Vulnerability and The Paradox of Defence
It’s very common for us to want to change our thought patterns or behaviours. We can be uncomfortable with the things we think and do, and find that other people criticise us for these thoughts and behaviours too. We can feel our vulnerability; change seems like the solution. However, it might be that another approach – working with our defences -might be more useful.
Vulnerability and our defences
Typically, the things that we would like to change are the things that we do to defend ourselves. These defensive behaviours protect our vulnerability and might include withdrawing from arguments, becoming over-heated in conversations, becoming vague in our thinking or a wide range of other actions, some of which you would recognise as mild forms of ‘fight or flight’ responses.
However, much we might want to rid ourselves of these behaviours it is worth looking at what positive things they might be doing for us.
In many cases these defensive actions are designed to keep us safe from threats – and they sometimes work quite well, even if their impact on other people can be negative.
You don't need threat to feel threatened
A key to understanding these behaviours is to recognise that even if there actually is no threat, we may still be feeling vulnerability and that there is little – in the short term at least – that we can do to change this perception.
When we feel threatened we are under extreme pressure and it can be very difficult to stop engaging behaviours we think will make us safer. Think about it; imagine a situation that threatens you, and someone is suggesting that you remove your defences. Why on earth would you.
If you do this, typically you’re only going to feel more exposed and more like defending yourself.
Working with our defences
We need to bear this in mind when working with our defences – feeling vulnerability makes change harder.
Paradoxically, I often encourage people to defend themselves more overtly whenever they feel they need to. Why? Because if people feel well defended they feel safer and more secure, and in time this safety and security may well lead to a natural sense of feeling secure, and less defences.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about the difficulties of staying at something when it's going well.
– Tim Hill