refused to change my mind in the past, as I disliked feeling confused]
_____ [I’ve been told by others that I’m stubborn and hard headed]
_____ [feeling uncertain reminds me of times when I felt ashamed so I dig my heels in]
_____ [frustration comes up when I’m criticized and I stiffen and react negatively]
_____ [I become defensive when _____]
_____ [certain voice tones that are accusatory send me into defensiveness]
Add your own rigid-mind beliefs that keep you stuck. Write your own “Even though” statements and then do the tapping all over the body while deep breathing to release beliefs that keep you stuck.
Continue tapping and breathing while you say this statement: “Even though a stubborn, rebellious part of me with childlike energy does not want to change, I accept, live and forgive this part.”
Work your angry feelings and beliefs as often as they come up. Keep asking for forgiveness for this stuck part that was formerly hurt that may now be fueled by adrenalin and spite. Even if you spend a lifetime working at getting to the bottom of your anger, what better thing do you have to do with your life than to become a better person?