You’ve heard of projection and repression. In our continuing series of the great minds of psychology, we explore the defense mechanisms developed by Anna Freud, first introduced by her father, Sigmund Freud. We discuss:
- Why defenses are important for the ego and a sign of a healthy mind
- How Anna Freud expanded defense mechanisms by working with children of World War II in London
- Some of the defense mechanisms and their purpose
- How to work with the defenses for a more conscious life
This podcast represents the opinions of Debra Berndt Maldonado and Robert Maldonado, PhD. The content here should not be taken as medical/mental health advice. The content here is for informational purposes only, and because each person is so unique, please consult your mental healthcare professional for your mental health questions.
Watch the next Soul Session in this series on our YouTube Channel.
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Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I’m Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado.
Robert Maldonado 00:35
Today we’re talking about why you get defensive.
Debra Maldonado 00:40
We all get defensive, so why it’s normal, all the defense mechanisms we’re going to talk about, including our wonderful inspiration for expanding this knowledge out of Freud. But before we begin, I want to remind you to subscribe to our channel. If you’re watching us on YouTube, click the button here in the corner, you’ll be able to get every episode. For notifications, make sure you click that little bell, so you can get notifications. If you’re listening to us on one of the podcasts services, like Spotify, iTunes, don’t forget, after the show or right now, to click on Subscribe. We have a great series ahead and you do not want to miss any episode.
Robert Maldonado 01:24
Speaking of the series, this is a continuing podcast episode on the series of great minds in psychology. By great minds, of course, we mean that we consider them great because they contributed to the way we work in our coaching.
Debra Maldonado 01:42
We hear a lot of the greats. If you haven’t studied psychology, if you’re a coach, you really don’t know all the history sometimes of all these great minds. Just by knowing you for almost 20 years and understanding these concepts we all have compounded in our personal development journey, where they came from and how they created is so fascinating to me. I hope you find this fascinating as well. I think this is one of my favorites, the defense mechanisms because as a coach, or you’re in the helping profession and working with people, you’re going to face people’s defense mechanisms. In your everyday life, your family, your friends, your colleagues at work, you’re going to recognize all these concepts. It’s normal to have, and we’re going to talk about that.
Robert Maldonado 02:42
The person that we identify as not really the originator of the idea of defense mechanisms, but certainly one that contributed greatly to our understanding of how defense mechanisms evolve in us as human beings and how we use them is Anna Freud, Fraulein Freud. She is the daughter of Sigmund Freud and his number one fan, the one that carried on his work and developed it further.
Debra Maldonado 03:28
Let’s talk a little bit about Anna.
Robert Maldonado 03:32
Vienna in the 1930s, Europe was starting to get very dark, with the rise of the Nazis around that time. World War II was brewing, they had just come through World War I. Freud didn’t want to leave Vienna. It was his home where he built his career, where he had his practice and his clients. One of the main things that convinced him that he needed to go and move the family was that the Nazis picked up Anna and interrogated her for several hours. Freud’s sisters, I think he had three or four sisters, stayed in Vienna and did not survive the war. When he saw that he decided to move to London. He was already well known, so he had a lot of support, both in Vienna and London. He moves the whole family to London, including Anna. She, by that time, is really becoming a great student of her father, a great supporter and an advocate for his work. She starts working with children. By that time, the Nazis were bombing London. There was a big effort to protect the children. A lot of the kids would leave their families and go stay in, I think they call them ward nurseries.
Debra Maldonado 05:42
The men went to war. The women basically went to work to uphold this society. They needed someplace to put the kids and keep them safe.
Robert Maldonado 05:54
Keep them out of harm’s way, because the bombs were falling on the city, you never knew which building was going to get hit. They’d move them out to the country, different smaller towns where they could be safe. From learning from her dad, she was interested in the ego then and found her niche in that she was more focused on looking at, as kids, how do we start to develop this thing we call the ego? How do we use these defense mechanisms to protect that ego?
Debra Maldonado 06:37
She looked at these children who were pulled away from their family, who had the worst case of trauma and fear, and wanted to see what’s happening. As to defense mechanisms, do you want to explain what that is as a topic? The description of what it is.
Robert Maldonado 07:01
First of all, there is a school that developed out of her work that’s called ego psychology. It uses a lot of her work and her formulation of the ego and defenses for therapeutic purposes. Ego psychology is very strong and is still worked, especially in the big cities in Europe as well.
Debra Maldonado 07:33
Let’s frame the ego as the concept of the I, the self-concept that we have, your name, your body, your need to survive, need to socially fit in, need to be loved, need to be healthy, need to be strong to survive in this world.
Robert Maldonado 07:59
Freud’s idea of the ego is very interesting. Different than Jung’s, of course. Freud thought of the ego as the reality principle, it’s the one that tells us what is real. “Let’s keep it real”, when we say that, that’s what we mean, let’s stay in our ego. Then there was his Id, it was a little devil in us that was always prompting us to do what’s pleasing, what’s pleasurable, what we want to do, on one side. On the other side of the ego was the superego, which was the moralistic “you should not do this or that” voice. The parents’ voice, the preacher’s voice, the church, the authority. The ego was always caught between these two opposing forces that were pushing and pulling in different directions. Strong ego was thought to be really important, in order to stay in the middle.
Debra Maldonado 09:18
Don’t allow yourself to go too much to the wild side. But also you still want to listen to that moral side, but you want to have your own identity, or you’re more aligned with the moral side.
Robert Maldonado 09:33
Certainly, being overly rigid and following rules obsessively would be like super ego.
Debra Maldonado 09:47
Like a spectrum in a way, the extreme of wild and the extreme of ultra having to follow all the rules, can’t take a risk, can’t let it be bad. It’s almost in a destructive way where you’re not free. I think that’s what happens when people in religion sometimes get hyper-moralistic, but inside they want to express other things, but they can’t. A healthy ego would be something like, “I hear both of you, but I’m going to choose.” But in the beginning as kids, we don’t have that choice. We don’t have that maturity yet. We’re reacting and creating a conditioned self.
Robert Maldonado 10:34
The ego needed defenses in order to dampen the anxiety that arises from the conflict that’s going on in this ID.
Debra Maldonado 10:51
We all have a conflict. Life brings us a lot of conflicts, how we deal with it is we needed to have a mechanism to help us deal with it.
Robert Maldonado 11:00
This is an oversimplification of the model but essentially, that’s what Freud was saying. Anna then ran with this idea. When she was working with the kids in stressful circumstances, because they were separated from the parents and the family, isolated, in a stressful war situation. A lot of her work also played into attachment theory later on with Bowlby and Ainsworth. The ego and defense mechanisms are really interesting because she was able to look at how these kids defend and perceive themselves.
Debra Maldonado 11:55
The mind would lose itself in that, they had to find a way to hold the ego, hold yourself together. We can’t let our mind get into much fear because we won’t be able to function. The defense mechanisms are actually a sign of a healthy mind, the ability to help the child survive. We have them today, even if you haven’t lived through a war— some people have lived through wars, now there’s kids in Ukraine being pulled away from their parents, it’s happened all over recently in the world, so it’s not that it’s not happening anymore. But most of us, even if we haven’t, we still have these defense mechanisms because the concept is that you’re in this world, you have to deal with all these conflicts and things that are coming at us. We’re never fully loved the way we want to be loved. We’re never fully safe in the world. The world is full of lots of things. We need the defense mechanisms to survive, whether it’s a very light critical family, or a parent dying, or death of a grandparent. How do you deal with that as a child? The first day of school, being bullied, being left out all, those things that contribute to a child trying to cope with life.
Robert Maldonado 13:26
This plays into personality development. A lot of the theories in psychology about personality, how we develop this idea of personality, our particular way of being in the world, defense mechanisms explain a big chunk of that, so her work is really interesting in that regard.
Robert Maldonado 14:52
I was thinking we could look at a partial list of some of the defense mechanisms she identified as important, then go on to discuss how they play into coaching, personal development in general, maybe even a little bit of psychopathology.
Debra Maldonado 15:12
Even your own personal self-reflection, because looking at these, you can say, “I use that or my family uses that defense”, understanding that it’s not a natural part of your person, like that’s who you are. It’s a defense mechanism versus a personality trait. It is a personality trait, but it’s not the true self, it’s your defensive self, your conditioned self.
Robert Maldonado 15:45
Certainly, from a Jungian perspective that would be the case.
Debra Maldonado 15:50
But from a Freudian perspective, it’s who you are, you’re that type of person. Did Anna believe that we can overcome these defense mechanisms? Or did she believe they were baked in and you just have to cope and deal with them?
Robert Maldonado 16:06
Somewhere in between, I think. Anybody that practices psychotherapy or psychoanalysis understands that there is the opportunity to change and evolve. The hope was that, as she worked with these kids and their families, and adults also, that’s where she saw these defense mechanisms, she could help them deal with them in a more enlightened and creative way.
Debra Maldonado 16:40
A defense mechanism is the mechanism to preserve the ego, to keep anything that’s overwhelming or not appropriate in the system, to keep the ecosystem going.
Robert Maldonado 16:54
Remember the anxiety facto. A lot of the defenses were more meant to protect the ego from being overwhelmed by anxiety, from the Id, from the unconscious mind we’re coming up from.
Debra Maldonado 17:15
Almost like homeostasis where if you get too hot, you sweat, if you get too cold, you’re shivering to build up the energy. This is like the psyche. I don’t people realize that the psyche has a balancing element and a compensation element to keep you from insanity, basically, because in this world, the mind is such a burden sometimes to have. Let’s talk about regression as a defense mechanism.
Robert Maldonado 17:46
Regression, because she was looking at development, was a big part of it. In development, we go through these stages where we’re always challenged to step up and develop new skills and new abilities. When we are under stress, we tend to regress to something we know already. But it’s a lower level of maturity.
Debra Maldonado 18:15
Something we’re comfortable with, instead of stepping up and maturing. People that have baby blankets they carry into adulthood, there’s some people that do that. It’s the idea that it’s an anchoring into what’s familiar.
Robert Maldonado 18:33
I remember, when I was in college, I lived with some roommates. Before I went to college, when there was tension in the family, I’d lock myself up in my room, a typical teenager thing. In college though, I was feeling more like an adult. But I remember a specific incident where it was stressful, there was some arguments going on. I did that. I saw myself going and locking myself up in my room and turning up the music. That’s regression right there.
Debra Maldonado 19:17
If you’re in a relationship with someone, and they’re doing something that every time something gets too intense, they might not lock themselves in the room, but may go for a run, they may put on blaring music or whatever, it’s that defense. Instead of staying and being with it, it’s a way to go back. Repression is really a big defense that I think we all can deal with. Jung took that to another level with the shadow work, repressing the shadow. But sometimes we repress memories, because we have a traumatic event, we’re like, “I don’t want to ever remember that.” We don’t even remember it in our short-term memory. It goes right in. Some people have amnesia after something, “I don’t remember what happened” because the ego can’t even process it. Is that what happens?
Robert Maldonado 20:12
Most of these defenses are unconscious, we’re not aware of them, it’s more that the psyche is on automatic function.
Debra Maldonado 20:25
The psyche decides like this is too intense.
Robert Maldonado 20:29
We’re not doing it consciously. Repression is the mind’s ability, when something is difficult or unsavory, unpleasant, it pushes it into the unconscious mind.
Debra Maldonado 20:46
A lot of people repress anger. This is projection onto other people, we’ll talk about projection too. But we repress it, “I’m a good person.” We’re repressing sexual urges, the Id, that would be a form of repression. Like I really want to quit my job, go crazy, be an artist, join the circus kind of thing, but we repress it because it’s not something that is going to help us survive. But it’s not conscious. It’s hidden deep desires that we don’t access. Reaction formation. I love this one, because it has a weird name. It’s acting the opposite of how you feel. A great example of this, I always use this as an example in our trainings, is that you run into your ex-boyfriend, he’s with his new girlfriend that he cheated on you with, you’re at the grocery store. Instead of raging in anger and saying, “You jerk”, explicits and just being out of control, you hug the woman, or you hug the guy. “Great to meet you, Jim. Oh, my God, it’s been so long.” You’re really fake and you know it, but you don’t realize why. Afterwards, you don’t realize why you didn’t just yell at him, he was such a jerk. But you have to be nice. It’s like an extreme to the anger that you feel, you’re overly nice. There’s being pleasant and everything but you’re over the top to match the intensity of the hate or the anger. You act the opposite. We see our parents sometimes do that when they’re frustrated with us, they’d be overly nice.
Robert Maldonado 22:35
It’s like overcompensating in the opposite direction. Instead of regressing, you’re trying to say, “I’m a bigger person than that. Therefore, I’m going to express this higher level of being.” But it’s not genuine.
Debra Maldonado 22:55
It feels fake, you feel fake, you’re just like, “Why did I act that way? Why didn’t I say what I felt?” It’s an automatic reaction. Isolation.
Robert Maldonado 23:08
Isolation, we all know this one. It is putting yourself in your room, staying away. In the playground, we see kids that just stay away from the group, find a little corner and play by themselves.
Debra Maldonado 23:25
We see this when we do free trainings. There’s the people that are interested and interacting. Then the other people that are just watching, they’re not really ready to participate. They feel like, “I want to ask a question but I don’t.” What would be the defense against that? Is isolation like wearing an armor?
Robert Maldonado 23:54
I think all these defense mechanisms are character armor. They protect us from that anxiety-producing event or situation. The anxiety-producing event can be external or internal. It can be something from within us, some impulse from the Id, or some questionable moralistic situation that calls up the superego on us and says, “You shouldn’t be doing that.”
Debra Maldonado 24:28
Dissociation. I learned a lot about this with people that had traumas. They basically pull themselves out of their body and they don’t know how to be in their body. When I work with people that are intellectuals, they’re not in touch with their emotions. It’s almost like they’re out of their bodies in a way, their energy is in their head, they’re not able to associate with the emotion. It is a defense because maybe emotions were too much, if a parent was overly emotional. They may be like, “I can’t handle all that energy.” Then they can’t handle it within themselves.
Robert Maldonado 25:12
I remember this from my clinical training that a lot of the kids, as adults then remembered, when their abuse was happening, they were out of their bodies, they were looking at the situation from the ceiling, looking down at what was going on.
Debra Maldonado 25:37
It was a way to protect them from it, like a witness. When we work with emotions, we do that, it helps us look at it in a more objective way. When I did regressions as a hypnotherapist, there was oftentimes a traumatic event, they were like, “I’m on the ceiling.” We had to integrate them back into their body. Projection, that’s a common word.
Robert Maldonado 26:05
Projection is seeing the unpleasant attributes in you in another person. We’re all good at that as human beings, we can clearly see other people’s faults, the mote in our brother’s eye, the beam in our own eye. It’s a defense mechanism, it’s a way to protect ourselves, because we’re off the hook, it’s them that are being that way, therefore, we’re safe.
Debra Maldonado 26:38
Because of the self-judgment that we have. If we were that way, it’s unacceptable to identify with those qualities. The anger is unacceptable, so you project it onto other people, they’re the angry ones, they’re the ones who are judging, I’m not a judging person, I’m very open and loving and kind. Then you see it in a person. That comes to moral masochism. I think we can all relate to this, some people have it, and all of these have extremes.
Robert Maldonado 27:15
These, again, are typical and normal. They’re healthy for the ego, they only become problematic when they become rigid, when the individual is always doing this defensive mechanism and not flexible.
Debra Maldonado 27:35
It’s like a person that you have tried to have a conversation with, they’re always pushing back, you can’t really reach them. You’re trying to have a conversation but all you’re getting back is — we can all relate to people like that — they are always defensive. It’s problematic for that person because they’re not allowing anyone in, they’re not even allowing themselves to be humbled, it a strong character armor.
Robert Maldonado 28:06
In Freud’s psychology, narcissism was considered a healthy attribute in human beings. You need to look out for, you need a good dose of that. But it became problematic only when it was too much. It was the go-to defense mechanism or strategy in dealing with others.
Debra Maldonado 28:32
The moral masochism is one but then the narcissism is the other. Let’s talk about moral masochism. First, as a defense, it’s that harsh putting yourself down. We all have it but some people have it in a deeper way, where that’s all they can get out of it. It’s automatic, they think they’re terrible, they’re a loser, they can’t do anything with their life. It’s that pattern, it sounds like low self-esteem, but it’s really a defense mechanism. Why would ego use that as a defense?
Robert Maldonado 29:12
It could be anxiety over too much narcissism, like you mentioned, that homeostasis mechanism of finding the balance between the two.
Debra Maldonado 29:28
For example, if a parent was narcissistic, we think about narcissism as the opposite of moral masochism, narcissism is also a defense. If the parent was narcissistic, it was all about them, the person, to avoid being like the parent, would be harsh on themselves. It’s like the opposite. They’re mirrors of each other in a way. The narcissist is like, “It’s all about me, I’m so great, I can’t let myself have any failures.” The masochism is like, “I can’t let myself have any greatness.” They’re mirrors of each other. When a parent is narcissistic, the child may use that. They could be narcissistic too and carry that on, or they can be the opposite. “I don’t want to be like that at all”, they’re pushing that away. This other element comes in to push away the glory or any kind of praise. They can’t accept anything. Where the narcissist can’t accept any criticism, for the masochist putting themselves down is actually helping them in some way.
Robert Maldonado 30:43
In psychology, the human beings are so complicated, each individual has their unique way.
Debra Maldonado 30:52
We don’t want to generalize. That’s an example of how these two are. One is extreme harshness, one is extreme “I’m the god, I’m the best.” It’s a defense mechanism, because underneath narcissists are scared and weak. It’s like this big persona and the persona of this weak person, I’m a helpless person, I hate myself. That is a defense from being a connecting to your glory, your magnificence. Is there something scary about feeling great about yourself?
Robert Maldonado 31:30
For certain individuals, that would be the case. It produces anxiety, maybe they were punished by the parent if they stood out and became more brilliant than their siblings.
Debra Maldonado 31:46
I think I have it because I always wanted to be the shining star, and it was not always accepted. Maybe that’s why I use that a little bit to beat myself up. We beat ourselves up, these are not pathological. These are very human things. If you beat yourself up, it doesn’t mean you have a defense mechanism and it’s terrible. It’s recognizing what’s the benefit I get from beating myself up. It’s a defense, it’s not low self-esteem. It appears that way that you have low self-esteem, because the symptoms are showing that, but what really is happening is you’re defending something. Defensive denial.
Robert Maldonado 32:32
We’ve all heard about denial. It’s a defense mechanism. Defensive would be that it’s in the service of the ego.
Debra Maldonado 32:43
It’s like “I need to be right” type of thing? I can’t be wrong. Would that be a defensive denial?
Robert Maldonado 32:48
That could be part of it.
Debra Maldonado 32:52
Where someone’s like, “I’m going to tell you how I feel”, and they’re like, “That wasn’t me. I don’t act that way.”
Robert Maldonado 32:57
Anything that threatens the ego, denial can be used as a way to protect it. It’s not just part of the grieving process as we know it. Sublimation is an interesting one. A simple example is dancing. Sublimation means the substitution of an acceptable social behavior for an unacceptable social behavior. Instead of a man grabbing a woman and saying, “Kiss me”, it’s “Can we dance? Let’s dance.” It’s socially acceptable. You’re getting close, you’re able to speak in a very intimate situation. That’s sublimation, we find ways to express deeper primal urges in a socially acceptable way. I don’t know that one, denigration.
Debra Maldonado 34:19
That’s like, “Those people are such jerks, those people are wrong”, putting other people down to lift yourself up. If you feel low, if you have that moral masochism, you may want to put people down because you need to have that superiority.
Robert Maldonado 34:39
It’s this idea that some people try to make themselves taller by chopping other people’s heads off. If other people aren’t as good, maybe you’re a little bit better.
Debra Maldonado 34:52
Let’s say someone who makes a lot of money or your boss, you find a way to put them down “They’re so superficial. I love being poor and spiritual.” You’re denigrating them for what they’re doing. It’s a way to feel something that you’re pushing away. They all go together, denigration, projection, you examine that. But that’s a really good one. Criticism, when you’re highly critical, it’s a defense. I love this one, identification with the aggressor. That was something you told me, it was really interesting, about the transfer of power. When people, especially in abusive situations, there’s like, “What’s going on there?”
Robert Maldonado 35:49
This is a direct observation from working with kids. If kids are often in physically abusive situations, for example, they still want to be with a parent. The question becomes, “Why would they want to stay with a parent that is hurting them?”
Debra Maldonado 36:13
Then the social workers take them away to a safe place, and the kid’s grasping at the parent, “Mommy, daddy, I want to be with you.”
Robert Maldonado 36:21
It’s because of this identification with the aggressor. It’s a complicated mechanism. But think about it this way: the child needs to feel powerful enough to sustain the ego. Because the ego is that sense of ourselves, viable self in us. If the ego doesn’t have enough power, it wouldn’t survive, it would say, “I can’t do this, I can’t go out into life and make it happen.” That need for power, where does it come from? The child looks at the strong parent, and often it’s the aggressor towards them. They say, “They have the power, therefore I have to identify with them.”
Debra Maldonado 37:15
is that why abuse is carried from generation to generation? They borrow that power of abuse to get their own power because that’s the only way they understood power.
Robert Maldonado 37:28
This is done emotionally and unconsciously as well. The child is not choosing to identify with someone that’s hurting them, but they need to feel powerful enough to survive. Therefore, the only example they have of power is this aggressor. They have to identify with the aggressor.
Debra Maldonado 37:53
Does that mean they become aggressive, too? They can be very aggressive with other people, like a trigger reaction. They get angry at people really easily. But because they’re borrowing the aggressor’s anger, the aggression, they’re borrowing that to transfer and use it in the world, because aggression is power to that person unconsciously.
Robert Maldonado 38:19
That’s one of the mechanisms that might account for why we see intergenerational patterns of abuse in families and so forth.
Debra Maldonado 38:30
Also people can be aggressive with people that are trying to help them, they can push back, like kids pushing back, or getting angry at the therapist because they’re using that aggression as their power. I want to talk about this one first, projective identification, the opposite. Instead of identifying with the aggressor, you’re identifying with someone who is idealistic. Let’s say your grandmother was the most beautiful angel in the world, she’s so amazing, everyone admired her. You want to identify with that icon. A lot of people have that in their life, not only people around us that roughed us up a bit, but there is also these people that we idolize and identify with that idealization because our ego doesn’t see ourselves that way. It’s like a defense mechanism to use that to build our ego up.
Robert Maldonado 39:35
If you think about it, and I’ve done this myself, I’ve observed that in me, when you don’t feel confident, which means your ego doesn’t feel strong, you tend to identify with people that are strong in your environment.
Debra Maldonado 39:54
It’s celebrities, or even other people like the tough guy in the action films, projecting that onto leaders and authoritarians. They have all this power, if I’m associated with that leader, I get the power.
Robert Maldonado 40:13
But remember you were doing this unconsciously.
Debra Maldonado 40:15
We’re not saying, “I want to be like them.” But why are we unconsciously drawn?
Robert Maldonado 40:23
We might start to speak like them or act that way.
Debra Maldonado 40:29
Again, this isn’t pathological, even to identify with the aggressor. It’s not pathological, we do that if someone is critical to us, we become critical, it’s a very subtle thing. There’s extremes in every case throughout human nature, but most of us don’t have those extremes, most of us are just trying to have a healthy ego. So let’s go to two more. I think this is one that I can relate to, especially because I’m one of those highly sensitive people. An empathic withdrawal. I felt like my father was that way, he pulled back his emotions. I do that when I’m in a crowd, there’s so much energy, I almost feel people pulling at me, I’m over-processing, I’m not grounded, I could feel myself get cold and shut down, which is like a deep defense, it is too much. Those of you who are highly sensitive or empaths, you may have this as a defense just because it’s too much. You can feel a lot more than a lot of people, it’s a trait that you have more access to. Then you do this as a defense because it’s too much.
Robert Maldonado 41:57
Most of us know apathy. Apathy means we’re disengaged, we’re not paying attention or interested in what’s going on. Withdrawal, that’s staying in ourselves and focusing on our own mind.
Debra Maldonado 42:17
But it also could be, if you’re not highly sensitive, someone whose way of being is like “I don’t care what people think”, it’s like “You can’t get to me.” There is an extreme, where you can use it as a tool in a situation, a handy tool, but also, it could be part of your way of being, “I just don’t care”, but you really do. It’s just unconscious that you’re doing that.
Robert Maldonado 42:51
It’s a defense mechanism that you’ve learned or your ego has learned in order to protect itself.
Debra Maldonado 43:01
For example, if a parent had some kind of tragedy and had to go raise children, they may have had to do something to withdraw from all that energy and all their emotions and have a little coldness maybe, they learn it from their parent, “They’re cold, so I’m going to be cold, that’s just the way to be.” The last one is funny, we all do this. It is humor as a defense. This is my family’s defense, always instead of saying directly what we feel, we tease each other. Instead of saying “I love you”, I’m gonna tease you, I’m gonna give you a little twist of the knife, or joke around, or laugh it off versus really going in. How else do you see humor?
Robert Maldonado 43:51
It works really well most of the time. But sometimes we see that it doesn’t really work because it’s inappropriate, or the joke is a little bit off.
Debra Maldonado 44:05
Or I see people laughing when they’re talking about something serious. When I’d coach someone and they’re laughing off a deep thing they’re talking about, like “My mother was so critical”, and they laugh. It feels like more of a nervous laugh than a real laugh. We see this in people, we may notice it in ourselves, but it’s a defense mechanism of “I really don’t want to go there, so I’m gonna lighten it up.” When my father died, we did a lot of joking around because it was so hard for us all to cope. It’s a sign of a healthy mind, but if we use it in a rigid way, it keeps people from us and keeps us from growing. What we want to do with all these defense mechanisms is see them as a defense, then ask ourselves what we’re really defending, noticing these patterns in ourself and asking ourselves, “What am I afraid of? Why did I act that way?” It’s unconscious, so you don’t want to beat yourself up for it, get into more moral masochism, but you want to recognize it and get curious about it.
Robert Maldonado 45:23
One of the mistakes that we often see is people think these defenses are pathological; they point at some wounds, some kind of trauma, some kind of damage. Now, it could be, of course, but most of the time, because these are natural aspects of the ego, they’re the way the individual has learned to cope with anxiety, with the world, etc.
Debra Maldonado 45:57
I often people hear people use the term “trauma response”, which is referring to these defenses, but it makes the people that have suffered a lot of deep trauma, it almost discounts their experience. We want to see that all of us have these defenses, whether you had the worst situation or an easy life, we all have defense mechanisms, because you all have an ego. We learn through our parents and people around us what their go to defense is, and we basically adopt it unconsciously, we pass it along, or we try it as kids, what works, then we find something that fits and are like, “I’m gonna do this from now on, this seems to work.” It’s all sign of a healthy mind. I’ve seen people with extreme dark lives when they were kids being completely resilient. Then I’ve seen people with a slightly critical mother, and they can’t get out of it. The event itself is not an indicator of your prognosis, or your future possibility and future growth. It’s really more about how you work with these defenses and how curious you are and how open you are to look at them. Now there is extremes, that would be working with rigidness. What would you say for someone who is experiencing the rigid or feel like they can’t get out of it, or really stuck?
Robert Maldonado 47:25
That’s certainly the realm of therapy or psychotherapy even, there are people that are specifically trained to work at that level. It does require extensive training. This isn’t something most people can do, regardless of their intentions. We all want to help people, but there are people who really suffer from PTSD and trauma, they require specialized assistance. In our coaching model though, understanding the defense mechanisms is important because the goal of Jungian individuation is to transcend the ego. A lot of the work has to do with dismantling a lot of these character defenses because they keep the individual from understanding their true self.
Debra Maldonado 48:24
Even as the ego, we’re not the ego, so we’re defending and protecting this thing that’s not even who we really are. In Jung’s work, he took it further than Freud, which is you’re transcending the ego, you’re not using these mechanisms to make a better personality and shine up the ego. We’re transcending it and recognizing the more conscious we are of these defenses, which are mostly unconscious. You may be thinking, “I have that too.” This is not for you to diagnose yourself with any kind of trauma. This is really for you to say, “That’s interesting. Let me be curious about why I do that.” Whatever the reason is, it was there as a healthy mind, it was there in a good intention. But we don’t have to rely on that anymore as adults and conscious beings. As kids, the world was coming at us, we had to really make sure we had a strong ego to survive the first part of life. But the second part of life, we want to choose consciously how we want to respond to the world versus always with the defenses.
Robert Maldonado 49:33
These are powerful defenses, they protect us against difficult situations, so that we’re not harmed. The ego is very resilient, the mind is very resilient. If you’re able to function and even put up a good front, that’s a sign of a healthy mind. Is there work to do? Of course, we all have work to do. That’s what personal development is about. That’s what the human potential movement is about. It’s about finding ways to go beyond this mere survival and go to full potential.
Debra Maldonado 50:16
When you’re reviewing and assessing yourself, a lot of people do self-diagnosing, we want to look at it as we’re gonna want to be conscious of these things and understand that that’s not who we are. It’s coming from the ego, and the ego is not who we are. Great session today, I enjoy this conversation immensely. Because it’s so much about who we are and how we really survive in the world. Again, I do not want anyone to think there’s something wrong with you. If you have these defense mechanisms, or you recognize it in yourself, it’s good that you recognize it and ask that deeper question. Be curious. We’ll see you next week on another Soul Session. Again, don’t forget to subscribe. Click the button here to subscribe if you’re watching us on YouTube. If you’re listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, as you’re listening to the outro music, saying goodbye, please don’t forget to click that little Subscribe button on your podcast service, so you can get next week’s episode, which you don’t want to miss.