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Awareness of Defense Mechanisms as a Path to Healing
on October 5, 2014
To what degree does an awareness of defense mechanisms like splitting and projective identification have on one's understanding of themselves and others?
"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." Henry Wadsworth, "Be kind because everyone is fighting the toughest battle of their lives" "Everyone's got a story that'll break your heart."
Many authors begin their books with the famous quote, "Beyond ideas of right and wrong, there's a field. I'll meet you there." This quote seems to acknowledge the issue of splitting and points towards the place within where love and understanding runs the day rather than the promptings from splitting and other defense mechanisms. The shadow work of owning projections (Western Zen) seems to be one way of transitioning out of long ago needed defense mechanisms created in response to the double binds experienced from an early insecure attachment (ie: in response to being biologically wired to seek safety from a parent while the same parent is also a source of fear).
Apparently the ability to have intellectual empathy or a "theory of mind" begins at around the age of four. If the child has a secure attachment with their parents (ie: can speak openly to them knowing that they will listen without judgment), they will continue to grow up having intellectual and emotional empathy for themselves and for others. For those who acquired an insecure attachment style (anxious/hyperactivating, avoidant/deactivating, disorganzied) it seems that, to one degree or another, emotional empathy will be distorted from one's theory of mind.
This book offers an easy to read introduction to some common defense mechanisms (ie: the things we do to avoid awareness of psychic pain).
Mechanisms covered include: Denial (you really feel ___, don't you?); Passive Aggressiveness (lateness, etc); Splitting (me good, you bad); Displacement (Don't take it out on me), Reaction Formation (when the only way to share something is to say its opposite); Idealization (She's a Goddess (ie: a secure base) and I want to merge and be at one with her); Narcissism ("Narcissists depend upon the admiration and envy of others to support their own self-idealization."); Projection (one finger forward, three fingers back; the pot calling kettle black, etc); Projective Identification (Let me provoke you to feel and express my feelings for me so that I can then feel above you and let my mammalian brain send me some serotonin, ok?); Control as the opposite of love (I don't want to admit that I never really had a safe and secure attachment with my mother so I will try to control you instead); Rationalization (making excuses); Intellectualization (when words and thoughts are used to discount feelings).
It seems to me that an awareness of defense mechanisms can be a path towards healing.