• Nathan Hoover

Cast Your Cares- The Practice of Relaxing Defense Mechanisms

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by an emotion? On a brisk fall morning, I sat gazing through a window at my favorite coffee shop. My attention was slowly drawn to the condensation caused by my heavy breathing on the window. As I watched it dissipate between breaths, my eyes welled up with tears; how I longed for my emotions to dissipate as effortlessly.

Most days I would brush off such a feeling. “All I need is more coffee and to tackle my to do list,” I would quietly insist. “These trivial emotions will subside if I can just focus on work.” After a few hours, I would inevitably be riding a heightened sense of accomplishment, successfully convinced of this lie.

Not this morning though…

I refused to repeat the cycle of “emotional ignorance is bliss.” The defense mechanism, which warded off the perceived humiliation of crying in public, held me captive. Productivity allowed me to escape feeling overwhelmed by emotions. Why waste my time with the frustrating chore of unraveling a knot of emotions? Productivity carries no such frustrations or inconveniences. However, that morning the most productive use of my time would be to break the cycle and allow the Holy Spirit to begin a work within me.

Defense Mechanisms are the primary ways people ward off pain and discomfort. “According to Freud, sometimes when we’re confronted with an idea or feeling that we find too painful or morally unacceptable, we ward it off, pushing it into the unconscious. It’s not a deliberate decision; it happens outside of awareness, in ways that are automatic.”*

Defense mechanisms are like an army in the medieval period. When a threat appeared on the horizon, the army would be called to arms, go out, and oppose the enemy forces. As the battle pressed closer and closer to the castle, the army would fight more vigorously to defend the precious contents of the castle. Just like a medieval kingdom and its armies, when people perceive the threat of an idea or feeling that is too painful or morally unacceptable, defense mechanisms are activated. Not all threats activate defense mechanisms, but they can be activated at a moment’s notice.

While the goal of a defense mechanism is survival, when overused it produces counterproductive results: remaining defensive and wounded. Instead of thriving as emotionally healthy people who can heal from painful experiences, we settle for survival by keeping our defense mechanisms activated to minimize the risk of reinjury.

What if it is possible to relax our defense mechanisms and live a fuller life? I believe it is possible. The first step is becoming aware of which defense mechanisms are used and then making a habit of noticing what activates them. Notice when you are moving away from painful thoughts or emotions and the resulting behaviors, thoughts, or emotional patterns. Finally, consider what could be causing the response. To aide in this process, the primary defense mechanisms, as described by Dr. Ginger Lapid-Bogda, for the 9 enneagram types are:**

Type 1: Reaction Formation- Trying to reduce or eliminate their own anxieties caused by their own thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that they consider unacceptable by responding in a moment that is the exact opposite of their true response, all without recognizing this.

Type 2: Repression- Hiding information from themselves and others—for example, feelings, thoughts, desires, and needs—though unconscious, partial suppression, thus keeping it contained and under control.

Type 3: Identification- Over-identifying with activities, roles, or work and also incorporating attributes of other admirable people into self to such an extent that the self and the admired others become indistinguishable.

Type 4: Introjection- Fully absorbing and internalizing negative information about themselves without discerning if the data is accurate, along with the absence of counterbalancing internalized positive data.

Type 5: Isolation- Isolating oneself, fully retreating into their minds and cutting off from their feelings and somatic experiences, separating themselves from other people, and compartmentalizing parts of themselves from other parts of themselves.

Type 6: Projection- Unconsciously attributing their own feelings, drives, intentions, thoughts, and behaviors onto other people; these externalized attributions can be positive qualities or negative qualities.

Type 7: Rationalization- Explaining uncomfortable or unacceptable thoughts, feelings, and behavior to both themselves and others in a way that deflects or obscures the true motivation, intention, or impact of the behavior.

Type 8: Denial- Negating the very existence of any thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that cause them anxiety or feelings of vulnerability by disavowing these emotions entirely, as if they never occurred or existed.

Type 9: Narcotization – Numbing themselves to avoid uncomfortable thoughts, feeling, and behaviors, as well as difficult tasks, conflict, anger, or pressure by merging with others and engaging in routines that require little attention and provide maximum comfort.

(If you don’t know your Enneagram Type, click here to set up a typing interview.)

At this stage don’t try to change it or “fix” yourself. Trying to do so could result in leaving yourself vulnerable to undue harm or further solidifying your reliance on them. The goal is to relax them enough to gain a fuller perspective and respond in healthier ways. One of the greatest ways people grow through life coaching occurs when clients begin to work on their defense mechanisms. Just as a castle’s bridge can be closed to ward off threats, it is possible (and necessary!) to let down the bridge to receive life enriching care from Christ and others.

Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” (NIV) Be certain of this: even when you are overwhelmed by your emotions, God is not. He is a caring and loving God who speaks truth with tender compassion; He binds up the wounds of the broken-hearted; and He redeems our lives from the pit. Instead of remaining defensive and wounded, cast those cares on the Lord.

Casting our cares on Him does not mean abdicating our emotions onto Christ, though. When we cast our cares onto Him, we are not absolved of all personal responsibility. I have encountered many people who have talked extensively about a difficult circumstance in their life, followed by an abrupt statement saying, “It’ll be okay; I’m going to give it over to the Lord.” Then weeks, months, or years pass with no resolution, often followed by the temptation to blame God. Abdicating emotions and responsibility often leads to frustration and an embittered spirit. Casting our cares on the Lord means to allow the one who intimately knows our inner being to lead us into deeper understanding and restoration as He sustains our faith and trust in His goodness.

Jesus freely extends this invitation to all believers: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30, ESV) He invites us to actively participate in the Christian life by casting our cares on the Lord and taking on His yoke. By doing so, we will find rest for our souls and from the defense mechanisms that hinder us from a fuller and richer life with Christ and others.

*Burgo, J. (2012). Why do I do that?: Psychological defense mechanisms and the hidden ways they shape our lives. New Rise Press.

**Lapid-Bogda, G. (2018). The art of typing: Powerful tools for enneagram typing. Enneagram in Business.