When you see others in a negative light, think: Are you projecting? Also understand that when others criticize you, they may well be using a defense mechanism - unconsciously criticizing a projection of themselves.
While we all use defense mechanisms when troubled, Niolon explains, we generally come to a point when we face our problems and don't have to rely so heavily on our defenses to protect us. Defenses become unhealthy when we refuse to face our true experiences, thoughts and feelings.
Several problems can then develop:
Relying on our defenses for too long gives our problems a life of their own and makes them even more powerful.
Continued use of many defenses creates new problems that are as bad as or worse than the original pain they prevent us from feeling.
If we use some defenses for too long, they start to happen automatically - separating us from our true feelings.
Spending all our "psychic energy" on defenses leaves little energy left over for healthy and rewarding pursuits. For example, if getting close to others reminds us of past hurts, we may avoid dating altogether and miss out on support, love and understanding, which could make us happy.
Over time, the more we close off parts of ourselves, stockpile pain and unhappiness, and avoid potentially rewarding life experiences, the more anxious, nervous and unpredictable we become. Pent-up emotions can overwhelm us. Ironically, this often pushes us to continue defending ourselves in unhealthy ways to avoid such an experience in the future.
Linda Arnold, MBA, is chairwoman and CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm in Charleston. Reader comments may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St. Charleston, WV 25301, or e-mailed to livinglifefu...@arnoldagency.com.