Horsey Therapist

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Defenses and Transitions




I'm constantly blown away by the things people do to protect themselves.

With horses, defensiveness is usually very clear: swing head, pin ears, swish tail, walk away, strike out, kick out, run away, any of the above. (Some less clear defensiveness also occurs with withdrawal, dissociation, and avoidance.)

With people -- oh my -- the ways we can project messages to 'keep your distance' are beyond counting.

Lately I've discovered a new layer in myself.

I've known this about myself: I don't like transitions, especially sudden ones that have not been predicted for me. I'm better than I used to be in many circumstances. But still I can get cranky quickly when someone expects something of me right now that I wasn't told about ahead of time, or when someone changes the plans without communicating successfully and early (!).

Dear RNB -- he often gets the brunt of my crankiness. However, he also often gets the benefit of the new, improved me once I've worked through something deep and haunting to my psyche.

Some connections between my current behavior and my past relationships were revealed to me recently. Some happened on their own, and some via a conscious dialogue process we do called Imago Dialogue. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt talk about how the dialogue process allows the un-languaged to become languaged. To paraphrase that, this process brings the unconsicous to consciousness, and the benefit of that is that we can change what we know, not what we don't know.

What I uncovered was the sorrow and loneliness of childhood around my dear mother who was not consistently present and taking care of the needs of her children. It wasn't just me, this I know. But my memories and how my early relationships molded my defenses is very personal. My siblings would have their own discoveries and uncoveries to explore and share.

The presence and disappearance of her attention, support, interest, and nurturance were out of my control. The loss after the wholeness became unbearable to me, so I closed off some of my presence and availability. I withdrew into what seemed like a safe place, a slightly detached, numb, protected way of being. To an extent, some dissociation became my lifestyle, my norm. I functioned fine according to others, yet lived with a gap between the full enthusiasm we humans are designed to live in, and the level of social connectedness I could tolerate.

Within the growing safety of my relationship with RNB, I am finding places where my defenses don't feel right. I want now to be open and allowing of deeper interactions. Yet in real life here and now, there are inconsistencies in our ability to be present and attentive with each other. But do I still have to retreat and act on this strong feeling to protect myself from him when I start noticing the moments when he is less present than he was yesterday or last month? No, I do not. I do not even want to be keeping track of those disconnects. In fact, I do not want to disconnect when these happen. It is not his fault and he has not caused my feeling disconnected. It is left over from my childhood, when that disconnect and dissociation helped me survive something I had no words for, and no way to seek reassurance or comfort when I felt that way.

Today I do have words, and I can get reassurance and comfort when those old feelings are triggered by some innocent events of the now. Today with awareness, I have choices. Today I can choose to stop when I feel a defensive feeling arising, breathe, breathe again, and seek to stayed connected, starting with myself, and extending that offer of connectedness to RNB, to my horses, to my friends... The impact of my consciously relinquishing the power of my defenses has already amazed me, and will continue to enrich all my relationships. May I suggest you try this yourself?

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