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En garde … How your ego protects you

The ego is the part of you that is associated with the term “I.” As a child, your ego developed by adapting itself to what was compatible with your family and societal surroundings. However, this alignment came with a cost. 

In order to protect yourself from the hurt or rejection from others, you split off parts or qualities of yourself that were undervalued or even deemed ‘bad.’ You also developed protective coping or defense mechanisms in order to keep these parts out of ego’s way. 

Repression is the primary way the ego protects itself. In this process, distressing and uncomfortable memories and feelings are kept from your consciousness. However, these may later surface when triggered by certain situations or when the adult psyche is ready to handle them. 

You may avoid or try to hide certain feelings and qualities of yourself. Your ego proclaims, “I just don’t do math,” or “I never cry.” You may rationalize your actions by making self-serving explanations such as, “That’s the way I was raised.”

You may use humor to avoid both external and internal conflict. From the way you speak, others might get the impression that you are good-natured and happy. However, this façade allows you to avoid voicing your true feelings. 

Feelings may even be non-existent around certain situations. You may find yourself intellectualizing, giving facts and statistics around your parent’s medical condition, mentioning nothing about how you are feeling.

Through the process of projection, feelings and traits you find unacceptable are wrongly placed onto others. We blame, scapegoat and gossip about traits we are not willing to accept in ourselves. 

Denial is another way to dispel anxiety-causing thoughts and feelings. In these situations, you are refusing to acknowledge parts of yourself that are readily apparent to others. The surprised ego states, “I’m not like that!”  

Addictive behaviour, such as with eating and busyness, is another way of preventing or lessening uncomfortable feelings from reaching consciousness. In the presence of New Year’s resolutions, despite a part of us wanting to change, our egos will fight this attempt to rid itself of its cherished emotion-numbing ways.

Not all defense mechanisms are ‘bad’ or unhealthy. Self-protection is needed when dealing with daily challenges. The key is moderation and awareness as to why you are using them. When distressed, it is natural that you may cope by seeking the support of others.

At others times, keeping an optimistic outlook shifts you from the current stressor to thinking about future situations or solutions. Suppression is the conscious decision not to think about what is bothering you. Moderate suppression is healthy, yet in excess, becomes avoidance.

The problem with defense mechanisms is that the thought or feeling does not disappear. Jung stated, “What you resist, persists.” In fact, the idea or feeling often intensifies and continues unconsciously to effect your decisions and reactions.

It is ego’s task to become aware of how it handles its fears and emotional discomforts. Ask yourself, “What is this coping behaviour trying to protect me from?” or “If I didn’t do this behaviour, what feeling or trait or action will I have to face?”

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.