Trauma Treatment: What are Psychological Defenses?

Jim Knipe’s EMDR Toolbox Book defines psychological defence as any mental action or behaviour that prevents intrusion of posttraumatic disturbing memory material into the functioning of the part that is trying to look and act “normal”. For example, addictive disorders often serve a defensive purpose.

When emotional intrusions from the past happen repeatedly, defences will become stronger because they protect the normal self by putting in place a mental wall to prevent intrusions of posttraumatic disturbances. While defences protect the individual from distress, they may also limit access to unresolved memories.

There are various types of defences.

  1. Avoidance behaviour: Linked to PTSD, avoidance behaviours are a common defence mechanism. Clients may actively avoid triggers or reminders of traumatic experiences.
  2. Idealization: This defence involves attributing unrealistically positive qualities to people or situations to counteract negative emotions.
  3. Addictive behaviour patterns: Addictive behaviours, such as substance abuse or compulsive actions, may be used to manage emotional pain.
  4. Shame defences: Irrational shame about self often functions as a defence. Shame has the function of shutting down other affects – particularly interest and excitement. Shame is often seen as an illusion of personal responsibility for what has happened and can enable that person to deny the reality of their powerlessness during the trauma.

For Therapists: Techniques to Address Psychological Defenses:

Into Loving Eye Method: 

The Loving Eyes method involves having an oriented and apparently normal part (ANP) visualize an emotional part (EP), a younger part that relives a traumatic experience. The ANP creates a mental image of the EP despite potential difficulties due to the disturbing emotions and information the EP holds.

ANPs might avoid EPs to maintain their daily tasks and normal appearance. On the other hand, EPs may fear judgment and rejection from ANPs and therefore try to remain hidden.

The Back of the Head Scale:

The method uses a metaphorical scale at the back of the head to measure and track the intensity of emotional reactions and defences tied to traumatic memories. Bilateral stimulation (BLS) techniques could potentially bring up unresolved traumatic experiences, which might be problematic for clients dealing with dissociation or those close to being overwhelmed by such memories.

In such cases, the traumatic memory can become more vivid than the actual present situation, leading to non-therapeutic retraumatization. For clients prone to dissociation, the level of connection to the present moment can be assessed using the back-of-the-head scale (BHS).

This process helps the therapist and client maintain successful trauma processing by keeping dual attention on both the safe present and the traumatic past, preventing unnecessary distress.

Method of Constant Installation of Present Orientation and Safety (CIPOS): 

The technique prioritizes creating a sense of safety and connection to the present during therapy to improve the processing of traumatic memories.

CIPOS focuses on enhancing feelings of safety and present-moment awareness while addressing traumatic memories. CIPOS integrates mindfulness and present-focused attention into EMDR, ensuring that clients stay anchored in the present and connected to their resources, promoting a stable and secure mindset.

This approach facilitates the processing of distressing memories while preventing emotional overwhelm.

If you recognise your own trauma defenses or come across defenses in your sessions with clients and want to know more about them, please get in touch with me for a FREE session enquiry or clinical supervision.

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