why defend?

I used to think that emotions which remained unconscious inevitably did so because to feel them is in itself too painful. The idea lies behind the common canard that 'people need their defences'. Anger or sadness or guilt are too much - in the sense that the pain they generate is too much, and the anxiety about feeling this pain is too much. Thus the defences which kick in and which stop us from feeling the emotions are defences against the intrinsic and anxiogenic pain of the emotions.

One of the clinical facts the standard view rather ignores is that it is often a relief to someone to have a defence lifted. You often see this in the clinic: sure, after the defence against sadness is relinquished, the patient feels sad, but yet he is not unhappy to be so, can bear it just fine, etc.  Frankly: it is a relief, and on being reacquainted with oneself thus it also feels healing and integrating. In truth I still believe that the standard view obtains when we meet with psychosis: reality is too painful and so the defences of delusion, mind-dismantling, and autistic retreats are indulged. But I've come to doubt its adequacy in many neurotic cases.

What strikes me as true in neurotic cases is that the becoming, bodying-forth, of emotions is anxiogenic not because of the pain of the emotions but because of an expectation of oneself not being accepted in such emotions, or a feeling that even to oneself one is unacceptable for having such emotions. The anxiety, I am proposing, is essentially social. The anxiety is more often a matter of shame or guilt: I shouldn't be feeling this feeling. Or it's the fear of rejection and the complex nexus of resentment and trepidation and self-doubt and rage that is characteristically bundled up with that.

In the clinic the patient is enabled to body forth into this or that feeling because she gets an inkling of acceptance and understanding of herself in her feeling from her therapist.


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