When we allow our thinking patterns to “protect” us, we often feel there is no escape, no matter how hard we try. These thinking traps are exactly that, thinking and behaviour that are ingrained and seemingly impossible to shift. They subdue the Self and the true fears that we need to face. They “protect” us dysfunctionally to keep us from moving forward and offer us the easy way out. They offer us the easy way out and it seems often to be the best option at the time. Only through a process of releasing the control they have, can we promote the Self and have any hope of facing the true issues. Let’s look at the different types that could exist, no way exhaustive and there could be others:
The “pleasing others” Protector Voice:
When we often fear being judged harshly or feel uncertain of ourselves or self-worth, we tend to be unable to express ourselves and we move towards the beliefs and desires of other people. Others dictate what we do and we go out of our way to please people, do what they want and thinking what they think. The idea behind this is “If I do what they want, I will be loved, will be ok”. What tends to happen is that over a period of time, we get taken advantage of. The consequence is that we feel abused, angry, hurt and resentful. We use statements like “I did everything for them and look what I get”. What we are really looking for is affection, respect and love and we get disappointment. Our own needs are being ignored which often makes us feel needy and controlling. The voice that promotes this is protecting us from fear of being unloved, alone and abandoned. It tells us that “If I do not please them: They won’t like me? My life is not worth anything, I will be rejected, abandoned, hated or abused”.
The “I am better off alone” Protector Voice:
Sometimes our Protectors lead us to think that contact with other people is too traumatic. Anxiety springs up when we believe they will find us boring, stupid or that they might reject us. The consequence is that we avoid contact with other people and often cancel social engagements, sometimes at short notice. It is not that we do not want to meet people but we have been convinced that it will go badly, so we have no choice. When we do meet others, we do not look at them properly due to our own internal beliefs, find it difficult to know what to say and actually appear distant and unfriendly. Consequently, people leave us alone or keep us at arms length. The result is that we do not have the opportunity to break the cycle by developing the skills and confidence needed. This can lead to hypersensitivity about how people will react to us and leave us exaggerating the chances of hurt and rejection.
The “Avoidance” Escape Protector Voice:
Avoiding things we find difficult gives us a temporary sense of relief. By putting some uncomfortable task into the future, we often convince ourselves that we have indeed found a solution and a plan to deal with it. The Procrastinator voice will promote this heavily. However, by doing this, we often overlook the fact that we are making things difficult for ourselves in the long run, increasing our sense of ineffectiveness and lack of control. This avoidance voice, is usually connected with the fear of something. We avoid contact with others for fear of rejection. We avoid making decisions for fear of them being wrong. We avoid everyday tasks, leaving them for others or for the last moment. Most people fall into the avoidance trap because they have convinced themselves they they will not be able to cope with unforeseen or imagined circumstances. They use “what if ?” scenarios to judge the degree of rejection, pain or ridicule that awaits them, leaving them incapacitated. Under these conditions, avoidance for them is the easiest option. The avoidance voice is the main driver of addiction.
The “Low Self-esteem” Manager Protector Voice:
Many people suffer from low self-esteem. They place little value on themselves or their contribution to anything, meaning for them they have little to offer anyone. The basis for codependency lies here. This often manifests itself in various ways… putting themselves down, driving themselves to be successful while putting up a wall, or being “the coper or pleaser” who gets things done. The sense of worthlessness is often well hidden from the outside world and when a crisis of confidence comes, it often shocks the people around us who saw us as efficient, confident and “go-getting”. People with low self-esteem have very little sense of “self” and find it hard to ask for anything for themselves for fear of being blamed or punished. This sense of worthlessness usually derives from our childhood when we were continually criticised or judged as “bad” or “wanting”. We then absorb a feeling that what we express and ultimately who we are is “wrong” or “bad”. This feeling is often accompanied by an army of musts and shoulds. We think we must and should because what we are aiming for is unclear, we just know it probably won’t be good enough. We feel we cannot get what we want because we have convinced ourselves that (a) we don’t know what we want (b) we fear punishment for mentioning it (c) even if we know what we want, we convince ourselves we don’t deserve it. This leads to the trap of not expressing ourselves and then punishing ourselves for being weak.
As humans, we are used to making excuses, taking the easy way out and procrastinating things we know need doing. With so much technology available these days at our fingertips, we can always find a way to distract ourselves from the main thing. It is part of our make-up and is hard to shrug off, especially when we are constantly listening to the voices that promote such thinking. However, as humans, we are also resilient and intelligent enough to know that there is usually a decent payoff from taking the road less traveled by facing our fears and doing the “right” thing. We just choose not to do it. It is too difficult and we don’t like difficult. We want easy.
Part of this problem lies with the ingrained elements of our personality that protect us from facing difficult issues. Formed in childhood as defense mechanisms, they become a part of us as we give them more credence and strength and become the critical voices in our thinking. They get stronger every time we do what they say and before we know it, they are our first port of call for advice. They come in all shapes and forms and appear when we are triggered and flood our head with all kind of dysfunctional input. The objective is to protect us, as they have since childhood, from their idea of risk and danger. This usually means shaming, avoiding or escaping responsibility.
Powerful as these voices are and at times, they can be very strong, it is essential to loosen their grip if we are to move forward, even if that means leaving our “easy-life” comfort zone. They will only release control when you can convince them (in reality… yourself) that you can take over and take definitive action to solve an issue. Anyone who has trained dogs will know that the more powerful breeds will become the “leader of the pack” if they are not given clear, consistent direction. When this is not forthcoming, they will see the opportunity to take over and run the show. This will lead to pulling on the lead, trying to direct the owner and dominant behavior. So it is with the “protectors”. Give them an inch, they will take a mile and take a lead role and expect you to be submissive.
Many people give a lot of energy to trying to keep these voices alive and kicking and are very happy to listen to them. In therapy, we spend a lot of time with clients making them aware of the consequences of listening too much, negotiating release of control and what that might look like. There comes a time when action is the only way forward… the best remedy for this is to step forward and make this choice. That means in reality, facing the very thing you are avoiding and solving it. This is also the best booster of self-esteem that I personally know. Getting through things and consistently. So next time you are experiencing an internal conflict where you can feel the influence of the “protectors”, take charge, be solution-focussed and go for it!