In my psychotherapy and hypnotherapy work in Encinitas, California I have had the good fortune of working with hundreds of people who are dedicated to their personal growth. One of the important steps in growing emotionally and spiritually is to identify your self defeating behavior. Here you can explore how you can help yourself by discovering and identifying your defenses. You can learn much more by going to my website, www.wendyhill.com.
Your defenses are your way of surviving in the world. Many of your defenses are actually helpful and allow you to function in a way that keeps you safe and healthy. However, many of your defenses are destructive and prevent you from getting what you really want in life. All of your defenses were designed originally with the highest purpose in mind. If this is so, then why are some of your defenses so often harmful and self-defeating? The answer lies in discovering when and why your defenses were learned.
First, consider some of the defenses you use that are non-helpful. Keep in mind that all these defenses were originally designed by you to protect and help you fill your needs. Consider the following non-helpful defenses or manipulations commonly used in relationships: blaming, displays of temperament, over pleasing, withholding kindness or affection, lying, shaming with verbal or physical abuse, analyzing, gossiping, and various other power plays for control. Consider these common defenses or compulsions (addictions): substance abuse (such as smoking, drinking, drugs, medications, food), buying, perfectionism, procrastination, sloppiness, laziness, over achievement, under achievement, workaholism, extremes in emotions or behaviors. These are just a few of the ways commonly used to cope in this world. Sound crazy? Examine how such self defeating behavior gets started.
It all began when you were a child. Consider the circumstance in which the child finds itself. The child has no control over its environment or the people in it. A child is very sensitive and the child’s mind and senses take in everything with a sense of awe and total acceptance. Everything is big. Everything is new. Even though the child is lacking in experience and understanding, he or she is very aware. A child is super-sensitive to feelings and even perceives others’ thoughts on a psychic level. Everything is taken literally as there is no way of knowing comparisons or having perspective on things other than what is happening at that moment. The moment is what is real. The moment is what is eternal. What is known now, simply is truth.
The child cannot yet experience any reality outside of itself. It cannot see that there is cause and effect outside of itself. Because of this and since the child takes all things literally and in the here and now, it is natural for the child to assume that it is responsible for everything that happens to it and to others. It has no other perspective. As a result, the child believes all conflict is directed toward it and is deserved. This creates great conflict within the child and is a major cause for defensive reactions.
A child, like any living thing, needs to survive, to be protected, loved, and express love. The quest for survival is not only physical, but is also emotional and spiritual. If its needs are in some way threatened, the child will automatically begin to defend.
Now consider this very sensitive child being verbally or physically attacked, over protected, emotionally or physically abandoned, ignored, denied honesty and kindness. The child does not have the freedom to leave a stressful situation or defend itself. The child will do whatever it can to protect itself. Automatically the child will withdraw into itself for emotional, physical, and spiritual survival. The child often will shut down, stop expressing itself, and withhold giving or receiving love. The sensitive mind is learning how to think, feel, and respond. The child’s mind adapts to attempt to fill needs that are not being filled by the family and environment.
The result is a defense system that becomes habitual and compulsive. This defense system gets carried forward through time into adult life. Though the reason for the defense may be outmoded and long forgotten, the reaction still persists. It is now an unconscious habit.
A child is, indeed, a helpless victim of circumstances and of the behaviors and attitudes of those around it. Unless the child feels in some way a sense of autonomy or personal power, he or she will learn to suffer from feelings of self pity and helplessness. These feelings get carried forward in time and grow to be major self defeating responses of the adult. The adult mind has not yet realized that it is no longer a helpless victim of others. The adult has become a victim of itself, creating circumstances that look to the individual to be the fault of others. In reality the individual has simply set the stage to be a victim. This, again, is an automatic response from childhood conditioning. Too often this defense mechanism has become useful in manipulating people and is not easily recognized or dropped.
What is seen by your child mind as helpful is not always helpful for the adult. What helps the child, often harms the adult. When you are acting out your defensive behaviors, you are following a deep and long forgotten response to a stressful time in your past. It is what your child mind believes whole heartedly to be absolutely necessary for survival. It is truth to the child of that moment in the past. In the present moment of acting out this behavior, you are actually being run by your inner child of your past.
Most people are compulsively caught in their pasts, unaware that they are living out a no longer appropriate response to the present. The ego needs to rationalize behavior so it makes sense in the present and misses entirely that it is caught in a past response. “It’s not my fault that I act this way. If you’d act differently, I wouldn’t be this way.” It’s because of ——–!” “This is just the way I am. I was born with this temperament. I inherited it from my parents.” In truth, you created your reactions through your ability to adapt. Most of your adaptions were automatic; your reactions are a natural response to the stress you were experiencing. All this is actually a testimony to your marvelous abilities to survive physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is also a testimony to your ability to learn.
Whatever your defenses are now, you can change them into attitudes and behaviors that truly help you as the adult you are today. By observing and evaluating your defenses you can begin to learn which attitudes and behaviors actually enhance your life and which defeat your goals for happiness, harmonious relationships, success, and peace of mind. Then you can go back in time and re-program your inner child. You can tell your inner child that he or she is protected and loved by you. This will allow the compulsions to begin to loosen up and change into responses that truly help you as the adult you are today.