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Mental defense mechanisms developed in childhood

The main task of any living creature at birth is to survive. A baby is no exception. When an infant is born, it encounters a world that is too big, too bright, just "all too big.

The most important person on whom a baby depends, who helps him "digest the world around him" in the first months, is the mother. The relationship with her, how she responds to the baby's needs, forms the defense system and trust in the world. 

This article will focus on the earliest mental defenses that form from birth until about 4 months of age. These defenses are the first response to when something goes wrong. The first impulse to "split" between the head, body and senses. The first attempt to endure and survive.

I should say at once that everything may be fine and the child does not need the protection, and sometimes, in subsequent periods of development, some protection systems are superimposed on others. This is how our "unique armor" is gradually built. Yes, it helps us to survive and achieve certain goals, and at the same time, at certain moments it hinders us a lot.

Circumstances in life are different. Our parents are just people who make mistakes, get tired, get angry, get hurt. A child who is born is not capable of "digesting" the world around him and the negative emotions of those who gave him life. 

To somehow cope, one of the options is to "escape from the body", disconnect it, and focus on the head, in thoughts. In this case, the child focuses further on the development of abstract-logical thinking, which, let me remind you, is responsible for processing information, predicting, and building cause-and-effect relationships.

In adulthood, such people rely on facts and figures. They have a cold and calculating mind. They are able to create complex systems and operate with large amounts of data. However, they have a very poor sense of their body. For them it is a tool, which has to perform certain functions. Such people "skip" pleasures, they don't know how to savor and enjoy simple things. This channel is closed to them. If we talk about what professions they can choose, then among them there are excellent analysts, researchers, athletes.

Another variant of protection is also related to the fact that the child "retreats from the body to the head", but in this case, later on, figurative thinking develops, which, let me remind you, is responsible for creativity, art, creation of complex images.

In adulthood such people have a rich imagination and are capable of creating virtual worlds in their heads, in which they hide from reality. Their connection to their bodies is also weak. Satisfaction of needs takes place on the level of instincts. At the same time, they are able to create and create in different areas of art: painting, literature, music.

At a later stage, another defense system is formed when the child focuses on the external perception of the world. The world around is so interesting and bright, but there is so much of it.

Growing up, these people feel very keenly the space around them, its beauty and imperfection at the same time. You could say they have "no skin." They get overwhelmed very quickly by experiences and need space and time for solitude and recovery. The body feels uneven and, most importantly, it is not able to retain the energy that is filled. Of the professions prefer to choose those associated with the improvement and harmonization of the surrounding space: decorators, designers, sound engineers.

And finally, the last, late of the earliest defenses, when the child understands that he needs someone to survive. He is already better at navigating the world around him and instinctively looks for someone he can "lean on" for protection and support. 

Growing up, such people don't handle emotions well, they can't handle them. They either "fall" into feelings or withdraw and behave coldly and calculatingly. Contact with the body is broken, just as in the rest of the defense systems. The body does not feel like a "secure home. It is unable to withstand the stress of the outside world.

All the described defense mechanisms are activated in the early period when there is a threat to life, a bad attitude or unsatisfactory care for the child by the parents.

If this happens, along with the defense systems described, the child's basic trust in the world is broken. He does not feel that he has the right to be here. The world is dangerous and hostile to him.

With the defense systems described, there is poor contact with the body. It is a source of problems, or simply a tool to satisfy biological needs. The feeling that the body is home and well within is unfamiliar.

Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize again that all of our acquired defense systems are for survival. They help us to be efficient and solve the tasks at hand, and not everyone and not always feels their limitations.

However, if there is a feeling of "going around in circles" and "feeling that you are up against a wall," then it is certainly worth investigating what has stopped working for you and has begun to interfere.


Anna Matyagina

psycotherapist, certified coach ICI, MRI, AC; specialize in Jungian sand therapy, metaphorical maps, PhD in Engineering

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