Everyone uses psychological tactics to cope with the world. These attitudes and associated behaviors protect us from stress and strain. But, they can become traps which limit us and keep us “stuck.” Self awareness is an important antidote. It is a vital, conscious step towards learning and growth.
In Affluence Intelligence, the authors focus on balance and fulfillment. They also identify common human defenses that can be impediments to success. This list, I think, comes to work with us and our colleagues every day.
False Stories Overburdened, martyr, victim, too smart to learn, more special or deserving than others?These are some of the stories we tell ourselves. This negative self-talk that is destructive. Believing these stories can cost us. It is a kind of thinking that takes a partial truth, makes it the whole truth and becomes a false image.
Magical Thinking In contrast to taking active responsibility for actions, this defense is waiting for Someone to “fix” what’s wrong or missing. It takes optimistic thinking to the extreme. While dreaming and idealizing are natural it’s not a good idea to routinely swap reality for fantasy.
Grasping When we look outside ourselves to a thing, person, event or activity to make them content or feel complete, this is grasping. Unfortunately, this defense can become a never-ending cycle that ensures discontent. Buddhists have advice in this realm. They suggest working on an “egoless” mind.
Spacing Out Simply, put it is disassociation. This is a type of repressive defense. It happens when we face anxiety and skip past it. If we can put away something that’s uncomfortable then we forget about it – temporarily.
Denial Pushing feelings away may be necessary sometimes. It can help us do what must be done now so we aren’t overwhelmed. But, it’s not helpful if it’s a constant reply to life. Acknowledging a situation, facing reality and taking action is very often the best course.
Avoidance This is a more conscious choice than denial. For example, I know I need to talk with my aging parent about her healthcare provider, but I don’t want the emotional confrontation it will bring. So, I don’t.
Splitting This is when we pursue all or nothing thinking. It can protect us by making someone or something else take all the blame. It excludes our role and populates the world with heroes and villains. Considering our own deficiencies and contributions is important in any situation. It requires integration and maturity to see complexities and shades of gray in relationships.
Personal History A sense of ourselves is based on the sum of our personal experiences. The power of habit may tempt us to define ourselves by a history that is familiar and negative. For example, if you had a childhood that was difficult and fearful, you choose to continue or discontinue those feelings as an adult. In part, this is why people abused as children may become child abusers. Unconsciously repeating past experiences and feelings is common.
Projection When you are consistently uncomfortable about something in yourself and cite criticisms of others about that behavior you are projecting. It is finger-pointing that really translates to our own anxiety, sense of scarcity or fears.
Certainly, real external events in our lives and work have an impact on us. Handling those events is key to effectiveness. Defenses can have a payoff and a price. To manage others well – we have to manage ourselves. Spend time reflecting and seek feedback to garner self knowledge. Are you clear about what you’re doing and why?
Consider the preceding list and think about patterns in your own responses and others. Make an action plan to minimize defenses and maximize your personal growth. So that the knowledge, skills and experience of others can flourish think carefully about how you can assist each of them get past “stinking thinking.”
-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com