When we help clients embrace their defenses, we allow them to see that sharing their underlying emotional experiences allows them to process their deepest realities
Some of the hardest work we do as human beings revolves around building safety with other people. It is far from easy learning to engage softly and vulnerably with others. When I point to defensiveness, I speak to the protective layers of our hearts—at times, we learn that we have done wrong in the eyes of other people—there are insecure attachments where we might experience others failing to provide critical feedback and comfort, and instead, provoking us with hurtful and demeaning comments regarding our words or actions. When we experience prolonged verbal abuse or emotional neglect, we might experience some form of defense mechanism; we learn to repress emotions (hide them from others and ourselves), regress (acting out in ways that mirror earlier stages, like childhood), or displacement (replacing emotional experiences with new aims or ideas), to name a few. These are ways we protect others from seeing or experiencing the deepest parts of our souls.
We work with clients to engage with these protective layers of their hearts, trying to empathetically approach underlying fears, anxieties, shame, or guilt about sharing pain with their loved ones. Of course, it’s valid when individuals learn to hide their experiences, if all they might know is that they’ve been shut down or disregarded when they tried their hardest to be vulnerable with others in their lives.
When we help clients embrace their defenses, we allow them to see that sharing their underlying emotional experiences allows them to process their deepest realities. Embracing your defenses involves validation and understanding how your defenses were cultivated for a reason, as well as shaping how you see that the abuse or neglect you have suffered from has normalized over time. These defense mechanisms, while valid and protective, also hinder the ability to build safe and secure bonds with those in our lives.
When we work with couples, using the Emotionally-Focused therapy model, we find that couples are stuck in cycles of communication that incorporate some of these defenses. When maybe one partner is engaging and pursuing in a manner consistent with trying to understand and ask questions about a concern in the relationship, the other might be shutting down or withdrawing from sharing their underlying emotions with their partner. EFT allows us to approach these cycles in a way that clients can incorporate knowledge about what each partner hears when their partner engages in a specific manner and how to understand what is showing up when they’re unsure of how to communicate their vulnerable emotions.
In many ways, we see EFT as a model for practice and a tool for others to embrace their defenses. While some partners might be at a healthy place approaching and pursuing softly, others might be struggling. Whether this relationship is within your family, your romantic bond or with someone else in your life, it provides a lens into how we can reconstruct insecure ways of connecting.
If these insights bring to question concerns in your life or relationships, please feel free to reach out for support or to schedule an appointment with us. We want to cultivate a healthy connection with you, but we also want you to find the path to cultivate secure connection in your own life as well. Thanks