Has this ever happened to you? Someone upsets you or hurts your feelings so you confront that person. In a kind and sensitive way you share your feelings and you are careful not to focus on the offender but on the behavior that is causing the problem.
To your amazement, that person is able to switch places with you. Suddenly, that person is the victim and you are now the offender! You are being accused of upsetting him!
When we play the victim, we divert the blame away from ourselves by turning the offended into the offender. Consequently, the problem or our partner's hurt is not addressed or acknowledged. Nothing gets resolved because we are speaking with our child voice - not our adult voice. When playing this role, we ought to ask ourselves, 'Am I so immature and insecure that I can never be responsible for anything I do? Why can't I ever admit being wrong?'
The above illustration is an example of one of the defense mechanisms we use when we feel guilty. The fact that we use defense mechanisms means that we do not value guilt nor know what to do with it. If we appreciated guilt, we would be using it as a self-awareness tool. Guilt would be serving us. Before examining the value of guilt, let's look at some of the other defense mechanisms.
Defense mechanisms are like protective shields we use to deny, divert the blame or punish ourselves. Anger is one of the frequently used defense mechanisms. We figure that if our anger is intense enough maybe our partner will back off and stop talking about what we did wrong.
Another defense mechanism is saying, 'I'm no good.' When our partner presents a grievance, instead of dealing with what we did, we take out the guilt whip and begin beating ourselves up with self-degrading statements such as, 'I'm so stupid. I should have never married. I'm not a good husband. I never do anything right.
I'm a loser.' If we have a lot of self-anger, we may be angrier with ourselves than with our partner. We are angry with ourselves for not being perfect, for making mistakes, or for disappointing our partner. So we go around pouting, feeling sad and punishing ourselves. We need to ask, 'What is the appropriate amount of self-punishment? How do we know when we have felt bad long enough?' By punishing ourselves we have taken the focus away from the problem and from our partner. In truth, our partner would rather we admit the wrong and do something about it. Perhaps we beat ourselves up in order not to change or to avoid the problem.
The real problem of defense mechanisms arises when they are used and viewed as solutions..
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700