Anyone that has been following me for any length of time will know that one of the messages that I keep coming back to is the importance of feeling our feelings. We know that one of the key hallmarks of psychological wellness is being able to regulate, and also being able to feel and experience the full range of human emotions. One of the things that can interfere in that process is what Freud called our defences. That is anything that can interfere with our ability to feel, process and work through what are often difficult emotional experiences.
These two examples of defences, which probably sit at opposite ends of the same spectrum, are blaming and excusing. When we blame someone, we often get stuck in a cycle of what they did to us. It’s an external focus which often negates the internal impact of someone’s behaviour on us.
I had a client whose wife had cheated on him and he was understandably very angry about this. He spent some time vilifying his wife, focusing on how she’d done the wrong thing by him and how angry he was at her. After some time we were able to find out what was lurking underneath all that anger and there was a deep sense of grief and sadness in that the woman he had planned on spending the rest of his life with, had chosen someone else. The other side of that spectrum is excusing or justifying someone else’s, often, inappropriate behaviour towards us.
A female client who, as a young child was assaulted by her father; he had placed his hands around her neck and choked her when she was seven years old. He choked her to the point where she thought that she might actually die from that experience. When we were looking at her experience of that she excused his reaction to her. I then questioned her on this to which she said, “Well, you know, it was my fault.” So, delving deeper, I said, “What did you do to evoke that kind of response? How did you deserve that?”, she said, “Well, I lost my temper and I answered back to mum.”
I asked her, “How many seven year olds do you think have done that before?” And she said, “Well, probably nearly all of them.”
It was her inability to be able to access her anger towards her dad for assaulting and abusing her, which was really getting in the way. Her excusing his behaviour and minimising the impact of that on her, which affected her being able to get in touch with those much deeper feelings of anger towards her father.
The Goals of Therapy
One of the goals of therapy is to be able to identify our hidden feelings, feelings that are often repressed or pushed down and along the way to be able to identify any defences that might be getting in the way of being able to access some of those more deeply felt emotions.
In my upcoming course on anxiety management, there is a whole module on defences or ‘feeling blockers’ as I call them. However, hopefully, this brief look at blaming and excusing, two different types of defences that can often get in the way of being able to uncover deeper feelings, has been helpful.
If you notice yourself doing that, falling into those patterns, maybe just take a moment to stop and reflect and see if you can get in touch with whatever feelings might be underneath that.