DECEMBER 14, 2022 – We have all learned to defend ourselves from supposed external threats. Stopping doing so as a system will allow us to open up to life with confidence.
Everyone has several psychological mechanisms to defend themselves against possible external adversities: introjection, projection, and retroflection. In appearance, they provide us with security but, in return, they stifle our true way of being and feeling.
OPENING UP TO LIFE
People live immersed in a world where they must obtain the things they need to exist and reject others potentially harmful to them. These exchanges between us and our environment take place both physically and psychically.
Just as we must turn to the outside world to obtain our daily food, our psychic and emotional needs must also be satisfied by actions that are directed outward.
Now, the outside world – both natural and that which refers to culture and society – demands certain things from us in return, or as a condition, in order to satisfy our needs.
The state of biological and emotional health – if this distinction can be made – has a lot to do with developing a balance between the individual and the environment, between what is “me” and what is not; between personal needs and the needs of the society of which we are a part.
SCOUNDRELS OR NEUROTICS
The psychoanalyst and father of Gestalt therapy Fritz Perls said that when a person is too focused on his own needs, he is a criminal. I think that calling this state a criminal is a bit exaggerated. For me, someone who does not consider the needs of those around him and who goes his own way is rather a scoundrel.
At the other extreme, Perls argued, when the needs of society weigh too heavily on the individual, the result is a neurotic person, which is, after all, what most of us are.
It might seem that the way out of our neurotic suffering must be to become scoundrels. I don’t think so. As the social beings that we are and in need of others, we will not be truly happy mistreating, despising, or using those around us without scruples.
Scoundrels are deluded, they forget how essential recognition and genuine love are for people. Most of us know that we need the love and presence of others. However, in this quest, we have allowed the outside world to be the architect of our good or discomfort, and it has become overpowering.
3 DEFENSE MECHANISMS TO ABANDON
In order to protect ourselves from this outside world that we feel is threatening, people often develop stereotyped modes of behavior that are commonly known as defense mechanisms precisely because they defend us from these supposed dangers.
The problem is that these mechanisms, although effective, are so at the cost of sacrificing authentic contact with the outside world and, particularly, with others. In other words, we take the uncertainty out of the encounter with others, but, in exchange, we get dull, repetitive, or biased attachments due to our own judgments.
Disarming the defensive mechanisms with which we “dampen” and “misrepresent” our relationship with the outside world is of utmost importance. Various defense mechanisms have been described that can interrupt our path of personal growth. Writers from https://essayswriter.org/ write about this perfectly in their research. Let us look at them:
The mechanism of introjection consists of taking as one’s own something that is external. The image that best describes this mechanism is that of swallowing a whole mouthful without chewing.
We take ideas, values, or beliefs from our environment and introduce them without elaborating on our own. We do not do as when we chew something and then digest it to get what is nutritious and discard the rest, but we swallow them whole.
As it would happen with food, this undigested psychological material remains there as a foreign body -we call it an introject- occupying place, preventing the elaboration of proper concepts and provoking discomfort.
Introjection is a forced adaptation. Introjects force us to act in certain ways, following rigid tendencies, repeating ourselves repeatedly, or feeling strange when we deviate from that prefixed line. These are the “shoulds,” the mandates, and the dogmas…
When someone uses introjection as a defensive mechanism, he says “I” when it is more about “they”: “I believe that…”; but, in reality, “it is they who believe that…”. It is important to experience what one feels to detach oneself from this mechanism. Emotion is always authentic, and when someone forces himself to follow a mandate that he has not assimilated, something inside him usually rebels.
Let’s think about a man who attends a party without his wife. During the course of the evening, a beautiful woman makes a pass at him. He, after some hesitation, goes with her to spend the evening together and, at the most intimate moment, he fails to get an erection.
Our man returns home without having had sex. “I wanted to,” he will explain to his therapist, “but I couldn’t.” The therapist asks, “And why did you want to?”. “Well,” he replies, “she offered herself to me. How could I say no to her – I’m a man!” The introjection in this case could be stated as, “A real man does not refuse the possibility of sleeping with a beautiful woman.”
He does not want to, and his body – wiser than he is – does not agree to do so. He wants to be “a man” and forces himself to accede to her desires. If he would relax his idea of what it is to be “a real man”, he might respect her genuine desire more… but that, of course, takes work.
Projection is another very common mechanism with which we manipulate our relationship with the outside. It is the inverse of introjection since what is perceived as external is, in reality, our own.
It is a way of safeguarding our self-image. Confronted with an aspect of ourselves that we reject and that is irreconcilable with the image we have of ourselves -or that we wish to have-, we project it onto others -just like an image on a movie screen- and we see in them what we do not want to see in ourselves.
Someone who uses projection as a defensive mode usually says “they” or “it”, when, in truth, they are saying “I”. This mechanism is behind paranoia and reveals that the one who feels persecuted surely has the desire to persecute. Most of the time, the projection is more subtle and is behind many of our negative perceptions of reality.
A classic example is that of someone who says: “So-and-so won’t take his eyes off me. He’s got it in for me. Surely, the person speaking keeps an eye on So-and-so to know what he does and doesn’t do.
If someone can recognize his projections, he can begin to understand how he is the cause – or at least the support – of the other’s aggressive behavior. Secondly, he will begin to develop a more complete and authentic view of himself.
On the other hand, retroflection is a defense mechanism that can be defined as a “backward deviation.” What is diverted is the action, which instead of being directed outwards – the original destination – is twisted and returns to the starting point, that is to say, to oneself.
Result: the person does to himself what he wants to do to others. When someone uses retroflection, in a way, he doubles himself: he does, and, at the same time, it is done to him. He became an observer and observed, judge and party. It is understandable, then, that guilt is one of the main manifestations of retroflection.
Let’s think of a woman who takes care of her sick mother. She visits her mother frequently and sacrifices her personal life to care for her. However, she feels guilt and thinks she should be with her more, she berates herself for not giving her the time and money she does not have.
If we were to ask her why she punishes herself, she might answer: “for being a bad daughter.” She makes demands on the mother – even though the mother has none – and her response is almost always anger. In reality, she is angry with her mother because her mother’s supposed demand has forced her to give up.
But this anger is unconfessable -how can she be angry with an old, sick woman-so? She twists her emotion, gives it back, and gets angry with herself. To regain her balance, this woman should acknowledge her anger. Perhaps then she can see that her mother is not responsible for what is happening to her and decide how much she wants and can help her. Then, even if it is painful, she will do it with less guilt.
Abandoning our defensive mechanisms brings us face-to-face and without manipulation with the world and others. We show ourselves as we are and see those around us as they are. It is a process that requires courage because it involves relating to others without the certainty that they will accept us. But it is also a transcendental step in terms of our emotional health and our ability to grow and develop as people.