staying on the path
requires knowing when you're not...
Please be relaxed and open before beginning here. What follows is a listing of defense mechanisms. Its a difficult subject area, for if you embrace it, you will be forced to change. Its difficult to change what you've known your entire life. So don't be surprised if this makes you uncomfortable or you react against the words that follow, that's part of the process.
These defense mechanisms are just like emotions in that they are there to help us. Unfortunately, when they allow us to avoid looking at unhealthy emotional perspectives they do not help us. Developing a healthy perspective requires opening up and considering how you look at the world in great detail, including your defense mechanisms.
The purpose of listing them here is to hasten your own discovery of your defense mechanisms.
Reading self-improvement books - generally will not dramatically alter your perspective on life. Instead, start opening up to others and yourself. Start the self inquiry process. If you must read a book, read Undefended Love.
Walling off - emotions allows us to not even look at the emotions we are feeling. The emotions aren't dealt with and we continue as if nothing happened.
Blaming others - allows us to avoid directly addressing the problem, the feelings within us. You don't have to take responsibility for the feelings within you that cause you to act a certain way now. By blaming others are you solving the problem? are those feelings magically dissappearing? It was my father's fault! No, you still have those feelings within you. Its just you know how they got there. It is a very important step. Some people love their parents and have no idea that their parents are to blame for their own actions and unhappiness. The next step is to recognize the feelings are your own, they are in your head, and you are responsible for resolving them.
Attacking or diminishing others - This is the most common defense mechanism that exists. The goal of attacking or diminishing others is to feel superior. People will create space by attacking; this can be very subtle. Be mindful to what others are saying. Be mindful to what you are saying. Slowly you will develop an awareness of a whole world of people who thrive on diminishing others. This world may include you.
Telling stories or focusing on the concrete, not emotions - Highly intelligent and rational people often employ this defense as they find refuge in their rational intellectual capability. Its pretty easy to spot as the conversation has no true emotional content. The person does not discuss relationships.
Listening or helping others - Some people have learned to avoid being attacked by listening and being supportive. If you don’t have to express your emotions, you can essentially hide. There is an underlying judgment in their reactions, that they are fulfilling this role of being supportive, yet the subtle underpinning is that they are in a higher position. These people talk about how they have listened and supported their friends as a way of propping their own ego up. They offer advice. True listening is the art of providing space for the speaker to talk, simultaneously connecting with the words of the speaker, sharing with the emotions of the speaker, and then finally feeling genuine compassion.
Laughing - may cover real emotions. A coworker of mine made a mistake and when it was brought to his attention he started laughing. I immediately recognized the defense mechanism and adjusted my comments to be more inclusive by saying "we are a team". Words do make a difference. Every word has emotional content. Choose your words carefully and you shall be rewarded. Later in regards to another issue my coworker brought up the word "team" and said how he appreciated it. Let love and respect be your guide in how you treat others.
Getting sick - may have been a way to get attention when you were a child. It also gives you a different identity so you don't have to be who you were. You are now sick! That is your identity.
Getting sick also is a physical mechanism for you to release stress. Knowing that the two are related is beneficial. As soon as you feel sick, you can take time to work through your emotions. Often you will find some things which are bothering you. If you can resolve these, then you can get over your sickness much faster or not even get that sick in the first place. If your interested in some of the biochemical aspects of this take a look at this history about pyschoneuroimmunology.
Religion - As you work on other defense mechanisms your awareness will grow and may eventually include some of your patterns of behavior with respect to religion.
Joking - may cover real emotions.
Drugs - alcohol, marijuana, and harder drugs suppress the pain.
Smiling - may cover real emotions.
Sex\Masturbating - temporary produces feelings of pleasure and masks any pain which you might be feeling.
Eating sugar - tastes good, makes you happy, can be addictive.
Eating fat - tastes good, makes you happy, can be addictive.
Exercise - produces endorphins which mask pain and can be addictive.
Risky behavior - makes you feel like its appropriate to feel how you feel. I was under a lot of pressure to perform as a child. As an adult I would seek out dangerous situations and conquer them, from climbing up a mountain face hundreds of feet up without a rope in the Sierra mountains to surfing alone at dawn in 12 foot waves along the coast of Santa Cruz. I felt comfortable in these situations, as if my internal distraught mental state was finally matched to reality. This is classic, being comfortable being you even if it means you are in conflict.
Yawning/Sleeping - physically clears emotions from your conscience.
Identity - how do you view yourself? what is your identity? what do you do when you feel threatened? Be aware of this, let go of your identity and you will find who you truly are.
Forgetfulness and distractions - can move your attention away from your emotions quickly. Its important to stay focussed. When you go deeper than comfortable you will find ways to get out of it quickly. Try to surrender as long as you can to the deeper emotions.