The Nature of Our Defenses
When our primary needs or desires in childhood are insufficiently gratified, we experience a deep and lasting sense of fear, incompleteness and inferiority. Because it is difficult to contain full conscious awareness of these feelings, defense mechanisms arise to dull, block or defensively glorify them. We might adopt narcissistic or avoidant behaviors, or dangerous thrill-seeking practices, in order to distract ourselves from original fears. Externalizing, projection and displacement are common defenses that deflect our original pain and problems onto people, places and things outside of us.
Because fear interferes with our ability to feel internally comfortable, secure and positive, we might attempt to artificially produce these emotions through food, drugs, sex, shopping and other compulsive activities. This is also our attempt to compensate for previous lack of gratification. When family or friends in our adult life confront our compulsions, a sense of anger and entitlement arises in us, and we complain that they don’t understand us. These feelings are from childhood and don’t usually fit adult circumstances at all.
The energies of past pain and problems attract new similar experiences. And our defenses reinforce the themes of what we are defending. These energies are maintained, because in childhood we internalize deprivation and mistreatment into our sense of self, and feel unlovable, undeserving and unworthy. When we do not have a healthy dependency period, we do not mature into a healthy interdependent state. Thus when we experience childhood themes in our adult life, we lack a mature adult framework from which to understand and resolve them.
In order for us to heal, we must recognize not only the similarities of past and present circumstances, but also the differences between them. Are we older and wiser? Do we have more resources, support, options and courage? Even if the current event carries the same theme, does it contain the same level of danger or mistreatment? Do we have other experiences with successful positive change in thinking, feeling and actions? Do we have people in our life today that model healthy behaviors and positive growth? Do we currently have an ability to assert boundaries and limits with others? Do we have spiritual beliefs that afford us faith, trust and guidance in new endeavors?
Discovering the roots of unhealthy thinking and behaviors diminishes their power over us. Underneath narcissistic attitudes, lie significant past failures in empathy, sensitivity and understanding. Perhaps in childhood we lacked a sense of being seen, heard, felt, touched and understood for who we truly were. Self-absorption, and feigned grandiosity and arrogance are attempts to compensate for this. Ironically these defenses pass on empathic failures to others, and reinforce the theme of distrust and hurtful relating.