Sorry to disturb your comfortable conscious awareness but there are some workings “under the hood” which you are not aware of and occur every day, perhaps even right now. Wouldn’t you like to know more?
You probably went through situations where you answer in a similar manner as the behaviors listed bellow:
- “I just don’t remember her name, I know it, it’s on the tip of my tongue”
- “He agreed to help me move, but then he didn’t call or show up”
- “I had a terrible headache during the job interview”
These are typical Defense Mechanisms that we all have, but there are more that we will approach later on the article.
Why Do We Need Ego Defense Mechanisms?
The Ego is a recent offspring in the development of human consciousness.
The job of the Ego is to do the mediation between the conscious and the unconscious levels of consciousness, including the spiritual and biologic needs and drives, and the demands and impositions of the outside world.
You can say that the Ego has a tough and demanding task, and to that effect structures itself like a fortress with its walls and heavy “armed soldiers” – the Defense Mechanisms. They are the Ego’s first and last line of defense.
The Ego plays on the psychological level what the immune system plays on the biological level. The Ego monitors what is going on, detects what is and what is not part of us, and fights to kill and expel the invaders.
The invaders for the Ego are: anxiety, psychological pain, different beliefs, and drives and impulses from the unconscious level.
Defense Mechanisms In Action
In the above flowchart you have a simplified idea of how the Ego functions in relation to situations that trigger or not the Defense Mechanisms, and what happens.
In short, the defense Mechanisms are here to protect us from feelings of anxiety, guilt, or shame, which emerge when we feel threatened by demanding drives and impulses. At the first sign of psychological danger, the Ego goes in full alert, and the psychological SWAT team is called.
These actions happen under our conscious awareness. We are just not aware of the defense mechanisms, in plus we have no conscious control over them. Most of the time we just notice the outcome of our behaviors or what just happened.
All Defense Mechanisms operate under the conscious level and are not controlled by our will (except one: suppression)
Operating in defense mode, the Ego will resort to use one or more Defense Mechanisms to protect us when we come up against life’s stressful situations. The Defense Mechanisms are a natural part of us and most of them operate under normal conditions. When some Defense Mechanisms go rogue and out of proportion, is then when neuroses develop, such as anxiety states, phobias, obsessions, or hysteria.
What Are The Defense Mechanisms
In the above chart you have a list of Defense Mechanisms, with a short definition and example on how they operate.
For instance a person who is afraid of experiencing emotions and feelings of vulnerability will in general trigger Defense Mechanisms of projection, rationalization, and denial (see in the chart above).
It can be quite scary to access the inner pain of an early trauma which conditioned the person to create a false sense of Self based on the pursuit of sole positive and “feeling good” experiences.
When someone or a situation is seen to be a potential threat to that false sense of Self, it triggers the activation of the Defense Mechanisms. An example of this can be when the person is criticized because they did something wrong, which in turn, triggers their own anxiety and guilt, which might unleash the Defense Mechanisms of denial, fueling irritability, anger and even rage, until the anxiety and guilt subsides.
Mature Defense Mechanisms
Some of the mature Defense Mechanisms are listed above. They are called mature not because of age but because they are evolutions of the previous ones, are more socially adaptable, and also less damaging of one’s Ego.
There is another thing in relation to the Mature Defense Mechanisms in a spiritual perspective. The more one is identified with the Self and less with the Ego, the more the focus of consciousness stays at that level, and also the mechanisms being used.
I bet on what your are thinking. You are thinking: “I am going to try to make use of the more Mature Defense Mechanisms”. Did I read your mind? This is the Ego talking trying to cover itself with spiritual mannerisms. This is the beginning of Spiritual Bypass that we will address in a future post. The Ego might try to fool you but in the end that approach is not effective because of one simple fact that I mentioned before: all except one of the Defense Mechanisms are under the conscious will. The Ego can’t go there, but can try to fool you.
Ways of Dealing With Defense Mechanism’s Episodes
In general, there are two ways of dealing with these kind of episodes: the Suppress way and the Embrace way.
Let’s Suppress That
The first is very common and widespread, it has to do with the use one of the Defense Mechanism to suppress the episode. Yes, you got it, most people resort to Suppression (which is the only conscious Defense Mechanism under our will).
- I Want To Be Entertained Approach
The use of Suppression can be done in the form of distraction “I don’t want to think about it and I am going to watch something on tv” or for the more spiritual inclined “I am going to do that spiritual exercise to take away this horrible feeling and rise my vibration and feel good again“.
- I Take The Magic Pill Approach
Another use of Suppression comes in the form of pills. Tons of people in the world just say “I am going to take that SSR pill (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) and feel good and positive again”.
Let’s Embrace That
The second way of dealing with the episode is used for far less people. It is a bit counter intuitive, and has to do with accepting the experience and what we are feeling in the moment.
By accepting what is happening to you in the moment several things happen:
- You put away the suffering of being in pain (not the pain itself)
- You make a statement about accepting yourself just the way you are (developing self love)
- Opportunity to embrace and befriend the emotion that lies behind the Defense Mechanism eruption (not the anxiety) but some other emotions more in line with: shame, guilt, sorrow, despair, loneliness, anger, fear, disgust, sadness or even joy) and begin to know yourself intimately
- Get comfortable dealing with emotions (not anxious)
The emotions are a signal system that tell us what to let in our lives and what to leave out.
If we lost touch with our feelings (specially our gut feeling) our decisions will not take into account what is good or bad for us, and as a consequence, bad decisions will result (more on emotions in a future article).
Show self love to take a moment to soothe that part of you that needs caring, and in process learn who you are, the ‘knowing yourself’ thing.
”The ego then, with its protective defense mechanisms, is the biggest impediment to attaining spiritual growth.”
Move To The Next Level
We saw what worked and didn’t work in terms of a spiritual development approach, but if you want more psychological depth and further spiritual development?
Well if one starts to work on “knowing oneself” and/or moving the focus of consciousness from the Ego to the Self one is set on the right path. But in order to move the focus of consciousness from the Ego to the Self one has to be free from Ego contents and its attachments, you know, your precious things, fixed beliefs, long time obsessions and compulsions, your social media idols, all the lies that you believe in. It is tough work.
In plus, when you try to get rid of the old psychic baggage, the first thing you will encounter is the Ego’s Defense Mechanisms blocking the passage, because they want to protect you from dealing with the long buried anxiety, guilt, pain and shame.
It is a catch 22, a paradox, when trying to do this by oneself. Better find an experienced spiritual psychotherapist that you trust implicitly and “knows the way around”, who can support you on your journey.
On A Future Article
As I mentioned, this post is a prequel for another article to come in which Spiritual-By-Pass will be approach in depth.
Did you enjoy the article? What is your take on the Defense Mechanisms? Did they remind you of something you would like to share bellow?. Please do.