If we’re going to remember that “sometimes simple works,” it may help to review the complex nature of the defense mechanisms we use in life that pretty much never work. Not that this list pertains to any of you, of course, but it may bring one or two folks to mind when you read it. And if you don’t recognize yourself, keep in mind that there’s a reason we call them “blind spots.” Defenses are so automatic, so hidden from ourselves, that we’re really and truly oblivious to them. In the blind terror of getting close to others or to ourselves, for that matter, our brilliant instinct to protect ourselves goes into overdrive. And when we can no longer tell the difference between real and imagined danger, we live in fear of everything.
It’s as simple as that, and my heart sinks at the thought of it…in my own life and in yours. Without seeing for ourselves how detrimental our defenses have become, and being willing to admit it to a safe circle of family and friends, there’s no way to change what’s not working. Only by risking to be vulnerable with trusted others are we able to gain the insight necessary to take control of self-destructive habits that keep us from enjoying life to its fullest.
We can’t change what we can’t see. And reason the following defenses are described as “commonly used” is because we all have a tendency to use and misuse them. We all have blind spots, and the only way to help each other address them is to risk bringing them up. It’s also the only way to silence the shame that tries to keep us stuck in cycles of self-defeat. Ok, so ready? Take a deep breath and think of a really important person in your life (a best friend, sister, brother, daughter, son, father, mother, husband, wife). You love ’em to pieces. And half the time, you can’t stand being around ’em. You’d give anything to bring down the walls between you, but have no idea how. And if the thought of saying what really needs to be said is absolutely terrifying, or all your attempts to relate like mature adults have failed, chances are a few of the following defenses may be causing the disconnect.
Agreeing…so people will leave you alone
Blaming … a shift of responsibility to others
Complying…again, in hopes of being left alone
Denying… to avoid accepting things that are true
Dodging…to deflect direct questions & facing things
Explaining… your reasons in order to justify yourself
Generalizing… keeping things vague to avoid specifics
Intellectualizing…to keep from acknowledging emotions
Minimizing…to make important things seem insignificant
Projecting…attributing your thoughts and feelings to others
Quibbling…to avoid committing to something or to someone
Rationalizing… giving plausible, but untrue, reasons for things
Shutting down…refusing to express emotions or actively engage
Threatening…to intimidate others when challenged or confronted
Talking…to control interactions with empty words that say nothing
Notice anything? Now, take another deep breath and read through the list again, this time with an eye for the behaviors you default to in key relationships. No shame. No guilt. Just sad…that the very people who matter most to us can be the ones we’re most inclined to avoid. And hopefully, this will serve as an eye-opener for us all. To see something new. That changes everything. It’s as simple as that.