In Part 1 of this series on defences I emphasized the importance of identifying them. This section expands on this and also discusses their origin and implications in more depth. The more we know about them, the better we are able to weed them out and cultivate healthier thinking habits. Common ones are:
Denial Denial is the psychological act of deleting the facts of reality. The facts appear too difficult and painful to face and thereby act upon in constructive ways. It is a very common process occurring in people with substance abuse. It is also noted in parents who cannot acknowledge the obvious faults in their children. Other examples are the CEO of a company who denies the need for change in the organization, the politician who sticks to a destructive viewpoint and the husband who refuses to gain insight into his abusive matrimonial behaviour.The denial blockage is very often based on the premise that “I am always right.” This is of course not true and we all need to take a humble stand at times and listen to the input of others with openness and a willingness to hear and consider their opinions and concerns, wisdoms and insights. We hurt and damage others if we don’t.
Projection Projection is a complex defence mechanism and means that we accuse others of emotions that we are guilty of. If I am angry, I accuse others of being angry; I project this onto them and refrain to own my own feeling and deal with this myself appropriately. This not only hurts but also frustrates others immensely as it bocks constructive communication completely.
Passive – aggression Failure to initially express a negative emotion like anger can result in yet another negative defence behaviour call passive – aggression. In this case we withdraw from a partner for instance into moody behaviour and refuse to communicate. This behaviour can be just as abusive and destructive as overt aggression and does not solve conflict constructively.
Regression Regression results in behaviour that is similar to behaviour childhood like throwing an overt, inappropriate temper like a two year or sulking like a rebellious teenager.
Transference Transference is the act of replacing the process of a previous relationship onto another person. A man will for instance transfer his troubled relationship with his mother onto his wife, girlfriend or secretary. His anger, irritability and abruptness that he feels towards his mother will then be acted out towards other females.
Inconsistency Often our tone of voice or our body language contradict our words. We may say we are not irritated or angry but our body language may show the opposite. When this happens, others are inclined to rather believe the cues of the body language displayed. Studies have shown that up to ninety percent of our communication is non – verbal.Our faces often express what we are not saying verbally. Our lips may tremble when we are afraid. Our forehead wrinkles when we are concerned or confused and when people tap their fingers or feet, they usually feel impatient.Research shows that when our words contradict our body language, others are inclined to rather make their interpretation on the basis of the latter. Excellence in communication and the correct assessment of others therefore relies heavily on the appropriate interpretation – and reading of verbal cues.
Overuse One of the ways in which we corrupt language is to overuse a word. Consider the word “love.” We may love chocolate or watching documentaries and our children. Does it however not mean that that we should use a different word for the way we feel about our children and the way we feel about food? “Hate” is another word that is overused. If we hate taxis or certain politicians, how are we going to express how we feel about child rapists?
Exaggeration If we exaggerate, we send our false signals. It could be the result of having our feelings neglected by others for so long that we have resorted by dramatization to be noticed and cared about. Unfortunately, when we send out false messages, we alienate people and risk becoming like the little boy who cried “wolf.” As the story goes, because he sent out so many false alarms, he was ignored when he truly needed help. Consider the following exclamations of which none are typically true in a literal sense:
“It was as day from hell because my children played up so much.”
“I felt crushed and run over by a truck when my boss expected me to spend an extra two hours at the office yesterday.”
“I collapsed in a bundle when she told me she couldn’t finish the dress I wanted to wear to a work function on time.”
Minimization Many of us minimize our feelings, particularly when we are upset, worried or depressed. We use expressions such as “I am fine,” “I am all right,” “I’m ok, don’t worry about me” or “There is nothing wrong with me.” When we do this, we are perhaps too proud, stubborn, scared, mistrusting or feel unworthy to share our feelings.We could desperately want to be connected to others, but we will not allow them to get close to us. We effectively push people away by withholding our true feelings. It is a matter of being high in need and low in expression. The result is then isolation and feeling disconnected from others. This, while we all desire community with others desperately.
Miscommunicating our feelings Often we are afraid to directly express our feelings as we might feel others will disapprove or be offended. We might also be reluctant to go against the norms of society. This is unhealthy for us and there are ways to be truthful and assertive about our emotions in diplomatic ways. In fact, we may even gain respect more respect from others if we muster up the courage to do this rather than pretend.
In your journal, jot down which of the defences listed above you tend to apply. Also assess the results of these in your communication with others.