A few afternoons ago I detoured away from my desk to do some serious creative brainstorming for my job, wedging myself onto a barstool at a nearby hipster coffee shop (you know, the sort of place where bearded baristas touting Don Quixote tattoos serve rib-cage looking latte art to try and ease the pain of a 10-ounce latte being six zillion dollars). To my left sat two women immersed in a conversation about bridesmaid dress shopping. To my right: a man with his knees draped over the stool, seemingly double shoulder width apart, and a curly haired woman, discussing business ideas.
Everything seemed reasonable, and I put my nose to my notebook (almost literally, I like to get very close to paper when I’m writing and it takes restraint to try not to look like I’m going blind when in public) scribbling, sipping my six zillion dollar latte, occasionally mouthing the words to the Killers songs* being piped in. All was going according to the status quo.
Which is about when I heard the man next to speak with an arrogant, strong air. My ears perked up. The couple was no longer discussing his favorite way to strategize a new business (build the brand, then everything else) – they were discussing their break up. He didn’t have questions. He had accusations. She provided answers, which he then attacked defensively. Everything she said, or started to say, he cut down, made seem unimportant, or downright attacked. Never once did he attempt to understand her feelings; he made excuses, he harshly delivered those excuses, and his conversation style continually told her she was wrong and here was why.
I was equal parts fascinated, horrified, and annoyed at their unhushed tones.
But it got me thinking. Talking about a charged issue really got his shackles up – which led him down a defensive road. And aren’t we all stricken with our own defense mechanisms, that sometimes don’t help us so much as they hinder us?
I was reminded of a semi-recent email from a love so long gone it’s almost comical to call him a love – but in his time, in what was long ago our time, he was.
…For the record, I never wanted you to go away. I had this stupid defense mechanism that made me push away anybody who hurt me, no matter how I felt. I have grown up a lot since then, and realize how stupid I was back then. I made this deal with myself that I would never get back with a girl who hurt me, which I now realize was stupid…
I’d remembered his email, but not my response:
…Funny how it all evolves. Sounds like we have both come a long way, though admittedly I’m still battling my barrage of defense mechanisms. (Which are namely when someone is close, run! Runnnn!) I’m really glad to have known you…
Oh right. Riiiiight. I’m not immune to defense mechanisms, either. Mine is quite visible, and occasionally even literal.
Perhaps the key is to at least know how your body puts up a defense, learn to notice when it’s happening in the moment, and try to make a rational decision instead of an emotional/adrenaline induced one.
Sounds a lot like learning to turn down negative thoughts, and how to have compassion for oneself…
What’s your defense mechanism? Do you ever think it’s steering you wrong?
*Favorite lyrics from that song: I don’t shine if you don’t shine.