We all have defenses that distort our reality. To grow as leaders, we need to increase our self-awareness. Knowing our defenses is a great first step. Here are the most common:

1. Avoidance or Denial
A coaching client of mine was stressed about money. But, she kept postponing doing a budget to clarify how much she needed. I was definitely in denial about the severity of Covid last February. Do you avoid facing the stuff that stresses you?  

2. Numbness
Many of us numb our emotions with food, nicotine, Netflix or alcohol. We try to numb our pain. The problem is that numbness does not work only one way. If you do not feel the pain, you will not feel the joy either. Counterintuitively, often the best way to release the pain is to lean into it.

3. Displacement
You get angry at your boss but you displace your anger to your kids. You get angry at your kids, but you displace your anger to your spouse. Displacement happens more often than we realize.

4. Projection
Years ago, I had an emotional reaction towards a mom who was not spending much time with her children. I discussed this with my coaching supervisor. We realized that this mom reminded me of myself as I worked full time. I was judging her, but in reality, I was judging a part of me. A part I had projected to her because I was uncomfortable to own. Realizing this helped me integrate it back and increase my self-awareness. Is there something that disturbs you in other people? Could it be that it reminds you a part of yourself?

5. Becoming an observer of your life
Do you keep thinking about how what you say or do look from the outside? One of my coaching clients will often stop talking and say ‘That sounds weird.’ Always criticizing yourself like an observer can prevent you from experiencing life.

6. Losing your individuality
When I was with a group of friends and everyone ordered a beer (pre-Covid) I used to hesitate for a moment. I was tempted to order a beer as well, even though I do not like it. Just to go with the flow of the group. One of my coaching clients kept using ‘we’ when she was describing her individual achievements. How do you relate to people without losing yourself?

7. ‘Swallowing’ shoulds: A 65-year old lady I know was meeting her friends to play cards every Monday evening for the last 35 years. Her friends stayed until midnight, but she always left before the game finished, to go home to her husband. Her husband did not care about what time she came back. Her mother, who had passed away decades ago, had told her that she should always be home to her husband before midnight. This unquestioned ‘should’ determined the lady’s behavior for the last 35 years. Have you adopted other people’s “shoulds” that are not relevant any more?

These defenses can be useful at times. Avoidance is great when you are at the dentist. If you are an athlete, you can numb a pain during a sports game to be able to finish it.

Talking about emotions, you might enjoy one of my most popular articles “10 Reasons Why Expressing your Anger Immediately is Magic.”

We want to use these defenses by choice. Not subconsciously and uncontrollably. We want to choose the movie of our lives deliberately, not just watch what our mind is projecting.

Which one of these defenses do you use the most? Which one surprised you?

Photo by Stefan Steinbauer

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