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 self-defeating and prevent you from getting what you really want in life. All of your defenses were designed originally with the highest purpose in mind — to help you. Then why are many people’s defenses often harmful and self-defeating? The answer lies in discovering when and how defenses are learned.
First, consider some of the defenses you may use that are not helpful. Keep in mind that all your defenses were originally implemented to protect you and help you fill your needs. Consider these behaviors: blaming, displays of temperament such as raging or crying, over pleasing, withholding affection, lying, exaggerating, joke shaming, shaming and humiliating, slapping, hitting, analyzing, gossiping, smoking, drinking, inappropriate use of drugs and medications, overeating, impulse buying, perfectionism, procrastination, sloppiness, laziness, over achievement, under achievement, and workaholism. If you have found yourself doing any of these things, consider this: all of these behaviors were originally adopted by you in order to help you. Does this sound unlikely? What sense does it make to do things that obviously hurt yourself and others? When you look more deeply it makes a great deal of sense. Consider how such self-defeating behaviors gets started.
I t all begins in childhood. Consider what it is like to be a child. At best it is difficult. As children we are smaller than others, have no skills for filling even elementary needs, cannot communicate clearly what we need and want, and are under the influence of those who raise us whether that influence is good for us or not. A child has no control over his environment or the people in it. Everything is big. Everything is new. A child is super-sensitive to feelings and can even be sensitive to others’ thoughts. There is no way of making comparisons or having a perspective on things other than what is happening at that moment. The moment is what is real. The moment is what is eternal. To a child what is experienced now, is irrefutable fact. Children are very sensitive and the child’s mind and senses take in everything literally and with total acceptance. Since children experience everything as revolving around them, they are apt to blame themselves for anything that is upsetting. Children do not experience reality outside of themselves. They cannot see that there is cause and effect outside of the themselves. They are the center of the world. All revolves around them. Because of this children tend to assume that they are responsible for everything that happens. They have no other perspective to understand anything else. As a result, children often view conflict as being purposefully directed toward them. Imagine what it feels like to interpret stressful experiences as meaning you are not worthy, lovable, safe, or good, that you are guilty, or that your feelings and needs are unimportant. This is the meaning children often give to their experience. As an adult you can make distinctions. You can see that a stressful experience doesn’t necessarily mean you caused it. A child cannot do this. As a child you are much more likely to take things personally and at face value without analyzing.
A child, like any living being, needs to feel worthy, loved, valued, and safe. If these essential emotional needs are threatened, it becomes a survival issue. A child who does not feel worthy, loved, valued, and safe intuitively senses the life threatening possibility of abandonment. Even a hint of threat alerts the child. The stronger the threat is perceived, the greater the necessity of adopting defenses to survive. Not feeling loved or valued is a survival issue for a child. In order to understand your defenses, you must understand this.
A child who is verbally or physically attacked, emotionally or physically abandoned, neglected, ignored, or lied to does not have the capacity to defend himself or find another home. The child will do whatever he can to survive where he is. He does not have the perspective that things may change. His moment is experienced as an eternity. He will respond in the only way he can in order to cope. When you see through the eyes of a child, all responses are appropriate.
When childhood defenses are carried forward into adult life, they are usually inappropriate and self-defeating. Most of our defenses have been carried forward from childhood into the present. Though the reason for the defense may be outmoded and long forgotten, the reaction still persists. The defense becomes an unconscious habit.
A child is, indeed, a helpless victim of circumstances and of the behaviors and attitudes of those who raise him. A child needs to have a sense of autonomy and personal power. If he doesn’t have a sense of having a say with others he learns to feel like a victim. He learns that others cannot be trusted and do not care about helping him fill his needs. This may cause feelings of self-pity and helplessness. These feelings get carried forward in time and grow to be major self-defeating responses. The conscious mind has not yet realized that it is no longer a helpless victim. It has become a victim of old memories.
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 defensive behaviors, you may be responding to a deep and long forgotten memory — a stressful time in your past. You may be responding to what your child mind believes wholeheartedly to be absolutely necessary for survival. It is fact to the child. In the present you may actually be run by your forgotten decisions of the past.
Most people are unconsciously caught in their pasts, unaware that they are responding to a forgotten memory and acting out a no longer appropriate response in the present. The ego needs to rationalize behavior so it finds a way to justify the response. You may say, “It’s not my fault that I act this way. If you’d act differently, I wouldn’t be this way.” Or you may say, “This is just the way I am. I was born with this temperament. I inherited it from my parents.” In truth, you created your defenses from decisions you made as a child. 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 you to shed your unnecessary defenses and learn new more productive ways of living and communicating.