The Defensive Ego

How the ego protects and defends itself from unpleasant feelings.

We don't feel particularly safe with ourselves, though it may not always be that obvious. We often are protecting ourselves, in one way or another, from some kind of hurt. Psychology calls this self-protection "defense." We perceive threatening events or feelings as "attacks" that we need to "defend" from. It is the ego's primary activity.

Defending in conflicts

That we defend ourselves from feeling hurt is obvious during conflicts, especially when these escalate into quarrels and fights.

It seems more noticeable in others than in ourselves that this self-protection can be more important than the truth. The other person often seems to be saying things that we are convinced aren't true. It seems that the other says these things just to defend himself, and should know that they aren't entirely true. But everyone feels the need to defend from emotional pain, and parties do make efforts to inflict it onto each other during fights. The truth is the first thing that is out of the window, for the ego, then.

Blaming is often a part of conflicts. When someone blames us for something, we may get to blame the other person instead. Sometimes, the other person is really accusing us unjustly. But sometimes what's happening is that we just can't bare to feel the guilt, and blame the other person just because of that, on the belief that one of the parties has got to be blamed.

Telling the other person that he's only defending himself, and because of that not accepting the truth, will usually have the effect of the other person defending himself even more. The need to defend is quite compelling.

Self-protection from hurt

But even when we are not in an obvious conflict do we defend ourselves. Our egos have numerous ways of doing that.

When we notice that we are about to feel hurt, we may get tense, which makes us not feel it. In fact, when we are not feeling relaxed, we are usually avoiding some kind of unpleasant feeling, or several feelings.

We may be using one feeling to avoid feeling another. When we get angry, but don't want to act angry towards the other person, it may be hard to actually stop being angry. Angry thoughts just keep coming up. We are angry, of course, because we got hurt. The reason we can't stop being angry, is because we'd have to feel the underlying unpleasant feelings that caused the anger in the first place, and we don't want to do that.

We can also deny feeling something. When we want to be with someone, and that person doesn't want to be with us, we may decide that we actually don't like that person after all. It's not entirely true, but it does make life more bearable.

Lack of feeling

This defensiveness makes us very concerned with the outside of us, with how we appear to other people. It makes it harder to notice what goes on inside of us, with our inner feelings.

When we are thinking and fantasizing, we don't feel much of what goes on with our more subtle feelings. We then only notice feelings that are at the surface, if we feel anything at all. Retreating into our thoughts thus is a way of avoiding feelings that are unpleasant.

Our constant concern with self-protections makes that we don't really feel much any more when we've arrived at an adult age. Sometimes, it can seem unsafe to feel anything at all. We then have the same flat state all the time. Some will deny that feelings are a real part of them, and consider themselves "completely rational" people.

Losing touch with ourselves

The result of all these defensive tactics is that we're not really in touch with ourselves. We don't really know ourselves, when we don't feel ourselves. Consequently, we are unaware why we really are doing things.

The self-protection makes it impossible to deal with our deeper feelings, and the result is that these feelings stay hidden and don't dissolve. They disappear into our unconscious, but do not cease to influence us.


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