December 14th, 2016
Having a defense mechanism is like wearing a suit of armor. It is heavy, it is clunky and it is stuck to you. It’s a lot to drag around each and every day, but it makes you feel safe and protected. It keeps your vulnerabilities hidden.
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That is why I consider defense mechanisms a response to “a fear of being seen.”
Often, when you develop a fear that other people will see you for who you really are, you put up a barrier to block your true self from being revealed. This barrier is what is called a defense mechanism. When you have a defense mechanism you are constantly identifying other people as enemies who want to expose what you have hidden.
Now we all have characteristics, past trauma, mistakes and history that we do not want paraded in front of the world. That is normal. However, a defense mechanism becomes so ingrained in who you are that it becomes a part of your natural response to others and how you relate to the rest of the world. It is a deep-rooted, knee-jerk response that you subconsciously believe will keep you from being hurt, abandoned or mistreated again.
But hear me now: Your defense mechanism will become your worst enemy.
What you are hiding behind that suit of armor is part of your story. If you hide part of your story, you create shame, and shame causes “perpetual mistakes.” Perpetual mistakes happen when you consistently make the same mistakes over and over — despite knowing the outcome of your actions. When you keep making the same mistakes, you begin to tell yourself lies to feel better about your mistakes:
If I didn’t push people away, they would just hurt me.
I like taking care of other people. It makes me feel good. I’m a nurturer.
Yes, these are lies you tell yourself to justify the bad habits that come from your defense mechanisms.
So what causes all of this? What happens before someone develops a defense mechanism?
In my experience and practice, it all happens when someone is abandoned, suffers a loss, is mistreated or is talked about negatively. Defense mechanisms are caused by an experience that is so painful that in order for a person to live life, they need to create a barrier to make sure they never suffer from that type of experience again. However, in most cases, a defense mechanism can make you take on a victim mentality. With a victim mentality, everybody has the potential to hurt you, you are always on guard and no one gets to see the real you (not even you). You begin to tell yourself things like:
I don’t need anybody.
People always want something.
I am better off alone.
I have to be one step ahead.
Yes, more lies. Honestly, how can you be your true self with statements like these running through your head? How can you laugh and enjoy yourself if you are always on guard? You can’t. Think of it just like this:
Painful experience + shame ÷ fear = defense mechanism = perpetual mistakes = lies
As you can see, defense mechanisms are not the beginning or the end. They are the middle. They are what keep you stuck in your past and unable to move forward.
Some of this may seem somewhat familiar to you. You may recognize some of the lies and perpetual mistakes that I have mentioned above. But let’s go one step further. Let’s look at some of the most common types of defense mechanisms that I see in my practice.
The Perfectionist: There are some defense mechanisms that involve the need to do everything right so people will not see your flaws. Maybe you were heavily criticized about your appearance, weight, intelligence or athletic ability, so now your goal is to be the best at everything — even if it is not healthy or right. Common lies for the perfectionist: I have to be the best to be loved, I have so many things wrong with me so I have to make up for my flaws, I have to do whatever is necessary to win, people are only interested in what they see.
The Antagonist: These types of defense mechanisms are all about acting angry or mean, so people cannot see your heart and will not know you are a loving, feeling person. This likely happened because your kindness/love was taken for granted, so your goal is to keep people from getting too close and from hurting you again. Sometimes this defense mechanism can be used to run people off or to scare them into doing what you want; because the antagonist believes when you control others, they won’t take you for granted. Common lies for the antagonist: They will walk all over me if I let them, being nice is weak, I have to protect myself from being hurt, you can’t show people you care.
The People Pleaser: People pleasing happens when you attempt to make people happy so they will not reject you. Where the perfectionist attempts to “look perfect,” the people pleaser does whatever it takes for others to like them. Maybe you were bullied because of your looks. Or maybe the way you thought about things was not supported by your family or social group, so you felt you had to “get in where you fit in” — rather than just be yourself. You likely started to agree with the majority, and you did what others wanted you to do (even if it was different from what you wanted to do).
The bottom line: Your ultimate goal is to be accepted. Common lies for the people pleaser: I have to do what they say or they won’t like me (or they will leave me), confrontation is bad so I will just go with the flow, who I am is not enough.
Now if defense mechanisms and lies go hand in hand, then the solution comes in the form of truth telling and then truth listening. You must look at your life and the things that need to change within your life with honesty no matter how much it hurts. Facing the truth requires you to look into your heart and ask some important questions and give some very honest answers.
Those questions and their answers are something I discuss in my book, A Single Woman’s Wake-Up Call. Chapter 2 of the book, titled Secret Two: Face the Truth, is all about diving into the truth of our past traumas. I say “our” because in this chapter I discuss my own trauma and heartbreak. I discuss the moment I woke up and realized that I had been running from the truth and hiding behind my own suit of armor.
I recovered, and I know that there is a path of recovery for every woman who has suffered, who hurts, who hides. If you are ready to answer some tough questions, to face the truth, to let go of the pain and to embrace your happily ever after, you can start on that path of recovery by purchasing my ebook today. Say goodbye to that heavy, clunky, ugly suit of armor.