Have you ever been told, you’re defensive”? Most often, this sounds like an accusation, not an observation, coming at a time when we are likely feeling the need to protect ourselves.

Defenses,inandof themselves, can be a part of healthy functioning. They are a part of our emotional immune system, protecting us from perceived, and/or real harm. However, it is important to discern when our defenses are functioning in a healthy and effective wayor in an unhealthy and destructive way.Here are some questions we can ask to determine what defenses we mayfinduseful and how well they serve us.

  1. Are we aware of our defenses? Some of our defenses were developed long ago, even pre-verbally, and they may no longer be appropriate or beneficial to us. The more practiced and ingrained our defenses are, the less aware of them we may be.When we become aware ofactions, reactions, and choicesgetting in the way of successful accomplishment of the goals in our lives, or ofsomething that seems to disrupt the way we want to relate to family, friends or coworkers, there is a strong possibility that archaic defenses may be active but no longer serving us well.
  2. When we are aware of our defenses, but don’t seem to be able to control them, then it might be helpful to: (a) explore the original circumstances that caused the development of a defensive response patternand(b) discover new ways to cope with potential triggers of these outdated and unhelpfulemotional responses.
  3. What would happen if we relinquished a particular defensive response? Well, there may be some discomfort in letting go of old patterns, however, we may discover new and better ways of relatingto others and taking care of ourselves. Such examination deserves consultation withtrustedfriends who know us well and care for us. Consultation with a professional counselor can also help us assess the risk versus benefits of replacing a defensive response with new behavior.
  4. If, in fact, protection is needed in certain places and relationships, then it is important to be clear about what the real threat is and what we wish the desired outcome to be when dealing with such a situation. It is possible to find a new creativity and confidence in the face of situations that have baffled us in the past.

It is important to remember, defenses, in and of themselves, are not bad or wrong. But even our immune systems can become over active or under active and therefore benefit from medical interventions. The better we know ourselves, including our defensive patterns, the more choices we have for living, relating, and loving in healthy and fulfilling ways.

Ed Mitchell & Sharon Thompson