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Defence Mechanisms

As children we are sensitive, vulnerable and dependent on others for our survival and well being.

Sometimes contact with our caregivers and with the outside world wounds us or fails to meet our needs. To cope with the painful or the unbearable we build defences that make our lives more bearable and thus help us to survive. These defences then stay with us and become parts of our personality structures so that we continue to meet the world with those same defences in place. But those defences may no longer be necessary. And the walls we have built often keep us from contact (with others and with ourselves) and from living fully. Problems of today were often once solutions to problems in the past. For example, being angry may have been a source of attention when you were younger, and it may well be the source of attention now …. but is it the right attention when you are an adult, is it benefiting you in the same way? Most of you will find that what was once a solution to a problem is now the problem.

To dismantle these defences we need first to appreciate how important they were in protecting us when we needed them and then to be willing allow ourselves, slowly and carefully, to become vulnerable again.

Here is an example.

Let’s say that a child doesn’t receive the love he needs from his parents.

He feels hurt, unwanted, rejected and probably unlovable. This pain is too much to bear. So (unconsciously) he builds a big lead box to put the pain in. And he creates a belief system that tells him that he doesn’t need love, that he is completely fine without (his parents) love. This belief protects him from the disappointment of continuing to look for the love that (experience tells him) he will not get.

Life still isn’t perfect but these defences dull the pain enough for him to get on with his life.

When he grows up these defences continue to operate (probably completely unconsciously). Rejections don’t hurt him much. But the box that keeps pain locked away does the same for other emotions as well. Joy doesn’t get through either. He feels pretty numb inside. The colours have been drained. Life is grey. His contact with his own inner world is dulled. His ability to make good contact with others is diminished.

And when love comes his way he doesn’t know how to let it in. Unconsciously he is still expecting rejection. And the joy of a new love would remind him too much of the pain he felt when his first love was rejected. Consciously or unconsciously he pushes away anyone who offers him love. And then when they go his belief (that he will never be loved) is confirmed, and his defences reinforced.

The sad thing about this is that his defences end up causing exactly what they were trying to defend him from. By defending himself against the expected pain of rejection he makes people reject him.

This is why we believe it’s so important to respect the defence mechanisms and gently help each client find a new more flexible way of protecting themselves whilst also allowing them to experience life and love more fully.


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