Read Part I – Pathological defense mechanisms
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Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than average to be moody and to experience such feelings as anxiety, worry, depressed mood, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, and loneliness. People who are neurotic respond worse to life pressures and are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult.
Neurotic defense mechanisms are actually fairly common in adults, as they offer quick relief with the serious disadvantage of negatively impacting intimate relationships, work and quality of life.
- Somatization or conversion
Because of the mind body connection, mental and emotional issues may be expressed in the physical body. Conversion or somatization is a defense mechanism whereby the anxiety caused by repressed impulses and feelings are ‘converted’ into a physical complaint. It is the transformation of negative feelings towards others or oneself into a physical ailment. It is the attempt for the body to express the real emotional issue in order to bring it to conscious awareness for resolution. Psychosomatic diseases fall into that category. I have discussed this topic in-depth in a previous article. Children who are deeply enmeshed with a mother struggling with anxiety issues fall automatically sick when the mother is too stressed. This way, she comes to the rescue of the ailing child who fills her inner void. When I was 13, I started developing stomachaches, nausea symptoms and high anxiety before math exams though I was a top student. My mother brought me to various doctors who would prescribe me with aspirin or simply said it would get better with time. In reality, I had suffered severe abandonment traumas when I was 9, and for various reasons, my subconscious mind believed that I needed perfect math grades not to be abandoned again. This was too much pressure to “stomach” for a teenager. In the software company I was running in the Silicon Valley, I used to manage a bright CTO who had problems with authority because of unresolved trauma with his father. A couple of times every year, we would have disagreements that would quickly escalate. He would get very upset, then fall sick and things would calm down a couple of days later. This pattern must have happened over a dozen times. Because he could not afford losing his job, he would convert or somatize his negative feelings towards his superior into an illness. For this reason, it is important to listen to our body to early identify the process of somatization which would give us a clue on what we need to work on emotionally. There is a lot of valuable information on the Internet about the spiritual meaning of any disease or ailment. Read it when you are having a physical symptom and feel how this resonates with you to identify the emotional source of the ailment. Then perform a soul retrieval process to release and heal the emotions linked to the painful memory. If you are consistent and diligent doing this, you will hardly ever get sick. According to Dr Bruce Lipton, up to 90% of all doctor visits are directly related to stress. Through meditation and inner listening, we can work through the difficult emotions consciously so that they do not manifest physically. In case of somatization, a skilled therapist or life coach can contribute much more to healing than a family doctor.
- Tics and Tourette syndrome
Tics are rapid movements or sounds that are repeated over and over for no reason. A person with a tic cannot control the movement or sounds. Examples of common tics include throat clearing, eye blinking, arm jerking, shoulder shrugging or sniffing. Tics often get worse when a person feels stressed, tired, anxious, or excited which confirms that they are psychosomatic. This is a sub category of somatization as a defense mechanism. The body expresses the thoughts and feelings that are unacceptable for the mind to see.
Displacement occurs when a person represses emotions or impulses that they feel towards another person. Because they feel that it is irrational, socially unacceptable or too risky to demonstrate such feelings, the psyche prevents them from being converted into actions. However, the feelings are instead displaced towards a person or animal whom it is easier to express such sentiments for, and unfortunately it is typically someone more vulnerable. When I was 10 years old, after my parents had separated, I lived alone with my father. Once, he came home early in the evening as I was watching TV. He probably had a bad day and displaced it all on me. He started by turning off the TV, which elicited protest from me, which led into spanking and crying alone in my bedroom. Unfortunately, we all have been both the persecutor and the recipient of displacement with our loved ones. This is very common with married couples. After a hard day at work, we are likely to bring back the negativity back home, which creates inevitably an argument with our spouse. Animals are also common victims of displacement and the media abounds with stories of animal cruelty. Children who are cruel towards animals are often the ones who are abused by their primary caregivers, and this is how the cycle of abuse is passed on.
When the world around us appears to be unbearable, we may use dissociation as a defense mechanism to momentarily lose our connection to the world around us. We would feel separated from the outside world, as though we exist in another realm. We may enter a state of daydreaming, staring into space and letting our mind wander. When we are dissociated, we are highly suggestible and this fact is well too known by mind control cult trainers. When there is dissociation, the mind fragments as a way of self-preservation. The traumatic memories are compartmentalized into a separate fragment so that the front personality may continue to function. With repeated traumas, the front personality may lose conscious awareness of the other abused personalities that get more and more repressed. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) originates from dissociation. Repeated exposure to dangerous situations will lead to complex PTSD and BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). In most extreme cases, the victim will develop DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) or multiple front personalities that have no conscious awareness of each other. Recovering the traumatic memories through journaling or with a skilled and compassionate therapist, doing parts work are the most effective ways to reintegrate the personality.
- Hoarding and excessive cleanliness
When individuals feel excessively powerless towards relationships and other people, they will move their attention from people to objects to regain a sense of control. Manic cleaners will compensate their internal chaos and powerlessness towards people by ensuring extreme control over the objects in their environment. On the opposite, the hoarders are creating layers of stuff to protect themselves from the perceived hostile environment in order to recreate a false sense of security. Hoarders are coping with their inner worthlessness by keeping all objects that are seen as worthless to other people. It is their desperate attempt not to feel disposable to other people. They identify with the junk that they keep. To overcome this disorder, they need to feel consciously the excruciating pain of worthlessness and powerlessness experienced towards other people that originated from their childhood. There are some famous hoarders. Nicolas Cage has a collection of rare stuffed birds, lizards, snakes, an octopus, a sixty-seven million year old dinosaur skull, and a collection of shrunken heads. Angelina Jolie started collecting knives at age fourteen. As a teenager, her interest in them veered towards self-destruction. She would use the knives she collected to self-harm, and has also been known to involve them while having sex. We need to remember that for a cutter, self harm gives a sense of release hence safety, which is counterintuitive. We are all hoarders to some various degrees and we will have a tendency to hoard items that make us feel safe. Collectors are refined hoarders, and the many rich people hoard money for the same reason: safety.
Hypochondriasis is the excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness. By going from doctor to doctor in search of what is wrong with them, they avoid taking responsibility for the emotional dynamic that created the ailment in the first place. This is their way to avoid the painful buried emotions. They suffer from a deep sense of powerlessness, and they see themselves as a victim in a threatening world. They feel a great sense of relief when a medical professional can label their ailment. They have projected the omniscience and omnipotence of their parents onto health professionals. Their idealization of the doctors as the ultimate authority translates metaphorically as their resistance to see their parents’ imperfection in order to avoid taking responsibility for their own life. Making doctors or parents wrong would provoke too much anxiety as they feel incapable of overcoming life challenges on their own. I have a brother who is a hypochondriac. He is in fact resisting to see his mother’s shadows as he is too afraid to detach from her since he sees her as his only genuine support. By making what is wrong about them external, they do not have to face the shame of creating the ailment. Their low self-esteem would not be able to bear it. The heavily subsidized French health care system is making it easier for this disorder to develop among all social classes of the population while it is a luxury in the USA because of the prohibitive cost of healthcare.
Because of repeated emotional abuse or neglect, sociopaths have lost the capacity for empathy. They have lost the ability to feel. Their heart has been completely walled off and they are unable to feel the effect they have on other people. Many of them want to be a good person however but it is completely driven by their mind. They can perceive but do not feel. By shutting down their heart, they avoid the painful feelings in order to get on with their life. They do not understand why people have such strong reactions towards them while they meant no harm. Their lack of attunement causes them to hurt people unintentionally. They are unwillingly toxic. Because of this, they do not trust themselves and many turn into codependents (the ones that want to be good). Because they have disconnected from their heart, they do not have a core so they are unreliable, and they will throw you under the bus if someone more influential comes along. When people lash at them, they would typically deflect back to avoid facing the shame of their own emotional condition. It is difficult to heal sociopathy because the sociopath would first need to feel what is wrong with them but they do not feel anything. Typically, it takes some external tragedy to start cracking their walls and to rehabilitate their heart. Shamanic medicine can be extremely effective to help them feel again. One of my primary caregivers was sociopathic. He would often forget my birthday or if he remembered, he would make a mistake on my age when I was a kid. He would give me the wrong type of presents (free branded stuff he would get from his company), have no picture of me in his apartment while his new wife had pictures of their son (my younger half brother) everywhere or make me sleep on a couch while a bed with clean linens was available. I would get upset but he could not understand why.
- Reaction formation
With reaction formation, we convert the unconscious wishes or impulses that are perceived to be dangerous into their opposites and we display a behavior that is completely the opposite of what we really want or feel. We take the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety. For example, a man may experience feelings of love towards a married woman. Because the fulfillment of his desires would contradict social norms regarding acceptable behavior, a reaction formation occurs – the man may experience feelings of dislike towards her – the opposite of the original feelings. In the same way, a person who has been socialized to believe that intimate same-sex relationships are wrong or sinful, but is attracted to members of the same sex would show unusual animosity towards the people s/he is sexually attracted to, i.e. the LGBT community. In Victor Hugo’s novel Notre Dame De Paris, the priest Frollo experiences reaction formation towards Esmeralda. He is madly in love with her which is not acceptable for a man of God so he hangs her to death.
- Shoulding and musting
There are some people who cannot help giving constant free advice, correcting others or have more rules and regulations than the army, navy and air force combined! They are impossible to be around. Shoulding and musting is their own way to cope with their own inadequacy, core shame and lack of self-love. They constantly see what other people do wrong in order to feel better about themselves because of their poor self-image. They focus on others’ faults so that they do not have to see their own shadows. This behavior isolates them from other people so they end up reliving the abandonment trauma and the feelings of worthlessness that they had buried. Many so-called spiritual guides fall into that category and they cannot help but fix everyone around them constantly. A friend of mine has a husband who loves skiing. Yet, he cannot help giving ski lessons to his wife and daughter always emphasizing what they are doing wrong on the slopes. As a result, they do not want to join him anymore in his favorite activity and he fell into a depression, feeling rejected and unloved. As shoulding and musting are a form of projection, they need to face their own inadequacy and the childhood traumas that originated from it.
It is the temporary reversion to an earlier stage of development. Regression functions as form of retreat, enabling a person to psychologically go back in time to a period when the person felt safer. A child may begin to suck their thumb again or wet the bed after the separation of his parents. I believe I started my puberty very late because aspects of me did not want to grow up after my parents’ divorce. One of my partners’ child was stuck on the anal phase though he was 8 years old. This was his attempt to be back as a baby when he used to spend so much time with mum. Besides, stress of adult life and the related anxiety may lead us to seek comfort in things which we associate with more secure, happier times. Comfort food is the food we were given as a child and it is soothing to have it when we are depressed. It brings back memories of safety and happiness. We may be drawn to eat the same candies we used to have as a kid, or watch the old movies and cartoons of our childhood. I have a friend who has been through a bad break-up and meets friends every week to play Dungeons & Dragons. When done consciously, regression may be healthy, provide good feelings and can even be a form of inner child work.
Repression is perhaps the most significant of defense mechanisms in that repressed feelings and impulses can lead to the use of many other mechanisms. Repression blocks many unpleasant feelings that could cause too much anxiety for the conscious mind. However forgetting about a problem does not solve the problem. In the same way, the buried emotions keep influencing us in dramatic ways through the law of mirroring. Our society has the same fear towards negative emotions so the anti-depressant market size is $16B. It is critical that we learn to accept the discomfort of unpleasant feelings and emotions and learn from them. They point us to emotional aspects in us that require healing just like the pain of a physical injury is conducive to healing. For many of us, repression has become second nature so the toxic emotions can poison us from within, and can be the cause of auto-immune diseases and even cancer. In this situation, the use of shamanic medicine can be a life saver. After losing my children to parental alienation, I had accumulated a lot of toxic shame, I felt horrible and stuck. When I took Ayahuasca at that time, I purged intensely and cried for over 10 hours. This was a very difficult journey but it healed me profoundly and probably averted a serious disease. Meditation is a more natural and less drastic way to scan the painful emotions that want to come to the surface. It is important to embrace them and work with them consciously to stay healthy. They have a lot to teach us. We are light and shadow, and integration means accepting and loving both of these aspects.
Phobia are an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. It may come from a traumatic memory or may be simply a transgenerational trauma. Adolf Hitler was the product of an incestual and pedophile relationship between his father Alois Hitler and Klara his mother who started to be sexually abused by Alois at age 9. Adolf’s little mouth also served as a servile, frightened female orifice for his violent father. It is then not surprising that as an adult, the supreme ruler of Germany, Adolf was afraid to sleep alone at night, and suffered a mouth washing compulsion. He was so sickened by the thought of putting flesh in his mouth that he became a vegetarian. I have acrophobia (fear of heights) but I believe this was passed on from my mother to me. I have worked on it for many years in order to climb a number of high mountains in the world. Because the fear is so deeply rooted in the subconscious, it is difficult to control and heal a phobia. I had a partner who would feel extremely anxious when it was very windy. As a child, she would be cruelly abused by a family acquaintance every time it was windy. Her perpetrator was in the same way abused by his own father when it was very windy. Other common phobia are aerophobia (fear of flying), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), cynophobia (fear of dogs), astraphobia (fear of lighting), trypanophobia (fear of injections), agoraphobia (fear of getting trapped) or mysophobia (fear of germs). One of my former partners had trypophobia, which is is the aversion to the sight of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes, or bumps. After doing some soul retrieval work with her, we realized it came from repressed memories of seeing animal corpses decomposing in her traumatic childhood. Phobias often come with repression and displacement too. In American psychiatrist Scott Peck’s bestseller People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, there is a heavily enmeshed daughter with her mother who has arachnophobia. The daughter feels subconsciously that she is being eaten alive by her mother.
Catastrophizing is an irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. Catastrophizing can generally take two different forms: making a catastrophe out of a current situation, and imagining making a catastrophe out of a future situation. There are many reasons why we may be affected with this condition. Bad things happened to us in the past so we are afraid they may happen again, the most extreme case being PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder). Because of childhood traumas, we may have the core belief that we are bad so bad things should happen to us. People suffering from BPD are catastrophizing because they suffer from disorganized attachment, meaning that they were abused by the same people they had to bond with. As a result, they always live on the edge and never feel a sense of safety. To heal from that condition, we need to create an internal part that can reassure us, and through repetition, as the doom scenario does not occur, the catastrophizer within us will have less and less control. If your partner suffers from this condition, make sure to always have your cell phone with you, and update her/him often not to worry them unnecessarily.
- Apathic withdrawal
Apathic withdrawal is a direct consequence of repression. We put ourselves to sleep so that the painful emotions would not surface. The repressed emotions poison our internal emotional world and we become depressed as a result, lacking vitality, enthusiasm and interest in life. We may spend over 10 hours a day sleeping and spending the rest of the time eating or watching TV. Apathy is one of the most powerless states we can experience, and to get out of it, we need to make space first for raw negative emotions such as anger, grief, fear, guilt or sadness before contemplating experiencing positive emotions. Over medicated people often have this condition as the anti-depressants are repressing their toxic emotions that need instead to be released consciously. To step out from this condition, it is important to perform activity that we really love or feel some sense of inspiration. We need to stretch ourselves but not to the point of breaking. Being in a supportive environment with people that genuinely appreciate us can make a world of difference too. Many husbands or wives have a minor form of this coping mechanism as they start feeling very tired, sometimes to the point of falling asleep, when a difficult argument erupts with their spouse.