DR. ATHENA STAIK
When your brain shifts to a protective mode, during a discussion with your partner, it gets tricked into believing that your survival, literally your life, is at stake. This is an emotional experience. It feels real inside. And if it feels real, it is a reality felt physically throughout your body in the moment. This may not make sense to your logical mind; however, emotions drive behaviors, not logic. In the case of fear-based emotions, they hijack logic completely.
This is why it’s so vital to break free of thinking patterns that trigger protective strategies, which, in effect, limit your capacity to connect emotionally. Not only does defensive reactivity erode intimacy and fun in your relationship, it also creates distance between you and those you most love.
It blocks your ability to:
- Empathically connect with self and other.
- Think clearly to reflect on what you want, need, feel, etc.
- Problem solve by looking at options, plans, what works, and so on.
- Cultivate a better understanding of one another.
- Strengthen your relationship by increasing your sense of trust and safety.
- Celebrate new ways to make life more wonderful.
What thinking patterns are prevalent instead? Comparisons! You were taught to regularly compare yourself to others, in order to:
- See who comes up short.
- Determine who is superior and inferior.
- Decide whose fault it is or who’s to blame.
- And so on!
Wasting energy on a view of yourself and your partner as either right/wrong, effective/defective, superior/inferior, and so on, does not produce resourceful states in you!
Even if you “win” one moment, your brain remains on guard, scanning the environment for possible threats to your “superior” position in relation to the other. This keeps your brain operating at low levels of fear.
Since it’s impossible to always be better at everything and everyone, even if you have a house full of plaques and awards, this type of thinking:
- Keeps you anxiously on guard.
- Wastes an enormous amount of energy to ensure you “control” your image with facades, and masks, and the like.
- Disturbs your sense of presence and happiness inside.
- Blocks you from feeling safe enough, emotionally, to give and receive love.
Essentially, you are fighting for something you already own inside: your own esteem, value, acceptance, love!
Where do these defensive strategies originate?
For one, they are prevalent thinking patterns in our culture. Like others, you live in a world that has taught you unhelpful beliefs, such as those that get you to think you must struggle for the emotional fulfillment you are hard-wired to seek. Whether it’s for awards, accolades, money or love, attention, or to “be right” at some level, even if you do not “think” of yourself at present as a “competitive” person, it’s nearly impossible to live in our culture and not regularly find yourself in competition with others, at minimum, emotionally, within your own mind.
Your family of origin, however, was the biggest influence. You learned your preferred defensive strategies from interactions with your primary caregivers. Your parents' brains attuned your brain with many of their stress response patterns.
The intent here is not to blame parents, who in most cases were doing the best they could with what they knew. The purpose rather is to better understand how:
- Your past experiences affect your behavioral interactions today.
- You and your partner, as well as your parents, came by these patterns honestly.
- These patterns have been passed on for generations, quite prevalent in our culture.
Is it any wonder that so many partners find themselves feeling inadequate when discussing sensitive issues, considering that, when they get triggered, they are reacting from cognitive-emotional constructs (i.e., beliefs, thinking patterns, etc.) they formed, in many cases, prior to early elementary school years?
There’s good news! You have a choice, a conscious choice, to take charge of your thinking patterns and make optimal shifts in your behavior responses and life.