By Defne Dinler
What is your relationship to your defenses? Can you name them? Can you name your self-destructive habits? Maybe notice where you keep feeling helpless or stuck?
From a psychological perspective, defenses are survival skills that resulted from negative childhood experiences—when our external environment threatened our internal sense of safety and wellbeing, be it overwhelming feelings such as abandonment, fear/terror, feeling unloved and unlovable and so forth. In response, we created survival skills to endure destructive emotional, physical and spiritual experiences. Due to our codependence on our caretakers, our defenses truly become survival skills.
The most mainstream defenses include denial, rationalization, repression, dissociation, projection, manipulation, caretaking and even humor. Although these skills allowed us to grow from child to adult, I often wonder about our relationship to our defenses as adults. A great survival skill for a child may not serve you as an adult.
For instance, a child who was consistently punished for being wrong may have compensated by finding ways of looking right at all costs. But looking right at all costs can come with blaming another for one’s mistakes or not taking responsibility for anything. This can create mistrust, alienation, resentment from others. Defenses that helped you survive your childhood may be hindering your adulthood because you are reliving your childhood in every situation as an adult. This can be painful.
The child that grew up in a manipulative environment may learn to be manipulative to survive the environment or become a self-sacrificing caretaker, or both, or find any other way of being that works to alleviate pain and suffering. As an adult, you may find yourself trying to control situations so that they work best for yourself and yet you feel like you are never satisfied. Or perhaps you do anything you can think of to make others happy and yet never feel like you’re enough, which creates the same childhood pain resulting in an overwhelmed adult in the present.
While this may sound potentially ominous, our defenses can be our road to freedom from our past. I honestly don’t know that our wounds truly go away. Maybe that’s true enlightenment. What I have come to experience in myself and witness in others is that the wounds can be there, but they don’t have to define us. What if you could forgive the parent who hurt you so badly that their treatment defined much of who you are today? Does that mean you have to change who you are? Can you still be you and let go of your suffering?
As an adult who now has much more power than the little child who was truly helpless, what do you want to choose? Can you allow yourself to feel the pain of your past and come out of it owning more of your adulthood and power? Are you wanting to and willing to commit to creating the change in your inner world that will help you thrive rather than survive?
This does not mean the pain goes away. We have the scar. It is there to help us grow, own and accept more of ourselves. It doesn’t define us. No need to be shamed by it. No need for it to rule our life either. We often identify so much with our scars that we shame ourselves and can hate ourselves or parts of ourselves because of the scars. What if the scar is there to remind you, you know a pain and you learned and keep learning to take care of yourself with it? What if it allows you to open your heart even with the wound, to understand others’ pain? What if your suffering and recovery could inspire your life? You might not have to be victim of your wounds, but the healer of your wounds. If years later depression comes back into your life, are you its victim? Or could it be giving you information so you can work through the pain of your depression and let that guide you to your joy?
As we work with the pain, we own more of ourselves. Situations can trigger the same pain at different times in our lives. This doesn’t mean that we’ve gone backwards. In fact, just the opposite. We now have the opportunity to feel into the pain even deeper and come out owning even more of ourselves, of our power and essence. Every time something brings about our pain, it can be an opportunity to deepen our healing.
We know our pain is triggered when our defenses are up. In the beginning, we were used to making sure we didn’t feel the pain because it was terrifying. Today, our defenses can be our best source of information that we don’t feel okay, that something is amiss. When you notice you are feeling defensive, it gives you the opportunity to turn inward and find how you can take care of yourself. It can be like the light that turns on in the car saying something needs servicing. You. Your self-worth. Your self-care is your way of showing yourself you are worthy, you matter, you can be okay the way you are.
While working on these defenses, however, I offer this, don’t try to get rid of that part of you simply because it seems as if it’s full of scars. Rather, listen to your body and find ways to nurture and care for it. The defensive state that you find yourself in most of the time may be your biggest healing in this moment, in your life. I have clients tell me “my mind is driving me crazy! It keeps getting stuck on and spirals down these dark depressive or obsessive paths and I am powerless. I hate that part of me! I want to get rid of it.” What if, with support, you went into that dark place and fully felt into what your mind is trying to show you? When clients have the courage to go there, they may feel fear, anger, hopelessness, they might start to shake, maybe feel tears on their cheeks. They feel whatever it is that’s been trying to be felt rather than push it away. When they allow that place to be felt, it gets to discharge. It loses its power because it doesn’t need your attention anymore. It got met. It got felt. It can take some time for your system to integrate this new you that felt into a place it was pushing away for decades, and the lightness, the peace, the relief, that can come with it might be worth the price. The more you pay attention, the more you know you, the more power you have in your life.
We are social creatures. Allow your community— friends, family, therapist, whomever you might feel safe with— to support you on your journey. Just because it is your journey doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. You’re not alone, in your hurt or in your fight. Look inward to see what you are choosing to commit to: your surviving or your thriving, then act to follow through with your intention.
Defne Dinler is a licensed Somatic Counseling Psychotherapist who uses action-oriented therapeutic modalities that lead to a deeper understanding and achievement of goals for teens and adults. She specializes in behavioral challenges, depression, anxiety, and trauma. As a body psychotherapist her belief is that to heal the mind one needs to connect to their body first.
Aria, a Bernese Mountain dog, works along side Defne as well.
The cover artwork was retrieved from: https://laughingsquid.com/song-map-a-road-map-of-song-titles/