Getting all defensive….part II

As promised on Monday (but not delivered on Tuesday!) here are the other defences with some common situations.  Frequently the examples cited are actions, however, all actions start as an instinct, either conscious or unconscious, and it can be pretty artificial to try and separate them out. As a counsellor I frequently encounter some form of defence in direct response to me, in response to a partner or family member or indirectly as part of the narrative of a situation the client had been in.  As I said earlier, a level of defence not bad in and of itself and can be seen as a coping mechanism; frankly I would expect it as a ‘normal’ response (whatever ‘normal’ is!)

5.Dissociation – in its most simplistic form, this is ‘zoning out’ / ‘leaving the scene’ / ‘checking out’ / ‘leaving the building’ etc, either mentally or physically.  It involves some sense of changing your awareness of your place in reality or possibly the reality itself.  This can be as straightforward as day dreaming – wishing you were somewhere more interesting and doing something more interesting, or maybe not doing anything at all!  This can also be as complex as a protecting your emotional self by removing your mind from reality.  Most commonly this is done by not mentioning something, mentioning anything else or just saying ‘I don’t want to talk about it’.

6.Projection – this as it can be very straightforward or pretty complex.  Essentially you have a personality characteristic that you don’t like and don’t want to recognise in yourself.  It might be something you have seen in someone else and criticised.  E.g. Being inflexible, being ignorant, being sarcastic, being too nice etc.  Secretly you know you have the exact same trait that you accuse another person of having, so you ‘project’, either consciously or unconsciously that trait onto someone else.

“You’re being defensive” you say, defensively.

Additionally, it might be the case that you actually accuse someone of implying something you have difficulty acknowledging in yourself.

“Don’t make out I’m being ridiculous” you say, ignoring the fact nobody did.

Things can get quite difficult as this unacknowledged characteristic might also be wrapped up in an unacknowledged/unconscious bias or prejudice.  Which is a whole different kettle of fish….

In order to justify the way you have behaved (usually badly) in your own mind, you further intimate (to yourself), the person had it coming because they were….[Insert preferred answer]

7.Reaction formation – This one is relatively straightforward. You try to obscure your true feelings by acting the opposite way in your outward behaviour to the world.  Metaphorically, you are pulling the pigtails of the girl you like in the playground.  To really see this in action just watch an episode of ‘Love Island’ where every episode someone says ‘I’m glad you don’t see me as girlfriend/boyfriend material as I don’t want to lose you as a friend…’ – really, they are gutted!

8.Intellectualisation – this is my favourite because it is something I recognise in myself.  Another way of putting it might be to say ‘waffling’.  Rather than talking ‘properly’  about an uncomfortable emotion, you indicate a willingness to talk about the event / experience, then do so in a way that, whilst not denying an event happened, focuses your energy on the logistics of the event rather than the impact on your emotions, You think about the issue in an intellectual way so we do not have to address the emotion.

“How did you feel?” The counsellor asked me.

“If you mean ‘feel’ as in was I annoyed, then yes” I respond!!

9.Rationalisation – you might refer to this as the ‘Act of God’ defence, you can argue it is a bit like intellectualisation but you attempt to explain your reaction/behaviour by attributing it to some situation that you cannot control or twisting it so you are not responsible. ‘It wasn’t my fault because…’ and add in the justification of your choice.  You had to act as you did ‘because…’, you had no choice ‘because…’. I did it for you / us / them / myself etc ‘because…..’

  1. Compartmentalisation – As it sounds – this is separating areas of your life into separate silos. This defence is pretty useful when you need to focus entirely on one aspect of your life – for example work, a DIY project academic work etc, but less useful when issues or anxieties from one area ‘bleed’ into another, impacting one or other area due to an unacknowledged reason. Additionally, this can also be an issue if the internal ’walls’ you have constructed to separate the areas of your life render you incapable of discussing those areas together.  Eg you cannot discuss the impact the work and the promotion might have on your family’s ability to move to a bigger house and start a discussion about a new baby.
  2. Compensation – this is trying to emphasise one characteristic / behaviour in order to make up for what you see it as a weakness or lack of a ‘strong’ characteristic in yourself. Eg driving an expensive car to make up for a perceived lack of intellectual status. Making your point repeatedly and forcefully in an argument to make up for your lack of empathy / understanding of another’s point of view.
  3. Identification – we see an image as being something that we want to be associated with, and consciously or unconsciously amend our behaviour/mindset to reflect that image. This can be as simple as giving the appearance of intelligence by reading in public, or as serious (and controversial!) as identifying with an illness and using it to avoid taking responsibility for certain behaviours e.g. ‘it’s just my anxiety disorder making me….’
  4. Ritual and undoing – being aware, either consciously or unconsciously, that an aspect of your behaviour is not acceptable therefore trying to mitigate or hide it behind positive behaviour. Eg – being constantly late then, when on time, making a fuss about it because ‘you’re special!’, you usually put work events before family and then when you are with the family, putting unrealistic expectations on them planning a ‘big’ day out and constantly telling them how great it will be.
  5. Distraction – a temporarily effective response to being confronted with a strong emotion, be it unpleasant or unexpected. Whilst a bit more complex than the cartoons; shouting ‘hey! look at that’, pointing somewhere behind the baddie whilst running in the opposite direction – it is really just the mental equivalent. E.g. Talking at great length about possible arrangements for Christmas to avoid a discussion about commitment and the direction of the relationship.
  6. Sublimation – ‘sublimation’ is a great intellectual word that is only really used by Counsellors and therapists! This is a ‘good’ defence. It basically happens when people transform their difficult / uncomfortable emotions into something productive. E.g. Internal anger at being treated differently because you are disabled, turned into a positive campaign for getting disabled voices heard.  Internal disappointment, confusion and anger etc into how an intimate relationship is causing you to behave in a certain way and taking steps to leave that relationship.

Some and defences you might recognise, most of their time it is difficult to spot them because they are unconsciously motivated, you are too emotionally ‘close’ to be able to determine what is instinct, defence and regular behaviour and, usually,  there is more than 1 defence / motivation working at the same time.

However, if you feel your behaviours and internal thoughts are not very helpful to you, it is probably worth booking a free assessment with www.accessibleonlinecounselling.co.uk and seeing if you can become more aware of your motivations.

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