When We Want Protection From Our Spouses- And Use Defense Mechanisms When We Don’t Receive It!
If I want protection from my husband, and don’t receive it in ways I’d hoped for or wanted, but rather, he unconsciously causes me to feel abandoned or rejected by him, by way of not protecting me, I may use defense strategies, such as:
-Show him that I “got this” on my own.
-Show him that “I don’t need him anyway.”
-Passively or aggressively cause him to feel rejected (even though he may not actually be rejecting me!)
This is a danger, and a slippery slope to marriage because it can lead to division and lack of trust.
Of course, we would need to know the full picture of what is happening in the marriage. Is the spouse is really, truly non-protective and abandoning, or rather, is he is protective, but it feels intuitively a wrong way or type of protection for you? For instance, you want him to lock the house doors, and call to make sure you made it somewhere okay- but those things aren't even on his radar. This feels like he doesn't protect you, but unbeknownst to you, if he's anything like my spouse, he has an entirely different standard of protection.
In either case, first and foremost, communication with my partner goes without saying- seeing a couples therapist also couldn't hurt, or an individual one if it feels emotionally safer (sometimes it is unsafe to be emotionally vulnerable with a partner, such as when there is deep trust issues, or domestic abuse). Beyond that, because I can ultimately only control myself, the courageous thing to do may be to notice what is going on within myself, in my body-viscerally, in my dysregulated-not regular or baseline-emotions, and in my distorted thoughts, and work to change that paradigm!
How? If I can notice my body’s reaction to not feeling protected, I can begin to notice the narrative that those physical sensations come with. Our somatic (felt in the body) responses, come with language, but we must learn to listen to it, and translate what it is telling us. It will keep telling us information forever- because God made such an awesome mind/body connection, but we have to tap into its voice. It may be a stomach turn, tension in my chest, my shoulders may tighten, my hands go into a fist, I may suddenly feel the urge to run.
What those manifestations in the body mean, may be a lot! Once I start tapping into my bodies messages, I may notice my emotions better, or even my subconscious thoughts.
By listening to my body, I may bring back old memories that help me notice what is driving my defenses.
For instance- have you ever smelled something and immediately gotten shot back to a childhood place? For a few moments you time travel there, and when you come back, you notice it, maybe find it cool or peculiar.
In the same way, if I listen to my body during a moment of insecurity or fear, I may find it leads me to an old memory, a place my nervous system and my brain have held onto. I can receive stress hormones when I think about this place or time. The fascinating thing is, whether you are thinking about what your body is telling you or not, it is subconsciously sending you the adaptive neuro-transmitter(s) for that situation. For instance, subconscious to you-unless you are staying super aware of what's happening- the body will send you oxytocin hormones when you are in a group- it's what helps bond the group together. If I recognize that I'm in a group, I can think to myself- "Hey, cool, I'm probably receiving oxytocin for bonding behavior!"
When you are distressed, the body will help you adapt by sending you adrenaline and cortisol so you can run or fight- hardly helpful in a marital situation unless there truly is a danger with your spouse. But in the same way I described oxytocin, you could also stop and notice- "Hey my hands just went into a fist, and I really want to hit something!" Breath deeply, state you need to go cool down for a bit, or just go cool down if you can't say it in the moment. Keep breathing deeply, release the tension in my muscles, try to go from uber tense to floppy. (In kid world we say go from "robot to ragdoll, or wet noodle."
This is the beautiful beginning to starting to recognize there is a BIG message here from the body.
In the case of me not feeling my husband is protecting me, that flight/fight stuff may be taking center stage because I am feeling insecure, and helpless. The verbal defensives mentioned earlier could be a result of what my nervous system in helping me do- adapt out of stress and fear. So I reject (run/flight) by saying, "I don't need him anyway" because I am in a state of threat, and feel like I must take control and adapt.
My blood used to (and sometimes still does) boil when I feel unprotected! I get so angry! My heart races! I think- "You're supposed to protect me!" Then I go pretty quickly into a sympathetic nervous system response- the flight/fight overrides the cool, collected ability to calmly discuss the situation. My husband doesn't know what hit him. I've progressed quite a bit now-a-days, but I'm still learning to respond better.
To say the least, communication with my spouse, and getting professional therapy to sort those sensations, and feelings, can be very beneficial.
The ultimate hope is to change the cognitive message for the sake of the nervous system’s response (to not go into flight/fight- which can bring on feeling “revved up,” angry, scared, etc.) when we feel unprotected or abandoned. Changing the brain's perception of incoming data will then create an optimal way for this data to be sent to the most helpful place in the brain- the pre-frontal cortex (where information can be logically and linearly stored after receiving a time stamp- which is a sense of a “real time” line to link, rather than it feeling like a chaotic, untamed threat via physical/emotional upset with no apparent time point).
What I mean here is, so much occurs in the subconscious- so we feel BIG feelings, that feel untamed and wild. We think we must be crazy. But the truth is- you're feeling them because your brain hasn't been able to move them from the mid or lower brain, to the upper brain to receive a sense of when something happened to me to cause me to react the way I do. If I can do some good, hard work with my therapist, I can begin to catch old memories via those subconscious bodily responses and begin the long but worth-it process to help the brain "time stamp" them, give them linearity (a chronological narrative), and then turn those BIG somatic and emotional sensations into actual, helpful, cognitions- thoughts!
In doing all of this, we can change the default neurological pathway our brain tends to take, into a more helpful one, learn to think more helpful thoughts. We can send information to the part of the brain that can help us out, rather than it sending us into a threat response- which can feel very out of control, leaving us feeling helpless and even more insecure.
Our brains are plastic- meaning they are permeable or able to change.
It may take time, but I can change the belief system (and it is a complex system between nervous system and pre-frontal cortex of the brain)!
If I truly want to- I can become aware of my nervous system’s response to what feels like the threat of abandonment (out of the perceived lack of protection), and work through the process to new feelings and new, more helpful thoughts. But it will take work. I will need to hold myself responsible to areas where my thoughts are skewed or distorted, or where my nervous system has a “false alarm” to threats.
If you can continue communication about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to your spouse- that is a win. If the spouse isn't who you can turn to, then a healthy therapist and other trustworthy, validating support people who care about your progress are great people to go to for encouragement and further insight.
Take courage! This is doable, especially with the help of a trained mental health provider!
Check out The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk, Hold Me Tight, by Susan Johnson, or The Polyvagal Theory, by Stephen Porges, The Whole Brain Child, by Dan Seigal. These fine researcher/doctors/authors are where I find a ton of the knowledge on neuro-bio responses.
The picture I chose for this blog is so fitting. I may feel like defending myself to the point of fleeing the relationship if I don't feel protected. I may go toward self preservation, rather than relationship preservation.