A Healthy Defense

As a therapist working with “parts” I have come to understand defenses intimately. By parts I am referring to the “inner child” and the wounds that need to be healed for the child and for the adult self. To make that a bit easier to digest think of trauma as a brain injury. As a result of traumatic experience we develop hot spots on our brains that are the psychological wounds incurred through our experiences. As we move through life these hot spots can get activated at various times. As a result of activation the inner child pops out of the box scared, angry, confused, and may feel utterly alone. We are knocked off center at these times.

And then there are the defense parts that are either proactive or reactive parts according to Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS). Defense parts think they are helping us. They don’t want us to ever be hurt. At times we are venturing out into new water these fierce protectors can actually shut us down rather then allow us an opportunity to risk new injury. Think about the times you engage in unhealthy avoidance or distraction….alcohol use, porn, working too much, self-injury, and/or suicidal behaviors. Think about the times you refuse to work toward changing habits. Our defenses don’t want us to be uncomfortable and will distract us at all costs from potential danger.

Defense parts may attempt to highjack your thoughts by keeping your focus on the painful past. They don’t want you to ever forget what happened because these parts fear that if you forget the past you will repeat the past. These parts are unaware that you have moved on and that time itself has moved on.

As a result we may become obsessed with the past and can’t seem to turn off the images that play over and over in our heads. We can begin to seek out the negative in every interaction and look for signs of threat nonstop.

Have compassion for these parts because they are undoubtedly trying to work for you. They just need to know that we are in charge and that vulnerability is healthy. They need to know that risks equal growth and that we have a much bigger tool box then we did as younger versions of ourselves.

We are supposed to have defenses as human beings otherwise we can become overwhelmed easily and walk straight into danger without thought or care. But the problem is the defenses are steeped in trauma memory and therefore may not be functioning properly. Take them with you but make sure you are the one steering the ship.

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