Life’s a journey with some unexpected turns, right? Turns out, the survival strategies we picked up as kids can become these sneaky stumbling blocks in adulthood. Defensive behaviours, born from childhood challenges, can morph into patterns that hold us back. As the New Year approaches, let’s dive into the dynamics of these behaviours, trace them back to their roots, and explore practical strategies – like the PIE technique and metacognition – to break free from these ingrained habits.

The Birth of Survival Strategies and Defensive Behaviours

Childhood is this testing ground where we figure out how to deal with the world. We build these defense mechanisms as shields against emotional turmoil or that uneasy feeling of not being safe. These survival strategies, crucial for surviving a rollercoaster childhood, can stick around too long and start feeling like baggage in adulthood, holding us back from genuine connections.

As kids, these defenses were our trusty companions, helping us navigate tricky situations and emotions. Maybe we learned to be people-pleasers, and overachievers, or maybe we withdrew into ourselves or learned maladaptive coping mechanisms like self-soothing through food. At the time, these strategies were adaptive, helping us cope with the unpredictable and sometimes challenging environment of childhood.

However, what happens when the battleground changes, and we’re no longer in the same environment? What if the defenses that once shielded us become obstacles in forming authentic connections, pursuing personal growth, and finding fulfillment in adulthood?


The Self-Defeating Loop

Picture this: the defensive moves we mastered as kids come back as automatic thoughts that play havoc with our self-worth. You decide to do some extra study to advance your career and get a less-than-stellar grade. Suddenly your brain’s shouting, “I failed because I’m stupid.” It’s like a grown-up version of a survival skill turning into a self-blame reflex.

To truly dismantle these defenses, it’s essential to understand their roots. Childhood experiences, whether positive or negative, shape the strategies we employ to cope with the world.

Let’s consider a scenario where a child grows up in an environment where their opinions are consistently dismissed. As a defense mechanism, they might learn to keep quiet, and not express their thoughts or needs. This silence becomes their shield, a way to avoid potential rejection or criticism. However, what served as a shield in childhood can turn into a barrier in adulthood, hindering effective communication and self-expression.

Unraveling these defenses involves introspection and a willingness to revisit past experiences. Therapy particularly approaches like psychodynamic therapy, can be a valuable tool in uncovering and understanding these deeply ingrained patterns. By bringing these patterns to light, individuals can consciously work towards modifying them and fostering healthier ways of relating to themselves and others.

Therapeutic approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are designed to delve deep into these patterns and facilitate meaningful change.

In the context of CBT, individuals can work with therapists to identify and challenge automatic thoughts, replacing them with more balanced and constructive perspectives. Psychodynamic therapy, on the other hand, explores the unconscious roots of these behaviors, offering insights into their origin and ways to reshape them.

DBT, with its focus on emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness, equips individuals with practical skills to navigate the complexities of adult life. The guidance of a skilled therapist provides a supportive and structured environment for this transformative journey.

These automatic thoughts, ingrained from childhood, become the lens through which we interpret the world. They’re like old scripts we play on repeat, shaping our perceptions and responses to various situations. But what if we could rewrite those scripts? What if we could challenge those automatic thoughts and explore more constructive ways of thinking?

The PIE Technique: A Practical Approach to Reflection

To escape the self-doubt cycle, let’s get practical with the PIE technique.

a number of pizzas, all ct in different ways with different sized slices on a blue backgroundStep 1: Identify the Automatic Thought: Catch that knee-jerk thought that jumps out when things get tricky. In our example, it’s the one saying, “I failed because I’m stupid.”

Step 2: Explore Other Possibilities: Get creative. List out other reasons things might’ve gone south. Maybe the test was a brain-buster, you skipped a few classes, studied the wrong stuff, the teacher zoomed through the lesson, or just plain bad luck.

Step 3: Play the Percentages Game: Assign numbers to each reason based on how much it contributed. Somedays something might weight heavily and other days it isn’t a factor at all so it’s important to figure this out each and every time. Add up the numbers to make sure they hit 100%.

Step 4: Visualise with a Pie Chart: Turn those percentages into a pie chart. It’s a visual reality check, helping you see that your first thought isn’t the whole pizza, just a slice.

The PIE technique helps you step back from the emotions, see the bigger picture, and cut yourself some slack.

Metacognition: Thinking Like a Friend for Clarity

Another trick up our sleeves is metacognition. It’s like asking yourself, “What advice would I give a friend if they were in this same situation?”

The Metacognitive Move: When your brain’s throwing a pity party, change the script. Instead of drowning in your drama, ask, “What would I tell a friend dealing with this?” This simple trick gives you a chance to step back and see the situation more objectively. Metacognition is all about detangling yourself from the drama. By treating your problems like they’re happening to a friend, suddenly you’re not stuck in the middle of it. It’s like turning down the volume on your own crazy and getting clear-headed advice from yourself.

If you wouldn’t take your advice it also leads to a potentially productive thinking session about why you wouldn’t do the things that you would unhesitatingly suggest for others.

Breaking free from childhood defenses is a journey of self-discovery. It involves acknowledging the strategies that once served us well but recognising when they start holding us back. Embracing metacognition encourages the cultivation of self-awareness, understanding the origin of our automatic thoughts, and actively choosing alternative perspectives.

A shadowed figure is riding a bike in a background of trees. The feeling of the picture evokes freedom and joy.Moreover, this journey often involves embracing vulnerability. Opening up to the possibility of being imperfect, making mistakes, and experiencing setbacks is a crucial aspect of personal growth. It’s about letting go of the need to be constantly on guard and allowing ourselves to be authentically seen.

In the rollercoaster of growing up, shedding old habits is a game-changer. The PIE technique breaks down those knee-jerk thoughts, and metacognition lets you hit pause on your drama. With these tools, you can drop the baggage, cut the drama, and step into adulthood with a bit more swagger. Childhood’s training wheels got you this far; it’s time to take them off and roll free.


Photo by Mingwei Lim on Unsplash

Photo by Minna Autio on Unsplash