THE OFFENSIVENESS OF DEFENSE MECHANISMS
A momma skunk and her little ones had shown up at my grandmother’s house one evening. They were exploring her driveway, yard, and flowerbeds as we pulled in the drive. I was very intrigued by these cute little things. I wanted to get out and get a closer view. But my grandmother, however, was a little freakier about the whole thing. She kept saying over and over, “Don’t scare them, don’t get out of the car, don’t make a move!” As a kid, I got it…but didn’t really get it. I knew that a skunk’s defense mechanism was to unload a horrific smell on anything in the nearby vicinity. But I didn’t realize that you couldn’t simply wash it off immediately and go on with your life.
Defense mechanisms. They’re interesting, aren’t they? Animals have a variety of them. When animals feel threatened or afraid or find themselves in a vulnerable situation, they activate their defenses. Oddly enough, though, so do we. And the fascinating thing is we have similar defense mechanisms.
Some people, when they feel threatened, or afraid, or vulnerable are just like skunks. They expel a “foul stench” of negative reactions that basically clears the room. And unfortunately the discharge of furor can land on others and take a long time to eradicate.
Other people, when they feel threatened, or afraid, or vulnerable are like the porcupine. They’re a little bit like the skunk. However, when their defense mechanism is triggered, and the quills come flying, it actually hurts. Similarly, the vicious comments that come hurling out of people’s mouths are like poisonous jabs that wound deeply. It’s a lashing out of “wound first before getting wounded.”
Still others, when feeling threatened, afraid, or vulnerable are much like turtles. When their defenses go up, they retract and recoil in an effort to protect themselves from the pain or threat. In the midst of their withdrawal, they have a hard outer shell that they hide behind. It’s their safe place until danger passes.
And then there’s the jackrabbit. When these people feel threatened, afraid, or vulnerable, they simply run. Fast. They flee any eminent hazard. They can’t deal with it. They don’t want to deal with it. So they dart away as quickly as possible in order to find safety elsewhere.
The irony in all of this, though, is that our defense mechanisms are often offensive to others. In our efforts to defend ourselves, we often offend others. It’s a complicated thing. But then again, we are complicated creatures.
William McNamara said “It is easier to snub another (‘snuff the light of his life out of our life’) than to love. And so we indulge in spiritual assassination in order to protect our own convenience.”
It’s easier to snub another…than to love. I’m not sure how this has even become a thing. But it has. And it has become a rather sad thing.
Can you identify with any of these? How does your defense mechanism work?
There’s no doubt about it, we are uniquely created. But in the menagerie of this thing called life, can we see past our differences, ease up on our defenses, stop snubbing one another, and simply love? In our felt need to protect our own convenience, can we look objectively at someone else before we indulge our defenses? Is this even possible?
It is possible. We can do this. The question is will we?