Live your best life …
A few weeks ago, I fell and damaged my knee which required ongoing rest and treatment. My normal activities were severely curtailed as a result. Even though the recovery has been frustratingly slow, I have had the opportunity to observe the healing process working to its own time table; and how effectively the body has utilised fear to protect itself from further injury. I have noted, with some surprise, how completely the protection process took hold and the role of fear in maintaining this process. My knee was not convinced by the doctor who assured me that I needed to keep mobile and walk as normally as possible. For example, walking up stairs had become an issue. Even though there was no more pain in the knee and I could support my weight, there was a marked reluctance to attempt the task. I found it difficult to trust that my knee joint was up to it. There seemed to be a disconnect between my brain and my muscles. I felt really foolish standing at the base of the small flight of stairs giving myself an encouraging pep talk! As for walking normally, I was concerned that I was beginning to forget what ‘normal’ felt like. This experience started me thinking about the other protection processes in the body, not just the physical ones. If it is this difficult to cope with a knee injury, then perhaps this may shed some light on the difficulties we face when we confront emotional injuries.
A similar protection pattern is alive and well in our emotional landscape. The ego is the mental power which is responsible for our sense of autonomy and motivation but is also responsible for organising and maintaining protection which it does with great efficiency. It would be rare for anyone to get through life without any emotional bruises. Consequently, we all make use of a range of protective behaviours.
The ego is a very effective protection agency on the front line of defence. It does not negotiate. It is primarily concerned for our survival and is single minded about its job. As long as we draw breath, the ego will continue to protect us from whatever we find fearful.The ego’s job is to maintain the status quo; to maintain the universe it had constructed where ‘our story’ runs like a 24 hour news bulletin. To the ego, this ‘known universe’ constitutes safety. However, this is an illusion. As a result, the ego is hugely resistant to change which it avoids at all costs. Marianne Williamson says, ” The ego is our pain, but it is what we know and we resist moving out of it. The effort it takes to grow out of painful patterns often feels more uncomfortable than remaining within them.” And then this quote from Debbie Ford, ” We fear every thought we have ever repressed.”
Many ’emotional wounds’ can be traced back to childhood incidents; a time when our need for love and acceptance was greatest. Not receiving the support needed, led to the mistaken conclusion that we were somehow lacking; we were not good enough. This painful thought, which brought up fear, activated the protection of the ego. Defensive behaviours became part of our response repertoire. The ego’s mantra is, ” Let’s get them before they can get you!” This course of action felt effective in the first instance because it reduced the stress being felt. We felt justified in our protective response. It made us feel better for a little while but our insecurity did not disappear. In some cases, we became disassociated from the original cause and became hyper vigilant around any situation that remotely resembled it. It is really easy to get ‘plugged in’ and react defensively to these situations because the ego mobilises all available defences at ANY sign of attack, real or imagined.
The effect of protective/defensive behaviours lessens with time because when we protect, we tend to ‘act out’ and ‘acting out’ does not seem to ‘win friends or influence people’. For example, if we were criticised for being weak, the ego would have ‘hidden’ our weakness . The ego is so good at its job that we forget that this unacceptable part is hidden so we are highly irritated by any weakness shown by others. Debbie Ford says that, “Protection is an involuntary transfer of our own unconscious behaviour onto others, so it appears to us that these qualities actually exist in other people.” Easily, we come to the conclusion that it is someone else’s fault. It’s only when we become aware of projection that we uncover the alliance between ourselves and our ego. This usually happens around the time we start asking questions about why our lives are not working as well as we would like .
It would appear that we can draw parallels between physical and emotional injury. In both cases there is limitation, fear, resistance, lack of trust and the challenge of recovery. Whether the injury is physical or emotional, there is limitation of movement. We hold our injured limb in a rigid manner in order to prevent further pain even after it has gotten significantly better. Emotionally, we distance ourselves from the source of our distress by not allowing contact. In both instances, fear plays a major role in maintaining this limitation and encourages resistance in order to avoid being reinjured. Eventually, we need to trust the affected limb in order to get back to normal functioning. Likewise emotionally, the uncomfortable situation needs to be revisited and tried again. Remember the saying, ‘ It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’. Lastly, recovery requires challenging the fear and doing whatever it takes, like not avoiding the stairs. Emotionally, challenge the irritation you feel around people you have labelled as ‘weak’. It is only when you are prepared to own your weakness that you find the ‘gift’ that it has for you. You benefitted from the original criticism; what have you achieved as a result? We all have the opportunity to live a more expansive life………….or not. We all have the choice; we all have the challenge.
Be kind to yourself
Sources: A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson
The Dark Side of Light Chasers, Debbie Ford
My blogs: Even More about Faults and Flaws Part 3 Emotional Sunburn
Stories We Tell Ourselves