r. Keith and Corey navigate the psychological minefield of defensive states and shadow impulses that often diminish our capacity for wisdom, empathy, and self-knowledge.
Defenses block us from self knowledge
Mostly I focus on defensive states being distorted reactions to lack of safety that result in amped emotions, distorted perspectives, destructive impulses, and diminished capacities for empathy and self reflection.
The interpersonal purpose of all this is to protect us from the dangerous other by disconnecting emotionally and preparing for flight/fight, but there is also an intrapersonal aspect, reflected in our diminished abilities to self-reflect.
If we can’t effectively self-reflect when instantiating defensive states, we risk being locked into a rigid response to the feeling of certain threats and thus create a psychic block to growth and integration. This block constitutes a frozen part of our self–becoming more firmly programmed with each repetition–which blocks self-awareness, compromises intimacy, and inhibits personal evolution. In a complex system rigidity (like a locked perspective) and chaos (like an escalating conflicts) resist greater complexity.
Defensive states resist awareness of me acting badly.
Such defensive resistance to self-awareness is inevitable give the nature of human development. Our foundation moral systems are developed when we are preoperational and concrete operational–preoperational being non-logical/magical/non-linear cognitively, and concrete operational being black/white, either/or, not relativistic cognitively. Neither of these comprehends relativistic moral values like, “Good people can do bad things, but then turn them into good things with moral adjustments and right actions.” In a black/white moral system, if we act badly, we are at risk of being bad. If we do a shame-inducing act, we are at risk of being a shameful/worthless person. These values are our primitive deep moral programming and show up in states of diminished capacities like defensive states.
Our young and primitive adaptive unconscious defends against being bad or worthless by separating from the dangerous other (generating negative stories, destructive impulses, and diminished empathy), and resisting awareness of our own damaging acts/thoughts/intentions (lack of self-reflection) through a variety of defenses–all designed to disconnect from the other and avoid self-awareness of our own destructive thoughts/beliefs/impulses/behaviors.
Music by Justin Miles and Stuart Davis
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About Keith Witt
Dr. Keith Witt is a Licensed Psychologist, teacher, and author who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara, CA. for over forty years. Dr. Witt is also the founder of The School of Love.
About Corey deVos
Corey W. deVos is the proverbial "man behind the curtain". He is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996.