Richard Harvey - Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

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What is Your Personal Defensive Layer?

People turn to therapy either out of dissatisfaction with life or out of the desire to grow and develop. In either case the root cause is unhappiness with their present circumstance.

Essentially people live life through a defensive layer. Let’s look at the different types of layers in a light-hearted, but nonetheless profound way.

The Wetsuit

First, there’s The Wetsuit Defense. The Wetsuit is the emotional protection that says that feelings hurt; the experience of emotions can be devastating, overwhelming or too painful. The answer appears to be to not experience feelings and the Wetsuit is worn to do just that.

On the downside however, the wearer of the Wetsuit discovers that while busy resisting feeling negative emotions like hurt, pain and anger, the positive emotions, like joy, happiness and satisfaction, are likewise repressed in them. They become effectively numb to emotion, to feeling life and to experience.

The Railway Train

Then there’s The Railway Train Defense. The Railway Train represents living by rote without real thought, originality or responsiveness. By not deviating from the rails of life’s trajectory the “passenger” feels safe and secure. Life becomes predictable by avoiding risks and unexpected events that may prove threatening.

The downside here is that the train always reaches the same destination and is predetermined to pass through the same villages and landscapes without deviation or spontaneity. Decision-making and choice are avoided and life is passed in a kind of mental trance, resisting relationship or real meeting.

The Robot

Finally, there is The Robot Defense. The Robot is a physical defense adopted by those who use alcohol, recreational drugs, TV, excessive exercise or compulsive sex as a defense against life experience. The “seducer” has learnt that having a body, a physical form, is itself a danger to them. The inappropriate behavior of carers, the valuing of personal achievement over a sense of being, criticism or humiliation in early life may contribute to the creation of The Robot Defense.

Whether the person is attractive or ugly, conformist or rebellious—either way it will be a ploy to avoid the insurgence of others into their lives. The Robot anaesthetizes, overloads and exhausts their physicality as a substitute for personal satisfaction.

There is always a downside—quite literally for a Robot: coming down from a high, hangover, disorientation, emotional confusion, and divorce from reality are among the experiences that provide the impetus for over-indulgence to be repeated.

Self Exploration Reveals Your Defenses

The Wetsuit, The Railway Train and The Robot symbolize emotional, mental and physical defensive layers. In therapy and inner work we can become aware of which one (or which combination) we employ as a defense.

Since your defenses are inevitably unconscious, they will take you some soul-searching to discover. Still more work on self exploration is required to become acutely aware of the “cost” of your emotional defenses. Only when you truly understand the origins of your defenses, the compulsion to maintain your defenses and the life rewards they hold you at a distance from—through deep self-understanding and awareness—can you be empowered to transcend these defenses, engage meaningfully with life and achieve satisfaction and happiness.

An Holistic Approach to Therapy

In recent years psychotherapy has received some criticism—rightly so—for its failure to heal and be effective. So, the question arises why and how may it succeed in being an effective way to realizing potential and personal liberation by overcoming personality defenses. First, psychotherapy must use an holistic approach to really work. Real emotions must be authentically re-experienced as a bodily energy, which gives both client and practitioner something vital real and energetic to work with.

A Real Relationship

Secondly, a genuine relationship must be established between the client and the therapist. Since it was in relationship to oneself, to others and the world that emotional-behavioral patterns, both limiting and contacting, were created, it follows that liberation from those fixed patterns can only be developed in a trusting, open relationship that is based on confidence and genuine care, balanced and informed by the practitioner’s abilities, skill and compassion.

Change and Integration

Finally, effective therapy must give consistent attention to the changes in the client and follow through the process from the inner to the outer world, with an emphasis on integration to complete the process of authentic change. This requires the therapist’s staying power and the client’s strong motivation. Real change usually takes longer and requires more than we think.

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This article was first published in 2011.

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