The following is not taken from a psychology text book, but is a result of my years of experience as a biblical counselor, documenting the most common techniques used by those avoiding responsibility for problems in their lives. Although I wrote it as an instructional tool for students of biblical counseling, everyone will find this little article invaluable in exposing the figleaves behind which we all hide.
AFRAID OF OURSELVES
All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.
He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
When Adam first sinned he tried to hide his guilt behind fig leaves and blamed God for giving him the woman who led him into sin. As Adam's descendants, we have inherited from him that same tendency -- we avoid personal responsibility for misbehavior, hiding our guilt behind defense mechanisms or "fig leaves." Because these fig leaves cover so well, we are blind to the sin they hide and often to their very existence. We therefore, will not find victory in our pursuit of holiness, nor will we walk in the power that comes with a clear conscience before God. Until we see how we deny our responsibility in personal problems and our contributions to troubled relationships, we will continue to deceive ourselves about ourselves and will remain unchanged.
As Proverbs 28:13 tells us, the confession and renunciation of our sins will allow us to enjoy God's mercy. Conversely, the concealment of our sins will bring us spiritual and emotional bankruptcy. Most who hear this verse agree earnestly with its truth, but too few heed its warning. They are unable to confess and renounce their sins, because they are blind to them. Something blocks their ability to see themselves clearly.
That which blinds us to our sins is the same thing that caused Adam to hide his guilt behind fig leaves in the Garden of Eden -- defense mechanisms. We, just like Adam, resist taking responsibility for our actions because we don't want to believe evil of ourselves. Either our self esteem is threatened or we fear judgment from God or others. Whatever the reason, when others confront us we resist their criticism. We say we want to become more godly and grow into the image of Christ, but our resistance to their correction and reproof says otherwise. (Some, at this point, are inevitably defending themselves in their minds, "No, sir. Not me. I'm not like that. I welcome conviction!" -- If that is YOU, you may be completely unaware that you are resisting it right now! Blind aren't we!)
Sadly, many earnest believers desire godliness, but are spiritually crippled by habitual defensiveness. The book of Proverbs warns us of allowing defense mechanisms to rule us:
"He who hates correction is stupid!" Prov 12:1.
"Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you. Rebuke a wise man and he will love you." Prov 9:8-9
"He who ignores correction despises himself." Prov 15:32
It is a wise man who recognizes his human weakness, so welcomes any exposure of his sins. That man will grow in wisdom, knowledge, and godliness. May all who read the following have the grace to identify and forsake the defense mechanisms they use to avoid taking responsibility for themselves.
14 COMMON DEFENSE MECHANISMS
1. DENIAL -- a willful refusal to even consider one's contribution to a problem; a dangerous form of self deceit which fosters lying. Denial says, "It's never my fault." Some level of denial is at the root of most defense mechanisms.
2. RATIONALIZATION -- avoiding full responsibility for something one has done by means of excuse and self-justification. Seriousness of personal sin is down-played, so repentance is incomplete or non-existent. Innocence requires no defense. Those with defiled consciences are often quick to defend themselves.
3. ADVOCATION -- justifying sin or irresponsibility by rationalizing it into a new philosophy of life or biblical position. Some are so intent on excusing themselves that they not only call their failures "good," but they become outspoken advocates for their point of view and for others who have failed similarly. If they are leaders, they may even develop seminars or write books based on their new justifications.
4. DISCREDITATION -- ignoring the accusation of a confronter by discrediting them through finding fault with their qualifications to confront. Those using this technique will say things like, "Who do they think they are to say that to me? Look at their life..." Or more patronizing and unaffected, they may condescend, "Poor so & so, they are so ignorant -- so young," or possibly, "The only reason they say this to me is because they have a problem or an interest in such & such area."
5. GUILT PROJECTION -- disavowing personal responsibility by casting the blame onto someone or something else. Those who hold others responsible for their own mistakes and failures may have the "everyone owes me" mentality, ie: "I'm never responsible for anything wrong in my life. It's always someone else's fault." Those who feel the world is in debt to them may employ some method of "emotional manipulation" to make others feel guilty or responsible for their difficult situation. They may even have the audacity to become angry at those who fail to take adequate responsibility for them, and not uncommonly are rarely satisfied with undeserved help they receive, and are often thoroughly unappreciative for favors given them.
6. GUILT SHARING -- accepting blame, but implicating as many others as possible in the crime. The more others are made to look guilty the less spotlight is the one caught -- he is just one of many. Those who confess for others also may hope to be held less responsible, or dealt with more leniently, because they have been so cooperative.
7. AVOIDANCE -- staying away from or leaving individuals who may confront them about their behavior, ie: missing counseling appointments, working late at the office, changing churches, walking out of conversations when conviction gets too great, etc.
8. MINIMIZING -- acknowledging personal responsibility, but downplaying the significance or seriousness of the crime, ie: "Yes, but what I did really wasn't that bad."
9. EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION -- an individual's attempt to control the confronter by manipulating their most vulnerable emotions and insecurities.
lwithdrawal -- By retreating into himself or giving off the "silent treatment," an individual will attempt to punish and manipulate the confronter with guilt. Sulking and pouting are plain attempts to manipulate others and can serve to change the direction of a conversation.
lcharm -- Some resort to playing up their "attractiveness" to soften their confronter's anger or intensity. This may include premeditated actions such as enhancing one's appearance, ie: clothes, hair, cologne, etc., or by well-timed expressions of affection, acting "sexy," or prolonged "meaningful" eye contact, etc.
lwhining -- Many people learn to manipulate others by drawing them in emotionally with stories about their difficult life. What sounds like a sob-story of pain and misfortune to a compassionate listener, can be nothing more than a disguised appeal for pity. Someone who has mastered this method of manipulation can cause a confronter to soften up on his confrontation or keep the subject away from the real issues.
lemotional outbursts -- By an intense outburst of crying a skilled manipulator can redirect a conversation in 2 ways:
lTears can evoke compassion in the confronter and halt further confrontation. Attention then becomes focused on the hurt and "to-be-pitied" condition of the crier. The confronter can even be manipulated into an apology when this technique is used properly.
lTears can fool the "conviction-resistors" themselves. They become so preoccupied with their "distress" that they will no longer focus on what has been said. For many this form of self pity is a standard defense mechanism which consistently prevents them from accepting the confrontation of others.
ldeparture -- In an attempt to play on the confronter's insecurities and fear of hurting the emotionally fragile, they will suddenly storm out of a conversation or counseling appointment. They are playing the games, "If you really love me you will follow," or possibly, "You've really done it now -- I'm hurt!" If successful, they can actually evoke an apology from the confronter.
lintimidation -- By blowing up into a rage they sometimes can unnerve and distract the confronter. Their intensely displayed emotion can redirect the attention back to a confronter by challenging their security and confidence. An unwary confronter who becomes the target of the listener's sudden rage, may fear the loss of the listener's approval, and therefore compromise the exercise of their authority. A rage may also intimidate those who simply dislike conflict or those who mistakenly think they have pushed the listener to the point of exasperation. Angry responses can be especially effective when mixed with profanity and accusation. Those expert at this technique are quick to use guilt projections like, "You're judging me!"
lpatronization -- Because some people hate tension or conflict they become agreeable to everything said by the confronter. Although they don't believe what they are agreeing to, they are accommodating to appease the confronter, thereby diffusing the tension, and bringing to a close the time of confrontation. However, they often leave angry and feeling unjustly accused or manipulated.
lfalse humility -- In the midst of confrontation they might acknowledge their guilt, but overstate it with the intent of evoking compassion and mercy in the confronter. Their self depreciation may even cause the confronter to minimize their sin, saying something like, "Don't be so hard on yourself. You're not that bad."
10. REDIRECTION -- directing a conversation away from himself by changing the subject. The following are typical means of redirection that someone might use to take the attention off of himself. Often these methods are used at the point of "truth" -- when the confronter is putting his finger on the root problem.
laccusation -- Employing "guilt projection," he will find fault with his confronters. If he can get them on the defensive by pointing out their failures he will take the heat off himself and focus the attention on them. His attack may be personal or simply unrelated accusations. He may try to make the confronter feel guilty for hurting his feelings, or criticize his method of confrontation. When this technique is employed successfully, not only does the subject get changed, but an apology from the confronter is evoked as well.
lflattery -- As a "charm" technique, he will stroke the confronter with the intent of getting them more concerned about themselves than him. This buttering up of their ego may also cause them to soften up on him since he has now made them feel good about themselves.
lembarrassment -- By making a scene in a public place many successfully change the focus of a conversation. This is commonly done with an emotional outburst involving anger, profanity, crying, or a raised voice.
ldivision -- "Divide and conquer" is the concept behind this one. When confronted by 2 people, if an individual can play one person against the other he can divert their attention to a power struggle between them, thereby potentially weakening the discipline he faces. The listener may also distract the confronter by sowing seeds of division (a well-timed word of gossip or hear-say) between the confronter and someone not present, ie: "Well, now I understand what your wife means when she says such & such about you."
ldiversion -- This involves a simple diversion to a completely unrelated subject -- accomplished by either bringing up a new subject or by asking an unrelated question. This can even include intentionally misinterpreting something which has been said and going into great detail addressing an unrelated topic.
lfalse confession -- When the confronter is probing too closely to the root cause of someone's personal problems, they may make a false confession. By acknowledging an unrelated or more socially acceptable sin than the one they know they are actually guilty of, they keep the confronter off track, and can continue in their ways. Their confession may even impress others as humility.
11. EXEMPTION -- Many people discover early in their youth that a debilitation or "handicap" exempts them from complete responsibility for their actions. Most are unaware how feeling sorry for oneself fuels self-exemption, because the very nature of self-pity is to blind. They may even learn to welcome debilitations or to create problems for themselves which cause others to become more tolerant and understanding of their misbehavior.
lSickness -- Some people find such solace in the tolerance shown them during an illness that they convince themselves that they are sick most of the time. If their families or others do not sufficiently exempt them from their responsibilities, then they wallow in self pity, believing that they are being unfairly treated. Rather than focus on their responsibility as presented by a confronter, they focus on the "hurt" caused by those who demand too much of them. People like this are often consumed with bitterness and fall victim to one psychosomatic disorder after another.
lFatigue, hunger, hormones, and irritability -- Many people justify certain misbehavior when they deem themselves physically exhausted or emotionally distressed. They think that their "condition" exempts them from complete godliness, so refuse to listen to correction.
lInjury -- We properly respond with compassion and expect less "action" from those beset by an injury. Many people however, learn to make the most of injuries, no matter how minor, to gain exemption from their responsibilities in life. This ploy is especially effective for someone seeking to escape accountability for their part in a conflict with another.
lEmotional Injury -- In the way that those with physical injuries exempt themselves from physical activities, those who perceive themselves as victims of "emotional abuse" may exempt themselves from their roles and responsibilities, both spiritual and social. As real as the pain is from emotional wounds, none of Christ's followers are ever allowed to maintain anger or bitterness against their abusers -- bitterness and unforgiveness may never be excused with the phrase, "I'm just hurt." Anticipating his people would not be exempted from the physical and emotional abuse in this world, Christ commanded that we love, bless, and pray for those who abuse us. We are always called to love and forgive as Christ loved and forgave His enemies and abusers.
lRejection -- Some people, because of social awkwardness, demonstrate a lack of social tact, or other offensive behavior, so encounter rejection even from fellow believers. Such rejection can fuel self-pity, which causes these individuals to exempt themselves from full responsibility for their actions -- they are too preoccupied with how others have failed to love them, thereby exempting themselves from their responsibility to LOVE. Many lonely people despise their condition, but become so accustomed to the exemption from responsibility it gives them, that they unconsciously pursue rejection. They actually are more comfortable with rejection because it is less stressful to endure than the effort required to maintain friendships. Those who are allowed to wallow in rejection and self pity, and are not required to take responsibility for themselves, will always lack social maturity and may eventually develop a subtle type of persecution complex.
lShyness -- Though some people are more introverted than others, many learn to use their "shyness" as an excuse to be exempted from stressful social situations, ie: They withdraw and grow silent during a conflict, or refuse to apologize for a wrong they have done to another. Often they will inwardly brew, and even become afflicted with severe bitterness, because they refuse to respond appropriately to others. An individual may have a quiet personality, but shyness is no excuse for unwillingness to hear correction and obey God's commands. When faced with any unpleasant task each of us must die to ourselves and do what is right.
lLabels -- In this day of psychoanalysis -- personality disorders and temperament labels offer many convenient excuses for those wanting to exempt themselves from personal responsibility. They may hide behind buzzwords like "dysfunction," "codependent," or "victim" to excuse outright sin. As accurate as these words may be in describing someone's condition or behavior, God never exempts anyone from any of His commands because of some extenuating circumstances -- bitterness is never justifiable, revenge is never acceptable, and forgiveness can never be postponed or "worked through."
12. SELECTIVE HEARING -- hearing or remembering only what they want to hear. Although a discussion, confrontation, or advice given may be clear, some listeners may glean only the words or phrases which are useful to them. They may twist phrases or take words out of context to later justify misbehavior, conveniently blaming the confronter for their actions, ie: "I'm doing this because Pastor told me this was biblical!" Listening selectively means that after a marriage counseling session one partner may recall only that which applies to their mate. Some "mishear" and then misstate what is said because they want an excuse to disregard the confrontation. They may even misconstrue the truth as an excuse for their reaction of self pity or emotional outbursts, ie: sulking, tears, rage, etc.
13. BLOCKING -- a firm, resistant denial of what is being said, related to selective hearing. The listener in this case refuses to hear or consider anything contrary to their beliefs or practices. Either their mind is made up or their heart is so hardened that they can't even begin to consider what is offered them. Those who "block" respond to confrontation as if it they didn't hear it. They tune it out. Too much is at stake for them. Acknowledging the validity of what is said will require them to change, and they don't want to. Subconsciously, they may agree with the confronter, but they won't admit it lest they feel guilt.
14. SELF PITY -- feeling sorry for oneself excuses one from personal responsibility by concentrating attention on one's "oppressed" and "victimized" condition. Those using self pity consume themselves with the hurt from "unfair" treatment they have received. Not uncommonly, they are bitter and unforgiving towards those they hold responsible. One using self pity as a defense mechanism feels "picked on" and is prone to sulking, pouting, and whining to solicit pity. Frequently, they will tell their "story" just to garner support for their side. Self pity can be a strong factor in denial, guilt projection, rationalization, emotional manipulation, redirection, selective hearing, and exemption. It can also be the motivating factor behind "low self esteem" or "self-hate," ie: "Woe is me. I just hate myself so much ..."