I wanted to share with you a book that has had a profound effect on me, Undefended Love, by psychotherapists Jett Psaris & Marlena S. Lyons. The premise of Undefended Love is that each one of us has set up within ourselves emotional defense mechanisms that hinder our ability to relate to others intimately and directly. This defense mechanism is counterproductive in that it serves as a protective shield but also constrains and restricts us in our interactions with others, especially loved ones. The authors explain that in addition to being restrictive and constraining, holding up these inner defenses requires a lot of work and energy to maintain.
According to the authors, as children and as young adults, we don’t have the emotional confidence and maturity to handle painful and uncomfortable emotions, so we come up with strategies to distract ourselves from these painful emotions, and tell ourselves that the pain will pass with time. As a way of dealing with these emotions, we engage in ways of behaving or thinking that divert our attention but ultimately do not serve our best interests.
Psaris and Lyons explain that the only way we can experience emotional growth is by learning to be open and honest with ourselves, and instead of ignoring or distracting ourselves from emotions, examine your underlying feelings and reactions to an uncomfortable emotional situation. By facing these feelings and uncertainties head on, we can heal and accept ourselves, and improve our lives and relationships.
In Undefended Love, the authors explain that the part of ourselves that we try so hard to keep from surfacing is called our “cracked identity” or “cracked selves”. Part of the book's premise is that people in relationships reveal their cracked selves—the part of our identity, personality and needs that are unfulfilled. Our response and our expectations that come from our cracked selves can wreak havoc in our relationships, and if we go through our lives concealing this cracked identity, our hidden emotions will continue to damage our lives and relationships.
By being aware of this concept, and working to shed the cracked self, we can recapture our unique Essence- the core of who we are. In Undefended Love, Psaris and Lyons suggest a number of techniques to bring out our essential selves. One recommendation I find particularly helpful is their “Stop, Look, Listen” method, designed to stop reactions that have become routine or habitual.
The “Stop, Look, Listen” method suggests that we get more in tune with our emotional reactions to events and situations both serious and trivial:
The first step in this technique is to Stop and examine our usual behaviors/reactions by identifying them when they reveal themselves, then act in a manner opposite of what you would normally do. For example, if you have a tendency to withdraw yourself in certain situations, try to stay engaged and in-the-moment. If you tend to close your heart to protect yourself from pain or rejection, attempt to be open and welcoming. If you generally keep thoughts and feelings to yourself, disclose. If you normally attack or get defensive, be still and non-reactive.
The next step is to look. When faced with a trying situation, look at yourself, and your reaction, not the reaction of your loved ones or others. Thoroughly examine your own response to a situation, and try to identify why it is that you are sensitive, asking yourself the following questions
- What about you feels threatened in the situation? What is it about your Self that perceives the situation as hostile?
- What is making you feel uncomfortable? What part of your self-image feels embarrassed hurt or shamed?
- What kind of support do you feel that you could provide yourself to better handle the negative feelings brought up in an uncomfortable situation? Is there a characteristic or ability that you feel you need within yourself in order to tolerate these feelings?
The final step is to listen intently to yourself. Take the information you’ve gathered through the “Looking” step, and try listening to your “essential self”, moving past the onslaught of feelings and thoughts that enter your mind when facing a problem, such as a dispute with a loved one. Once you begin to feel more calm and more in tune with yourself, re-enter the communication with your loved one in an honest manner. Approach the situation in a way that is less protected and less attached to your defense mechanisms.
Try your best to put these three steps together every time you are faced with a confrontation or negative situation. With time and effort, you’ll notice a difference in your reactions and self-awareness. Then celebrate the progress you’ve made in becoming more in tune with your true self and your Essence.
Undefended Love is a book that I would recommend to anyone seeking conflict resolution and a deeper connection in their relationships. The book is full of helpful techniques, self-analysis methods, and exercises designed to help you communicate on a deeper level with yourself and your loved ones— by finding ways to better express your essential self.
To find out more about Undefended Love or to order a copy of the book, visit: http://undefendedlove.com/