Emotional self-protection: gain insight into your survival mechanism

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A mechanism is intended to protect you against violent or unacknowledged emotions and/or feelings, so that you will experience reality as less threatening or unsafe. A wonderful quality of the human mind – to survive, to face the event, the situation of that moment. The annoying thing is that you will also apply the mechanism in other situations. When you are triggered by something similar to a previous event, the mechanism automatically and unconsciously takes over your system. It happens very quickly and often you don’t even notice it. In Knetterlekker in je skin by Jose van den Diepstraten and Nathalie van Spall they describe eleven defense or protection mechanisms and in this article you can read seven of them.

How does a mechanism arise?

As a child you are extremely dependent on your environment, on the people who take care of you and, if all is well, educate, protect and guide you. As a small, young person you are absolutely incapable of changing these events or the circumstances under which they take place, completely dependent on the adults around you. Your natural urge for love, attention and approval demands that you unconsciously give up parts of yourself; as a child you will adapt and meet the wishes and demands of the environment. With this adjustment you lose a part of your original self.

Or you start yelling at it, push yourself off, don’t listen, show rebellious behavior. You will demand negative attention and become the ‘difficult child’, with all the consequences that entails. As a child, you are neither seen nor heard in either circumstance. In the worst case scenario, you will experience emotional or physical trauma as a child. You are hurt and hurt internally and you can experience a basic feeling of insecurity, loneliness and abandonment.

Because as a child it is difficult to handle these feelings, which are not recognized or seen, a survival or protection mechanism automatically kicks in in every person; the connection with your true feeling narrows or closes. Everyone develops a way of holding their own in certain situations. Simply because as a child you are unable to step out of the situation.

For what purpose do you develop a mechanism?

A mechanism is intended to protect you against violent or unacknowledged emotions and/or feelings, so that you will experience reality as less threatening or unsafe. These can be small or big events, difficult or less difficult situations. It is important that you realize that these were difficult or difficult situations for you, no matter how insignificant those situations or events may be for someone else.

Everyone makes their own interpretation of reality. What is experienced as threatening or unsafe by one person may have a completely different meaning or emotional value for another. After all, we all look at the world through our own glasses. This means that you are entitled to your experience of reality, to your experience of the world and to all the emotions and feelings that go with it. How strange they may be to another! It is very important to take your feelings seriously.

How does the red button get stronger?

We call your mechanism: the red button. The red button always contains the following three core elements: fear, control and not wanting to feel. And the more often fear, control and not wanting to feel take over, the stronger you make your red button. Because everything you give attention to, grows. It is a vicious circle and this circle continues to narrow. Again it is very logical and very simple. The red button slowly but surely makes your inner world smaller, so that you get further and further away from your feelings. Your entire feeling system is becoming flatter.

So each red button contains three core elements. This red button may look different mentally, physically, emotionally and behaviorally, but the core elements of fear, control and not wanting to feel are always present. And that’s for a reason, because when you connect with certain feelings, there can be

all sorts of things happen and you can no longer put the feeling aside. Perhaps memories or emotions surface. Emotions that do not belong in the ‘here and now’, do not belong to the current situation. Emotions that have been hidden away (too) long.emotional self-protection (1)

What does your red button on a mental level (the power of your mind) look like?

Feel and see in which forms of expression, feeling or behavior you recognize yourself. Some will be stronger than others, depending on what you’ve been through and how you feed the red button. Take your time. This is an important piece. Also ask your partner or someone close to you which red button he/she recognizes in you.

Look and feel whether you recognize yourself in one or more of the defense or protection mechanisms below that take place on a mental level. In total there are eleven defense or protection mechanisms, but we share seven.


‘There are worse things’: you tend to downplay things, to make something bad into something small. To make ‘whatever it is’ more insignificant than it really is.


‘Yes, but…’: you mainly get stuck in your head. From your head you will come up with all kinds of explanations for a certain behavior or a certain situation. With the aim of avoiding confusing or difficult feelings. It is mainly a lot of ‘blah, blah, blah’ and a lot of ‘yes, but…’.


For example, tension headaches: you shift psychological or emotional problems to experiencing physical ailments. Medical research often shows that your body and its functions are healthy.

Pile up

‘You are about to blow’: you ignore your emotions and thus you pile emotion on emotion. Your whole body may become cramped or even burn out. Your emotions do not decrease, but increase, making you feel like a ticking time bomb.


You get intense images, disturbing thoughts or recurring impulses that you experience as annoying, disturbing and above all pointless.


Your behavior is determined by everything you ‘need’ from yourself. You use the word “should” in almost every sentence. You force yourself to keep going. It feels like you have no choice. You would like to be different, but your boss, your girlfriend, your partner…


‘There is no problem’ or ‘What are you talking about?’: you are unable to remember your difficult situations and associated feelings, wishes, thoughts, etc. Repression generally takes a lot of energy and can be extremely tiring.

It is important that you become aware of the fact that you have a mechanism. And that you will fully recognize and acknowledge this mechanism. But remember: you are not your mechanism. You are much more than that!



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