Defenses do not trust change and are there specifically to limit or even to prevent change. To the defense change could mean encountering trauma again. So, the defense is more interested in keeping your life familiar. (Link: What is a defense?)
If I avoid intimacy with my wife by turning on the TV, that is, I turn it on to avoid conversation or interaction with her, a defense part is advising me to use TV to prevent me from moving into intimacy which it sees as unfamiliar, perhaps unsafe, maybe even threatening. Most likely I will not be aware that I am using the TV so strategically. If you were to ask me if I do that as a tactic to avoid intimate conversation with my wife, I will probably genuinely deny it. I may even get angry with you because you suggested it. You may be hitting too close to home, that intimacy is unfamiliar, unsafe, and a situation I am not comfortable being in. I may not even be aware of this truth or want to be aware of it.
Behaviours resulting from defense advice are most often unconscious, that is, the defense parts take over, make choices, and impart their advice without us having conscious knowledge of them doing so.
However, I may also be conscious that I have an alternative other than the behaviour the defense is urging me into yet I still do it. I may be well aware that watching the TV is a way to avoid talking to my wife yet I turn on the TV anyway knowing that intimacy scares me. I may be aware of my intimacy fear, but TV has become my addiction and it is something I have always grasped onto so I have become dependent upon it. (Link: What does grasping onto an addiction mean?)
I may have developed, over time, a whole routine around it where whenever I enter the house the first thing I do is turn the TV on and keep it on as long as I am there. The TV has become a pseudo-intimate relationship. And although there are costs attached to that relationship in that it is taking up my time and replacing human intimate relationships, it has some benefits too: it is less risky in that I don’t have to put a lot of effort into this intimacy, it is reliable in that as long as there is electrical power and the TV is functional it will always show up, and there is little chance of being rejected by it. If my experience with human intimacy, either as a participant or a witness, has been rejection, then TV intimacy will seem a safer bet. Or, if I do have friends with whom I occasionally socialize with, then the friends I have chosen may be ones who never go beyond conversations about sports, politics, and current events we read in our newspapers. We will never talk about our feelings, issues we are having in our relationships, or ever be seen as vulnerable.
As a therapist, I spend my days being deeply focused on my clients. At the end of my day, because I want to do something that has less focus I will sometimes choose to watch television because it is a form of entertainment that, for me, does not require an excessive amount of focus and concentration. The difference between using television as an addictive form of avoidance and, in this example as a contrast to my focused therapy work, is that I am consciously choosing the behaviour – the TV watching – out of number of possible choices as a means to cater to my needs. Compare this to the previous examples, where I fictionally use television as a tool to avoid dealing with my fear-of-intimacy issue. Whether I am conscious of it or not, the television-watching defense part is making the choice around coping with intimacy for me.
There is always a hidden cost to defense advice. The cost in following the avoid-intimacy-at-all cost defense’s advice is the loss of the experience of intimacy with my wife. The cost extends to my wife, who also loses out on the intimate experience with her husband. The children could incur a cost too. They lose out on experiencing a model of intimacy between their parents, which in turn could extend the cost into their own personal relationships, both those they have now and those we will have as adults in the future.
A woman may rarely go out on a date because being around men makes her uncomfortable and nervous. This may be because she was rarely in the company of men when growing up, or perhaps she had an experience as a young child where a man was aggressive towards her, or maybe she was witness to her mother being mistreated by men. Whatever the experience, a defense part is working outside of her conscious awareness and advising her to avoid close and intimate situations with men. She may be relaxed and fine with the men at work, or with her brothers, or if a man chats informally with her at the bus stop. But, in the more intimate settings, she feels anxious inside and grapples with the strong and persuasive feeling that she just wants to get away.
From the model we are developing, her past experiences are playing out in her present life. A defense part, there to protect her from the re-occurrence of those past encounters or scenarios with men, is unconsciously advising her to avoid men. The avoidance of men is the addictive behaviour, as an outcome of the defense’s advice. (Link: What is a part?)
The cost of the following the advice of this defense part could be really significant in her life: she may miss out on sharing her life with someone she loves, on having children and raising a family, on what it is like to be in a committed relationship.
To begin determining whether a behaviour carry’s a cost, ask yourself the questions, “Is there a cost to employing this behaviour? Is someone or something affected? Am I affected myself in some negative way by its use?” What is the personal cost of being scared to spend money and keeping really close tabs on my wife’s spending? What is the cost of never going to the doctors to get a check-up despite the fact that I am known to indulge in an unhealthy lifestyle and diet? Is there a cost to following the advice of a defense part within me who has me become angry with my wife and children at a drop of the hat? It may be beneficial to ask around, to confront those closest to you and ask the challenging question, “How does my behaviour affect you?” If the person on the other end of the question is prepared to be really honest, you will discover the true cost of your defenses.
It may not always be easy to stand back far enough to objectify yourself in this fashion. Your defenses may not want you to know how, when and in what manner they operate. If your self-awareness light is turned off, then they have the power to steer you away from change. Defenses let you think you are in charge of your life, when in actual fact they are the ones who are really calling the shots