Ever wonder why as rational and educated many of us are, we still seem to play the silliest irrational games - avoiding, denying, rationalizing, spinning? Sometimes it all looks so screwy but many of these are attempts to protect ourselves.
Often, as a defense mechanism, we hide behind masks that, in many cases, have been carefully crafted to be “socially acceptable and impressive”. There is wisdom in healthy boundaries, those protection strategies that help us to act wisely in situations that may be dangerous and harmful. The rub is many of these defense mechanisms indiscriminately keep all people out - even God. These masks have a serious downside - isolation. While we may be somewhat successful managing the risk of life, we often manage the life out of living - they often inhibit our ability to really get to know ourselves and others, and others' ability to get to really know us.
These defense mechanisms inhibit the exploration of our own lives, recognizing our strengths, addressing areas of weakness and discovering our unique personality - all of which contribute to a rich and full life. Please understand me on this point; God loves you perfectly - through and through - however, our ability to experience this love, and its ability to transform us is inhibited when we relate to God from behind masks. God deals with truth, and we can experience that love more profoundly in those places where we are authentic. To this end, here are a few common masks or defense mechanism that many of us employ in one form or another.
The Victim Mentality
The victim often keeps others out thinking “nobody can possibly understand how hurt I am” No one can understand the pain of ______. This means that because no one could understand your loss - no one is a credible voice to come and walk alongside you through the pain. We efficiently construct a wall around ourselves (and our pain), and we are alone even in our legitimate hurt. In essence, the pain we experienced and our effort for it not to happen again leads us to a place where the very thing that keeps us wounded is embraced tightly because we somehow believe in releasing the pain we will be vulnerable to hurt again.
Blaming others is another common defense mechanism. As we shift blame for the painful things in our lives to other people -we remain a victim - it’s always someone else's fault. By avoiding responsibility for our actions, words, inactions and our response to those of others - we are rendered powerless. We can only change the things we have the responsibility for. By accepting healthy responsibility, we begin to see ourselves a little more clearly and then take action to address those issues that we don’t like in ourselves. It allows us to experience God in those areas and allows the Holy Spirit to begin His work to bring healing. We can’t be set free from an issue we don’t believe we have!
Remember - God loves us and is on our side. Safe in the unshakable love of God we can find the courage to accept responsibility for our own “stuff”, address it and make the changes we need to.
Intellectualism / Elitism
In some situations, intellect/pretense is defense mechanisms. We use what we know and our ability to think to spin situations, manipulate others (oftentimes ourselves) and yes, God. For example, we can throw around fancy words to intimidate people - words are to communicate and if the people you are using the fancy words on don't understand those words - well, you aren't communicating! We can also use our intellect to argue, deny and rationalize a whole host of things - where it becomes winning an argument rather than what is healthy, true and loving.
Knowing and the ability to think can be good and healthy unless they are used to hide our true selves. To protect ourselves from potential rejection or to elevate ourselves above others, in effect diminishing them so we can feel more secure about ourselves.
Not unlike the Intellectualism, the super-spiritual defense mechanism attempts to take the moral high ground - through our knowledge about God, our practice and our ability to look and sound spiritual. This is not unlike the Pharisees who used their ecclesiastical position and religious knowledge to distinguish themselves from others by being better based on their spirituality. Watch for "God told me…"
I am a Good Person
This one is tricky and probably one that most serves as a defense mechanism against God. It goes like this: we manage our relationship with God on the basis of whether we think we are a good person or not. If we believe that we are acceptable to God on the basis of our performance, Christianity is reduced to a form of moralism - how to be a good person.
PLEASE - I am not suggesting that being moral is a bad thing -- it's not. It is however when we use our good performance, the amount we pray, read our bibles or tithe as a means of insulating ourselves from the transformation that comes through an intimate relationship with the Father. Many of us enjoy God to a point - usually up to the point of genuine surrender - where God may be asking us to go deeper and to perhaps give up some control of our life. When we start to feel the angst of this invitation and in our reluctance to go any further, we rationalize the status quo with “I am a good person”.
Just think how many people you have shared Christ with who stop short of making a commitment to follow Jesus because “I am a good person”. Probably one of the most prevalent defense mechanisms going!
There are plenty more defense mechanisms we employ when dealing with each other and with God. I have found by learning to recognize these strategies and when I am employing them allows me to better see why I am using them. I can then ask myself what it is I am truly trying to protect.
To live loved is to allow our defense mechanisms to be lowered. Trusting God and His perfect love to cultivate wholeness in us and others. It is in this we learn that we no longer need to hide from God - no longer having to fashion covering to hide our nakedness - our shame. We experience the love and acceptance of God at our best and in our lows, at our worst. In embracing our broken parts, in the love of God we are transformed, healed and set free to live more genuinely. As important, it frees us to love others (and God) in a deeper more genuine way.
- What one defense mechanism or mask are you living with?
- What is it you are trying to protect?
- What is it you might be most afraid of?
- Would you consider inviting Jesus into that one area?
- What do you think Jesus would say to you?
- Is this leading to life and freedom? Super! Let these thoughts bathe that fear/issue.
- Feeling shame and guilt? Perhaps you could to reflect on: