Risky and uncertain times can be an excuse to keep your head buried in the sand. On the other hand, as we have heard from many of you, it can be a time to ponder how to be your best self in relating to others and your experience.
Understanding more about how you protect yourself can be a path toward deeper personal insight. The question arises, how do your protection strategies get started in the first place?
As small children, we humans figure out how to survive and deal with scary experiences. As infants and toddlers, we looked up to giant and powerful adults and applied our innate survival instincts to secure food, sleep, warmth, love, and safety the best we knew how.
Psychologist Karen Horney studied human nature and, in the 1940’s, identified 3 different strategies that children can develop to respond to fears. She described these 3 layers of protection as:
- Moving away from others or the situation to avoid, withdraw, observe, and wait. This is based upon the child’s belief that: “If I isolate, stand back, and avoid engaging, I will be safe.”
- Moving against others by being aggressive. Here the child concludes: “If I use control and domination and be assertive, I will manage my environment to get what I want and need.”
- Moving toward people to please, accommodate, and be helpful. From a child’s perspective: “If I please others, I will be loved and cared for.”
These roles align well with Horney’s strategies. The Victim role aligns itself with Korney’s “moving away” and not taking responsibility or believing they have power in the situation. The Persecutor role reflects “moving against” others by taking control and being assertive. And the Rescuer adopts a “moving toward” strategy to use pleasing and accommodating to protect themselves.
Author and research Dr. Brene Brown calls these protective strategies our “human armors.” Brown writes: “I was surprised to discover that we all share a small array of common protective mechanisms. My hope is that a peek inside the armory will help us to look inside ourselves. When and how did we start using these defense mechanisms? What would it take to make us put the armor away?”
Our observation is that all three of these layers of protection are a result of a victim mentality that rests on a belief that life happens “to me.” If you believe that life happens “to you,” it is easy to adopt a primary DDT role to get you through tough times, gradually becoming an exaggerated way of relating to yourself and others.
Many aspects of the roles, if used in moderation, do help you to cope and survive. But if the drama roles are the only strategy to get through life, the roles over time become dysfunctional and limiting. By recognizing these patterns when they arise, naming and acknowledging them with compassion, you can relate to your layers of protection as a normal human response to scary situations.
The discovery of reoccurring drama roles as layers of protection has meaning only if there is a possibility of liberating yourself from “armoring up.” This is where TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® makes a valuable contribution with its more constructive roles of Creator, Challenger, and Coach. In order to develop more resourceful and resilient relationships, the TED* roles model positive ways of relating and more useful than simply saying “just stop the drama!”
The protection layers, if observed and acknowledged, can be the window toward greater self-awareness. With awareness, you can be at choice about how you choose to respond in any moment—even in stressful and uncertain times as these.