by Liz Jansen
Defence mechanisms are like protective gear, worn to protect you from perceived harm. Although effective in reducing anxiety, they can distort reality, interfere with clear communications and mask authenticity.
In riding, there’s a real danger to your physical body and thus an obvious need for protection. As an often subconscious behavior, defense mechanisms protect your ego from perceived psychological harm.
While they can reduce anxiety in the short-term, becoming an ingrained behavior can interfere with self-awareness, relationships with others and your own effectiveness in living life to the fullest.
- Denial. A powerful mechanism in helping cope with loss, it’s the first stage in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. Refusing to admit something your ego doesn’t have the strength to cope with, you deny it until such time as you’re ready to deal with it.
- Repression. Some memories are too painful to keep in your consciousness so they’re suppressed. Rather than disappear, they are stored away, continuing to influence your perspective of self and others. Until they’re dealt with, they can block you from expressing your full potential.
- Displacement. We’re not talking about engine cc’s in this case. Displacement happens when you take your negative energy out on someone less threatening than the person who aroused it. This can come back to hurt you if you decide to go for a ride to vent your anger after a dispute.
- Sublimation. Used constructively, sublimation transforms inappropriate impulses into something more acceptable, thereby reducing anxiety. Diffusing the energy of anxiety by proactively physically expending it in an exercise like off-road riding, reduces the stress and increases your physical fitness!
- Projection. This mechanism transfers ownership of your negative thoughts to others. Your dislike of someone may be turned around to have you believing they don’t like you. The best offense for this is not allowing yourself to get wrapped up in others’ opinions of you. They’re none of your business.
- Intellectualization. This process takes the emotions out of a painful situation and deals only with the facts. It’s great for trouble-shooting a mechanical being, but when it comes to humans, one needs to consider the emotions at play. They can’t be clinically extracted. Rather, acknowledge them, bring them to awareness and deal with them.
- Rationalization. You can likely recall creating a story to explain your behavior. Police officers hear this a lot. People tend to credit themselves for successes and credit others for failure. While there is a humorous element to it, it deflects the personal accountability necessary for growth.
- Altruism. While altruism, which involves unselfish acts intended to help others, is commendable, the motive may be defensive if it’s done to ease guilt or fulfill an obligation. A motorcycle will break down if it’s not maintained. So will you if you direct all your energy to others without caring for yourself.
- Compensation. Also potentially constructive, it involves overachieving in one area to make up for inadequacy in another. Culture places a great deal of emphasis on formal education. Someone perceiving this as a lack can work hard to go on and become a superhero in his or her chosen profession.
The communications you send and receive are complicated by defense mechanisms. Becoming more self-aware allows you to perceive messages as the sender intended and send out clearer messages yourself. Masking, ignoring or duct taping them may be a short-term fix, but eventually, something will give.