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August

2015
 

     Defenses Don't Work

The Integram: an Integral Enneagram of Consciousness;  a model of consciousness, including all aspects, for designing practical paths of personal development and evolution.

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Defenses Don't Work
(click for podcast)

They're a Big Lie
Maybe it’s a controversial assertion, but let’s explore. Everyone has a stockpile of emotional defenses from childhood, ranging from detachment to rage and more. I’d like to hear from one person who’s never gotten hurt, disappointed, or frustrated. Anyone?

If I focus on a worst case scenario, so I won’t be disappointed, do you think that’ll work? Has it ever worked for you? Of course not. We get disappointed anyway. If I pretend that I’m not falling in love so I won’t get hurt, and I get dumped, it’ll be painless, right? Of course not. I’ll still get hurt.

After studying this for decades, I’ve yet to see defenses work to avoid pain, disappointment, or frustration. People tell themselves they don’t want something, while secretly pining for it. I remember as a kid, when not getting picked to play basketball, my defense was to say, “basketball’s a stupid game, anyway. I’ll find another sport where speed counts more than height.” Did I still feel left out and “different?” Of course. It didn’t work at all.

If we looked at any other tools the same way, we’d make different choices. Imagine a hammer or a screwdriver that never work or a pen that couldn’t write. Would we keep using those tools anyway, or throw them out? So why do we keep using our defenses, when they don’t work?



Worse Than Not Working
Actually, beyond not working, our defenses successfully screw things up. When we focus on worst case scenarios as a defense against being disappointed, we actually contribute to that worst case scenario taking place. Visualization is a powerful tool, and the more we focus on something, the more likely it is that we’ll help it to happen.

There are many reasons for this, including our brain’s Reticular Activation System being engaged. Our brain takes in too much information every second to process all of it, so the brain uses the Reticular Activation System for selecting what’s most relevant, while ignoring what it deems “noise.” When we focus on a worst case scenario, we set up a kind of “bias” for paying attention, and are more likely to make the choices and take the actions that will bring that worst case scenario about. And yes, we’ll still get disappointed.

Another downside, is that we also never got to have that feeling of hope and elation. We never got to be happy and excited, because we were so concerned about falling from that height. Taking this to extremes, we’d never fall in love, because of the potential to get hurt, we’d never get close to someone, in case we lost them, we’d never allow ourselves to enjoy anything to the fullest, in case it got taken away. This is a very limited way to live. Thank goodness for all those defenses keeping us from enjoying ourselves, in case that enjoyment has an expiration date.

One of the most common defenses is detachment. If we detach from what’s happening, we won’t get hurt, frustrated, or disappointed. Surprise! Yes we will. In fact, by detaching, we’re more likely to miss taking in important information that might have helped us to not get hurt. Detachment is about numbing ourselves and removing ourselves from the here and now, where we need our attention.

When people get aggressive about detachment, they push everyone away to use isolation as their defense. This pushing is indiscriminate, and they push away people who want to help, and very likely could help them. Thus the defense prolongs the stressor, rather than solving it. Isolation often goes hand in hand with denial, especially denial of having needs. “Don’t help me, I’m fine” is a pretty common defensive line, sometimes eclipsed by the isolationist’s “don’t help me, I want to drown on my own.”

The typical result of our defenses, is feeling alone, isolated, angry, hurt, frustrated, and disappointed. We damage our relationships at home and work. By disintegrating our sense of integrity and power, we hurt our relationship with ourselves, which may be the most damaging aspect of all.



And Yet We Grip Them Like Swords
So if our defenses never really work, why do we keep using them, and why are we so attached to them? First of all, we learn defense mechanisms when we’re very young, and have neither the experience, nor the intellectual sophistication to put them through the ringer of critical thinking. Once we’ve been reacting the same way for years, we’ve developed neural pathways - habits. Habits rarely rise to conscious awareness, so we don’t pay enough attention to ask ourselves why we’re doing the same thing over and over expecting different results?

This means that heightened awareness might be the solution to the craziness of defense mechanisms. Remember, we learn denial, repression, projection, reaction formation, acting out, disassociation, etc. at such a young age, it’s in our deepest memories; maybe even procedural memory, like riding a bike. Our only solution is to crank up the awareness and mindfulness.

See if you can recognize when you’re about to use one of your defense mechanisms. Catch yourself for a moment and be mindful about it. Ask yourself what you’re hoping to achieve by using that defense. Ask yourself if it’s ever worked before. Ask yourself, if you let yourself just have your experience in the now, without censoring or defending, what would be the worst thing to happen? Would that potentially happen anyway? If it’s going to happen anyway, wouldn’t feeling better about the outcome make more sense than trying to make it not happen, using something that doesn’t work?

It sounds very counter intuitive, but in fact, when we really feel our feelings in the moment, don’t defend against and don’t identify with them, but allow ourselves to feel them, they pass through us and get processed very nicely. The scary monster shadow turns out to be a coat-rack in the light, and we’re in better shape than ever before.


Want to learn more about how to become the best you possible?  Come visit the web site, or better yet, contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.

     - Ian J. Blei


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He combines his extensive knowledge of integral theory, the Enneagram, and neuroscience, in a seamless way (truly a Grand Unifying Theory of Everything), and helps you apply this greater understanding to whatever matters to you. He helps you build the trellis which you can hang any flower on that you choose.." - P.R., - S.F.

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