I have a favorite saying in therapy. “My goal is not to take your defenses away. There are moments in life where they are necessary and handy. My goal is to make you aware of your defenses and learn to set them aside to deepen your relationships and pick them back up again when you need the safety of their protection.”
Let’s define defenses: Feeling, thoughts or behaviors that are mostly automatic and arise in response to perceived relational danger. They are created or used to hide or alleviate conflicts or stressors that make us anxious.
So as kids, our defenses are very helpful because they keep painful feelings out of awareness. Each of the love styles is a defense against pain. In general, how does each of the love styles serve as a defense?
Avoiders: Minimize feelings and needs to defend against the pain of wanting and not receiving or feeling and not being responded too. Most of the time this process started when they were very young and as adults Avoiders just see themselves as independent.
Pleasers: Pleasers care take and placate to defend against feelings of anxiety or inadequacy when someone is angry, rejecting or critical toward them.
Vacillators: Vacillators defend against the painful feelings of waiting for time and attention and or abandonment by idealizing (it won’t happen) and devaluing (It happened, I’m hurt and I’m done).
Controllers and Victims:
Controllers defend against the painful experiences of childhood (terror, humiliation, neglect, abuse, violence, etc) by substituting anger for any vulnerable feeling and keeping their life under their control.
Victims defend against feeling afraid, unlovable and unworthy by trying to appease divert, and prevent the controllers anger from erupting.
We will break this down more specifically for each love style in the following weeks and look at some specific defenses that each love style gravitates too. In general, defenses are good adaptive strategies for childhood. They minimize the pain and anxiety a child feels. The problem is they become very automatic and woven into the way be behave and react. As adults defense keep us from being vulnerable or experiencing emotional intimacy in our marriages and families.
We cannot let go of a defense until we recognize it, have awareness that we are employing a defense and make a choice to endure and learn to cope with the painful feelings we are trying so hard to avoid. I hope you caught that. If we experience the pain and get what we did not get as kids (compassion comfort and understanding) we don’t have to be afraid of the pain anymore. We have a new way to deal with it, so we can begin to let go of the defense. That’s freedom folks….defenses take a lot of energy to keep in place.
Next week we will look specifically at avoiders.
Copyright © 2009 Milan and Kay Yerkovich