Read Part IV – Immature fear-based coping mechanisms
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We love spontaneous people and we find them inspiring and full of life. While we like the free expression of positive emotions, we are weary of impulsive people. Impulsivity is a tendency to act on a whim, without thinking or consideration of the consequences. None of us were born to think before acting. This is something that is acquired through experience and this is something that differentiates us from the animal kingdom as they only act through learned impulses. Going to the other extreme and only being ruled by our thinking brain is just as harmful as we appear to others as a cold heartless machine. The ideal is a healthy cooperation between the mind and the heart. In this mode, the spontaneous heart energy flows without obstruction and we use our awareness to channel it appropriately given the external environment. The most harmful forms of impulsive behaviors have already been covered in our description of pathological and neurotic defense mechanisms such as addictions. We are going here over less harmful but still childish behaviors:
- Acting out
- Passive aggressive behaviors
- Endless chatter
- Hurtful words
- Acting out
Acting out is the direct expression of pulsions or raw internal emotions without any filters. Children who have not learned to regulate emotions are expected to act out and have temper tantrums from time to time. Acting out is seen as anti-social as it only focuses on the external expression of the internal toxic emotions for the preservation of the self without any consideration to the people around. When we act out our anger, we may hurt other people and regret it later. Acting out is unconscious and takes no consideration of others. Expressing emotions, even strong emotions may be perfectly acceptable and even desirable in certain situations. While this may be counter intuitive, acting out is still, in most cases, better than repression which has a negative impact on both ourselves and our social environment. It is critical for the sanity of the people who are unable to regulate emotions such as PBPD to act them out because otherwise their toxic emotions would make them sick. Acting out our pulsions is not however conducive to self-awareness. Whether we act out the difficult emotion into rage, yelling, crying or an addiction, the action takes the better of us and we typically recover our senses after the fact. We wake up with self-disappointment and guilt about the actions we have just engaged in. There are some therapy modalities such as gestalt therapy or breathwork that attempt to develop self-awareness when acting out. This can be done with the right therapeutic container with great benefits. It helps release the toxic repressed emotions with keeping full awareness during the release process. Learning to regulate emotions requires a certain level of self-control however too much control will make us repress our feelings and hinder the healing process. It is a fine balance to achieve and which comes with experience. It is about expressing these emotions in a way that is conscious of our environment.
- Passive aggressive behaviors
Aggression or rebuttal is considered antisocial and undesirable, so when aggressive or violent impulses are experienced, people tend to avoid them as much as possible. However, the remaining energy driving such aggression may prove to be more difficult to contain, and may manifest in other forms, known as passive aggression. A passive aggressive person may be uncooperative in carrying out their duties or other tasks, may deliberately ignore someone when spoken to and might adopt a negative view of their situation, such as their job, and of those around them. It is very common in intimate relationships. A spouse is acting irritated. When asked if she is doing all right, she responds angrily “I am fine”. She may be afraid to have an argument or another useless conversation, terrified to be vulnerable and lose control or not be able to resist hitting her husband’s head with a frying pan! The passive aggressive people typically feel very powerless so it is important to create a safe container to allow them to express freely their raw emotions without consequences. The passive aggressive person sends a mixed message. S/he desperately wants help while rejecting anyone willing to help them. They are very frustrating to deal with as you can never win with passive aggressive people. They oscillate between powerlessness and anger. Anger is a vibrational improvement over powerlessness. However instead of channeling it for positive change, they go back to feeling like a victim hence perpetuating a vicious circle. A while back, I moved to another country with my wife. We decided to move and employ her unemployed ex-husband to safeguard the relationship between her son and father. Once there, he complained he was not making enough money to make a good living and his earning potential was much higher in the USA. Several months later, we had to come back to the USA but he refused to come back as he said he was happy there. Then he demanded that we pay him monthly plane tickets to the USA to see his child as we had taken him away from him. Eventually his girlfriend had to come back to the USA so he went back with her, but swearing to himself never to follow us again.
Venting is a coping mechanism that allows a person to rationalize and validate their own fears, concerns ,worries, dreams and hopes. It is actually beneficial because it helps us release difficult emotions which is detrimental to the human psyche and can even provoke ulcers, depression, high blood pressure, anxiety migraines or fatigue. Someone hurt us so we call someone else to vent about this person and to receive validation on how badly this person behaved. A friend who is attuned or just want to stay on your good side will realize that you are not looking for advice or wisdom so will just validate you. Once you have expressed the negative emotion and you feel better, are you being introspective and asking yourself why you attracted this situation? If not, venting is for you just an immature coping mechanism not to see some unsavory aspects of yourself. The more we are able to be introspective with life events, the less we will need to vent to another person. We are then able to do the venting, the validation, the accountability phase and the learning all within ourselves through meditation. The key is to make the process of venting conscious. There is a very powerful communication technique that is called mirroring in intimate relationships. It allows the venting to become fully conscious through the unconditional presence of the listener so that the “venter” will be invited to come to a place of introspection.
Let me give you an example. John comes home and has just lost his job as an electrician. He confides to his friend “This idiot of a boss just wanted someone to control so he fired me because I was my own person. He can only manage young people who will not challenge him! I think this is because he is so insecure!”
Friend “I understand this must be painful to lose your job. You really had some big hope with this company”
John “Yes, someone wanted to get my scalp and told the boss they saw me drinking on-site”
Friend “That must feel horrible that a colleague would do something like that to you”
John “I guess I was not really fitting with the company’s culture. There were mostly young people there with very little experience”
Friend “Yes, you felt as an outside there”
Validation goes on for a while, John feels better then the friend tries to move to the accountability phase
Friend “Do you think there may be other reasons why they chose to let you go?”
John “I had a hard time getting along with my boss. We could not see eye-to-eye. He is the boss. He can do whatever he wants”
Friend “Yes, this is hard when we cannot get along with our supervisor. Work becomes a grudge then”
John “I did have a bottle or two on the job but these were very light beers. It really does not impact my ability to do the job though. I guess he had to make an example”
Friend “Yes, with all these young people on-site, he could not afford that you could influence them”
John “Well, I was a bit too lax with my schedule. I would often visit my girlfriend in the middle of the day. Considering I am paid much more than all these young folks, he probably did not see he was getting his ROI on me”
Friend “I understand. The reality of business can be really hard”
John “And a couple of times, they did not feel I did a quality job. They hired me as an experienced electrician so they had high expectations that I could not fulfill”
Friend “This is very brave of you to see this. I am sure you will do better next time as you gain more experience and get your electrician license”
Gossiping is reporting negative stories or rumors about other people, involving details that are not confirmed as being true. Gossip is a combination of venting with displacement. Their self-esteem is too low to be able to share painful details about their lives so they focus on the painful aspects of other people’s lives as a substitution. I know a man who found a brilliant natural product to help his beard not to turn grey by rubbing his facial hair with an enzyme which takes the oxygen out of his hair pigment thus enabling his beard to keep its natural color. His ex-wife makes fun of him to anyone that would listen to her. The reality is that she is terrified of aging and she feels very ashamed with the transformation of her body. The combined revenue for the celebrity gossip industry — anchored by sites like TMZ and Radar Online, which often pay several thousand dollars for inside information — tops more than $3 billion per year in the USA, according to The New York Times. It is a big market because it allows millions of people to project their own shame, personal failures and insecurities onto other people. I used to be married with a YouTube star and I observed that there were a number of people who spent countless hours in gossiping about her in the most absurd way. In their conscious mind, they felt they were helping the world by reducing my ex-wife’s “harmful influence” but actually they were just projecting how they truly felt about themselves. Discrimination is healthy while gossiping is not. When we feel someone, an organization or a situation is toxic, discrimination helps us to turn our attention away from it. Gossiping does the opposite as it sucks our energy in. Gossiping is actually a form of reaction formation as we often secretly admire the very people we criticize.
- Endless chatter
There are people we call chatterbox. They talk all the time about everything and everyone with very little substance. They cannot handle silence between people. It is almost impossible to have a conversation with them. First, it is difficult enough to find that second of silence when we can start speaking. Secondly, we feel they do not listen to us as they will just continue on their own train of thought independently of what we say. These people feel incredibly lonely but they are blocking the inner experience of loneliness through constant chatter. They are typically married to people who never say a word and like to keep everything to themselves. They both feel very disconnected with the outside world but with opposite coping mechanisms. Chatterboxes live in their own bubble and do not realize that people are just waiting for an opportunity to end the conversation but are too polite to do so. Their continuous chatting is a distraction to their own insecurities and every painful experience they have repressed. This condition can degenerate with the person constantly talking to him/herself. This is common with homeless people on the street or older people living alone. This is how they cope with the intensity of their loneliness and fear of abandonment.
Some people may be surprised to see forgetfulness as a defense mechanism, but it is one that I often find in my coaching clients. That is why I strongly believe that having a tidy and organized environment is one of the first steps to gain back control over one’s life. Many of us disconnect from this physical reality to cope with our emotional traumas. We get lost in thoughts and spend a lot of our time unaware, lost in thinking fantasies. As a result, we lose our keys, misplace or leave our belongings everywhere. When I was 23, I was renting a room in a house. The landlord’s pet peeve was finding the toilet lid up and I kept forgetting about it. It really made him angry so I even put a sign in the toilet to remind me. Despite this, I would still forget it from time to time! He thought I was doing it on purpose and got very irritated with me, but I was not. It was an unconscious coping mechanism for my resistance in being in my body. My professional Silicon Valley career was very instrumental in grounding my first chakra, through project and people management, attention to details and improving my self-esteem. It actually takes a lot of dedication over many years to overcome forgetfulness and many people never do it. It is a defense mechanism that is very common with New Age people. Regular physical exercise, consistency in putting energy towards goals that involve a physical manifestation, keeping a schedule, keeping our house tidy and welcoming without going overboard, all help tremendously
- Hurtful words
Words can often do more damage than a sword and it can be used as a powerful but immature defense mechanism. My puberty started only when I was 16 and I looked like an 11 year-old boy then. This contributed to my low-esteem and I was often put down and even bullied, especially because I had the best grades at school. I wanted to fight back but my classmates were often much bigger and stronger than me so this was not an option. However, I was intuitive enough to know exactly what to say to strike that cord that hurts the most and I used it. My classmates called me cactus as they knew they could get stung by my words if they attacked me. When we have an internal « hurt » little boy, we typically create a protector personality that is a « mean » little boy. If this « mean » little boy attacks an even meaner person, he may get support from people around which may motivate him to stop his hurtful behavior. However, this form of attack, even when it is motivated by self-defense, builds additional resentment from the bully who will feel justified getting back at you in even worse ways. Besides people may not want to associate with us anymore as they start seeing us just as a mean and dangerous person. Hurting someone intentionally unless there is a legitimate reason for self-defense can be seen as a form of self-hatred projected onto others. There are situations however where we need to share some painful truth to our loved ones. There is a good formula to follow to ensure we are not hurting the person out of this immature coping mechanism. But before sharing potentially hurtful words, we need to ask ourselves « 1. Is it true? 2. Is it good or kind? 3. Is it useful or necessary? ». This is the triple filter test from Socrates. If we get a « no » on anyone of these questions, then it is best to keep these words for ourselves. When we have a disagreement with someone, and they go on the attack by saying harmful things, it is best to ignore it. This just tells you how powerless they feel. They want to take back control of the argument by triggering you. In most cases, responding will unnecessarily escalate the argument as they are already triggered and unable to process any feedback, no matter how constructive it may be. Remember that the way people treat you is their karma but the way you respond is yours.
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