Respect for Our Protectors

A couple of weeks ago several young wise women in an eating disorder group opened my eyes to the degree of hopelessness that their generation seems to face. I don’t mean to say that they weren’t willing to fight the fight, because there they were showing up to “feel the feels” as they say. But rather to them it seemed that they could show up and do the work and this fight would only continue indefinitely with little to no promise of a silver lining. What I heard was a desire to find healing and getting no glimpse of it. And it’s true…in the “soft science” of therapy, there are no absolutes. I can’t make the promise. As every therapist knows, we all want the magic wand that will make everything better and none of us seem to have it.

The good news is that there are some really brilliant  approaches to treatment these days, and in therapy, semantics is everything. In a recent training I found myself with ever increasing hope for the hopeless. As I learned more about the different parts of ourselves and how they interact with one another I came to have a newfound respect for our defenses (e.g. avoidance, projection, etc). Oftentimes defenses can be pretty innocuous with only minor inconveniences to communication in relationships and may even resolve naturally on their own with a little bit of insight. On the other end of the continuum however, defenses can become so strong that they might appear to turn against us, even creating scenarios of life and death situations. And here’s where it gets tricky, because then it seems there’s a tendency to turn against our defenses at all costs and demonize them. But if we step back for a minute to take a look at where the defenses come from in the first place, most likely you will find a source of hurt and pain that needed to be protected.

These protectors show up when no one or nothing else has. Keep in mind that the source of pain is subject to individual perception – what may not seem particularly painful to some might be excruciating for others; it’s all about the felt experience. We all need protection in the face of overwhelm, otherwise how do we get through life at all? One of the first steps in this work as I’ve learned, is to have some respect for the mechanisms that stepped in to protect us in the first place. It doesn’t make sense after all, to simply bypass and condemn the rescuers that showed up when no one else was able. I suspect that there are more of us than not who are in need of this type of healing and in many ways it is a privilege to engage in this type of work (on both sides of the coin). My wish for those of you who are ready for the next step in the process of healing, is that it be performed, as much as possible, with precision and care, sensitivity and curiosity, and of course with kindness and respect.

“I didn’t ask for this role but I’ll play it” – one of my favorite lines from Frances McDormand’s protective mom character in the movie Almost Famous:

Parts of me and parts of you – a family dinner scene from Inside Out:

Copyright 2018 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.