“Human beings develop elaborate defense mechanisms to block pain and gain significance. We suppress emotions; we are compulsive perfectionists; we drive ourselves to succeed, or withdraw and become passive; we attack people who hurt us; we punish ourselves when we fail; we try to say clever things to be accepted; we help people so that we will be appreciated; and we say and do countless other things.” ~ Robert S. McGee
The lists of common every day defense mechanisms seems to keep growing as we become a society that is increasingly both self-focused and self-conscious. Freud’s initial 7 have been stretched to 15. I picked 8 that you can find in action on any street corner any day – maybe even where our streets meet.
For most of us, our desire for acceptance and our need to avoid pain is so great that we consider our defense mechanisms a necessary item of clothing. Uncomfortable leaving the house without them, we often don’t take them off at home either. We even wear them when we’re alone. They become so much a part of the skin we’re in, our faces begins to meld with the masks.
Defense mechanisms protect us from being consciously aware of thoughts or feelings we don’t think we can handle and the ones we just don’t want to look at. But here’s the rub: they don’t eradicate these uneasy thoughts and feelings, they just re-channel them, leaving us with the same angst and need, now expressed so indirectly, we can even fool ourselves.
The need to avoid hurting at all costs and the desire to be attractive, witty, confident and charismatic is overpowering. The questions are simple, the answers, a little more oblique.
Am I more focused on my weight on the bathroom scales or the weight of my words?
Do I put most of my effort into being interesting or in showing a genuine interest in others?
Am I more concerned with being right or in living uprightly?
Do I see pain as a problem or a process?
Whenever I choose the first, my defense mechanism of choice kicks in and protects my fragile ego. When I choose the second, I step out in grace towards the truth.
There’s a time and a place for defense mechanisms, but the time is short and the place is small. Healing can only be as deep as our awareness of our need for it.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” Psalm 51:6