Unconscious defences keep us from being real in relationships and can mess things up. Learn how to spot them and get real with each other.
We’ve all been there. In our heart we love someone – either despite or because of who they are / what they have done – but something holds back from expressing this love fully. We withhold our love, protect ourselves, build up walls, close off, or pretend. We don’t consciously want to, but somehow it just happens. Perhaps we have been hurt in the past and don’t want it to happen again. Perhaps we are cautious of being too happy in case it all falls apart. Perhaps we think we have to be someone or something else to get their attention and love.
When we are not being fully ourselves, or acting from our defence, we are unable to connect deeply and authentically. As a result we can feel very alone even when not alone. So what is it that keeps us from being real around other people, even those we love? What is it that makes us try to be what we think we should be? Or what we think others need or want us to be, rather than authentically and genuinely ourselves in every moment?
Fear is the opposite of love
You may have heard a saying that fear is the opposite of love. But what does it actually mean in real life? Fear makes us act and relate to others from our defence – our defence against the fear of being hurt, criticised, rejected, made wrong etc. In fear we behave ‘so that…’. In fear we gather evidence and read things into other people’s actions; we try to figure out what they mean and what their intentions are, and how we ‘should’ respond to get the reaction we want, and in order to keep ourselves safe. In fear we try to protect ourselves. We calculate and compare past experiences trying to predict the future and control outcomes.
In love (without fear) we simply trust. We trust ourselves and trust each other enough to allow ourselves to authentically express our thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires. We do this without too many filters and ‘shoulds’, acknowledging we cannot control another person’s thoughts or feelings. So we allow them to express themselves freely, without needing them to be a certain way. If one path fails, we take another direction. We don’t base our expectations of the future on things that have happened in the past. In love we know each situation is new and what happened in the past doesn’t have to affect us anymore. It may still do, but it doesn’t have to.
Dealing with fear
But what is this fear about? What should we do with it? Should we just ignore it, deny it, keep a stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on?
We all have our particular flavours of fear, but there are a few classic ones most people can relate to. For example: fear of being hurt, abandoned, rejected, not loved, criticised, ridiculed or shamed. We have fear of loss and fear of death. Most fears, on a deeper level, fall under one of these categories. Whatever the fear is, the thing that actually keeps us stuck is not the fear itself, but, paradoxically, the denial of it. We build a defence around it. Deny that it is fear – a feeling – and turn it into something concrete. We gather evidence to back it up and build a convincing case so that we can justify feeling it and make the story a fact. Instead of admitting, “I am afraid of X…” we say, “X is dangerous because…!
This is how we actually manifest our fears into physical reality.
Sometimes we defend ourselves by acting and behaving in the total opposite way to how we feel deep inside. Have you ever found yourself acting over-confidently or even arrogantly in a situation where you actually (if you’re really honest with yourself) feel insecure or unsafe? Have you ever noticed yourself pulling away – or pushing others away – when what you really deeply wanted was to be loved, held, and noticed? Subconsciously we think our defences keep us safe. We think they protect us from the hurt, the pain, and whatever it is we fear. But in acting from our defence, we are manifesting the very thing we fear!
Express, don’t suppress!
We all have our defences, some more obvious than others. The way to break through them is to acknowledge them.
When we catch ourselves behaving in a way that doesn’t feel completely authentic and in line with who we are – when we act from the ‘so that…’ intention rather than from a genuine expression of what we think and feel, we can have a look at what lies underneath. If we are acting as if we don’t care when we actually feel hurt, we may find that we are covering up the hurt so that we won’t be judged, or so that the other person doesn’t know they have this effect on us, or so that our pride and ego don’t get hurt as well. We will all have our own individual patterns, but with some time and inner inquiry we can begin to identify what they are.
Often this awareness alone helps to start breaking the patterns. But the real game-changer is in expressing our findings to the person involved. Instead of reacting from our defended fearful self, we actually express how we feel and what we are defending against. No matter how silly it seems. This may of course not always be appropriate in a work setting, but it’s a breakthrough in all intimate and personal relationships. It’s a challenge, but well worth it!
When we communicate and own our feelings to each other we are making ourselves vulnerable. It is through this vulnerability and letting ourselves be seen that we are able to truly connect with one another, heart to heart. From this open and expanded space, deep, intimate connection flows. The love dissolves the fear.
Next time you notice yourself getting triggered by your partner, close friend, or family member, take a few deep breaths and drop into your body. You may need to remove yourself from the situation for a moment to do this. Ask yourself, “What am I actually feeling?” Drop the story – who said or did what and what you make it mean in your head – and get to the bottom of it. Resist the temptation to react in your usual way – even if it is to ‘not react’ but to coil up, go silent and withdraw (that is still a reaction). Remember that the reaction is usually caused by a defence, not the feeling itself.
Drop into the feeling. When you feel ready – usually once the trigger has lost some of its charge – go back and own how you’re feeling. So this from a place of openness rather than accusation, and watch what happens. This is of course easier said than done. So just know that it gets easier with practice, and lots of it!
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