Tag Archives: psychology today

Episode 6: Fantasy and Conversion As Self Defense Mechanisms

Defense Mechanism

Self defense mechanisms

 

“And then what happened?” I asked Giselle, the housekeeper.

“After dessert, Alfred said madam needed to see me at once. When I went upstairs she yelled and said she never asked for me. She went off to see her guests, and I stayed behind to straighten out before following her down.”

“Did you see her diamond necklace?”

“No! I mean I did. After she was done yelling, she asked me to get her a cup of water. I saw her put the necklace on the dresser, but when I came back, it was gone and so was madam.” Giselle replied. Her eyes began to twitch suddenly and I could see beads of sweat sliding down her forehead.

“So tell me, who’s your favorite member out of the Zahir family? I won’t tell anyone I promise.” I smiled.

“I like them all equally” Giselle lied. She closed her eyes for a brief moment and drew in a long, deep breath.

 

The night of the dinner party….

“You look yellow, hon. You okay?” Alfred asked Giselle when she walked into the kitchen, only she stumbled helplessly to the ground before she could even reply.

“This isn’t the first time this happens” Alfred said as he handed her a cup of water after she regained consciousness an hour later. “You’ve been fainting a lot lately. You should probably ask Mrs Zahir to take you to the doctor.”

“I asked her once but then she had an appointment to get her brows shaped and I guess after that she forgot all about it.” Giselle whispered weakly.

“Then ask Mr. Zahir or Hamza. Lazy bums! They’re the reason you’re so overworked and exhausted, the least they could do is treat you with some kindness.”

“It’s no big deal. I’ll get some rest and be as good as new in the morning.”

She made Alfred promise not to disturb her sleep. He agreed and told her to holler if she needed anything then went off to finish his work, leaving Giselle to relive the same dream she’s been dreaming about for the past three years:

One day the Zahir’s will have a huge party for their affluent friends, and when it was over, Giselle would sneak outside for fresh air. One of the male invitees will come back looking for his keys. Not knowing who she was, they’ll get to talking, fall in love, and later when she confesses she’s only a housekeeper he’ll love her even more. They’d soon get married and live happily ever after and of course if the Zahirs by that time end up bankrupt, living in a dumpster behind Giselle’s palace, well that would just be gravy.

 

“Giselle?” I tapped her lightly on the shoulder.

“Oh sorry, I must have dazed off for a second.” Giselle cleared her throat.

“What were you thinking about?”

“Nothing. I don’t know why I remembered that story, Cinderella”

“Maybe you relate to her at times when you feel you’re not being treated very kindly?”

“Or maybe I’m waiting for my fairy godmother to appear with a magic wand.”

I smiled at her and there was a sudden awkward moment of silence.

“Anyways, so I hear you’ve been having some health problems”

“Dizziness, numbness… nothing major.” Giselle fidgeted nervously with her apron strings.

“Alfred mentioned something about the night the necklace went missing. Something he hadn’t mentioned in the earlier investigation with the police.”

“What? What did he say?” Giselle went snow white pale.

“When suspicion moved on to him, he was impelled to tell the whole story about the incident of you passing out that night. You evidently went to rest in your room and when he came back to check on you, your window was open and you were nowhere to be found.”

“I ummmm… I was just….. ummmm…. Oh I’m so sorry ma’am. I don’t think I can do this, I’m feeling so…” Giselle held her head and then crumbled to the floor like a house of sand.

“Help!”

 

Later that evening…

“She’s faking it! I know she is” Jenna, my keen assistant, slammed the desk a little too hard.

“Why would you assume that?” I asked with one eyebrow up.

“Duh! It’s crystal clear. She’s the thief and she’s using her illness as a distraction defense mechanism”

“I must admit you’re really talented in solving mysteries, Jenna!”

“Oh my God, really?”

“Ah NO!” I laughed. “She’s not faking the illness, she’s unconsciously using conversion as a self defense mechanism.”

“Before you elaborate let’s just recap real quick. Amy is dissociating in La La Land. Hamza is the angry bird always acting out. Sameera projects her insecurities unto others and her husband Nader displaces his feelings unto innocent victims. Who else? Yes Alfred is two faced.”

“Jenna!”

“Fine. Alfred uses ‘Reaction Formation’. Now tell me about Giselle’s defense mechanism.’

“It’s called conversion because you convert your anxieties and internal emotional conflicts into physical symptoms. Like in Giselle’s case, she blocks out those feelings that bothering her, and since feelings don’t go anywhere, they’re released in a different form, like dizziness, coughing or in some extreme cases they can cause temporary blindness and even paralysis.”

“Why would anyone use this destructive mechanism?!” Jenna gasped.

“People don’t choose self defense mechanism from the menu of the day. It’s involuntary.”

“So how do you treat that?”

“Distraction always works, and of course explaining the concept can help them try to face their feelings instead of converting it. But you know, that’s not the only self defense mechanism Giselle’s using. I think she’s retreating into a fantasy to avoid coping with her hardships. She feeds off her imagination of a dream that’ll probably never come true.”

“Oh come on. We all do the ‘fantasy’ thing. Almost everyone I know is waiting for something that will never happen, yet they wouldn’t go around stealing diamonds to make their dreams come true.” Jenna said. “Or would they…..?”

 

The next day….

“I hope you’re feeling better” I said as I sat Giselle down for another talk.

“I am, thank you ma’am” She hesitated.

We talked for a quite some time, in which she was determined to remain vague and unyielding, so I had no choice but to bluff to take a short detour.

“Giselle I’m trying to help you here. I have witnesses who can testify they saw you sneak out of your window in the middle of the night, wearing one of Mrs. Zahir’s expensive gowns.” I fibbed.

“It wasn’t Mrs. Zahir’s it was mine. I bought that dress with my own money” Giselle steamed out. She fell silent for a moment, her eyes doubling twice their size as she realized she had just semi-confessed to a crime.

“Did you sneak out to hide the necklace?” I asked straightforwardly.

“No! I swear. I’m not a thief. I only stepped outside to sit in the swing in the garden. I do that sometimes.” Giselle cried. “I just…. For a couple of minutes I get to be me, not the docile housekeeper everyone uses as a punching bag.”

“Giselle, why didn’t you mention any of this to the police in the first investigation? Now that your story doesn’t add up, I’m afraid you’ve become a prime suspect.”

“I was scared to lose my job. I’m the sole provider to my family back home. I didn’t know what would happen to them if I had told the truth.”

“What truth are you talking about?”

“I saw someone that night coming out of the secret garden. He didn’t see me, but I definitely saw him.”

“Who was it?” I asked.

 

To be continued in the last episode….

 

Author’s Commentary

I’d give anything to see the look on your guys’ faces right about now.

Anyways so ‘Fantasy’…. Sounds like a cool defense mechanism, no?

I mean we’ve all been there, believing ourselves to be undercover agents, lost members of the royal family or convincing ourselves we have super powers. (Wait, or is that just that me?!)

It’s okay to use wild imagination as crutches to get us through a tough time, but only as a temporary solution. Waiting for something that’s never gonna happen and revolving your life around it is self-abuse (trust me, I should know). At some point we all must draw the line between positive thinking and complete avoidance. We must learn to merge reality with dreams instead of having to choose only one to sink in. You get what I mean?

As for conversion, I also think it’s an even harsher form of self abuse, since your body pays the price for your heart’s fear of facing ugly emotions, and that’s just not fair. Listen to this:

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “He who is deprived of tenderly feelings is in fact deprived of good.” (https://sunnah.com/muslim/45/97)

You can’t give what you don’t have, and if you have no mercy on yourself how on earth would you feel it for others? If you can’t handle your own emotions how will you ever help anyone else deal with theirs?

Conversion is basically the refusal to feel your feelings and letting it take a toll on your health instead.

You don’t cry it out… so you get a severe headache.
You don’t deal with guilt, so you get heart and chest pains.
You won’t absorb the frustration, so your shoulders stiffen up.
What you block out comes back in a different form…
And I wish…
Oh I really wish you wouldn’t do that to yourself anymore…
Be mindful and don’t try to escape your problems
Once you accept what’s happening, you’ll finally be ready to change it.
Your life will finally come to life….

 

Lilly S. Mohsen

 

Episode 3: Projection As A Self Defense Mechanism

Defense Mechanism

Episode Three: Projection As A Self Defense Mechanism

 

“So how long have you and Amy been friends for?” I asked Sameera.

“Almost twenty years now” She replied with a bitter laugh.

Sameera and her husband lived in little cottage house in the suburbs. I couldn’t help but notice how immaculately organized their living room was. ‘Picture perfect’ were the first two words that came to my mind when I first walked in.

“You must very be close then, right?” I asked.

“Of course we are. What kind of question is that?” She frowned.

“I was only stating the obvious. She hosted your birthday dinner at her house, and from what I hear it was extravagant! Caviar, lobsters, a five tiered cake….” I said.

“That’s Amy. She loves to spend money like it’s going out of style. Especially other people’s money.” Sameera half joked.

 

Last year

“I just love your house. It’s so warm and cozy, like a miniature dollhouse” Amy marveled.

“You sound like a thesaurus coming up with new terms for the word ‘small’. I know it doesn’t compare to your Beverly Hills mansion, but it’s my home and I love it just the way it is, thank you very much.” Sameera snapped.

“Oh my God, I didn’t mean it that way.” Amy gasped.

“It’s fine.” Sameera waved her hand. “Anyways, so I called the girls and we’re all set for tomorrow…”

“Oh Sam, I’m sorry I can’t make it. Mohanad just told me we’re going to Paris tomorrow for this major business conference. He’s gonna be the keynote speaker. I can’t miss it”

“I don’t believe this. Do you know how long I’ve been preparing for your birthday brunch?”

“I know I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do though”

“Forget it. I always come last with you. What else is new?”

“Ohhhh please I feel horrible as it is. I’ll make it up to you I promise.” Amy sounded genuinely sorry. “To be honest, I don’t really wanna go on this trip, but there’s no way out of it”

“Why not?”

“I’m only excited about the shopping part, but the rest of it… ughhh… I hate those formal events. They’re so boring. And then there’s the after parties with his snooty Parisian friends and I don’t speak a word of French. I sit there nodding and faking smiles till my jaws ache” Amy complained, only trying to make her friend feel better.

“Well, that’s the price you pay for marrying a rich man. Fakeness and plastic surgeries come with the territory. Remember back in college when you only fell for the rich guys? You were voted ‘Most Likely To Marry Well’”, Sameera sighed.

“And you were voted ‘Most Likely To Succeed’” Amy replied.

“But I DID succeed.” Sameera’s tone changed again.

“I know honey, that’s why I….”

“Then what’s with the pity eyes?” Sameera stood up and crossed her arms.

“What pity eyes? I pity myself actually. Did you not hear the ‘jaws ache’ story?”

“There’s more to life than expensive jewelry and Versace dresses, Amy! You know what…. Forget it” Sameera stomped to the kitchen to get something they can both stuff their faces with. Anything to get Amy to stop talking. She looked at the fruit salad she was about to serve, and secretly drizzled it with a teensy bit of strawberry syrup.

A little bit more.

Yup, that should do it.

Amy ended up in the hospital that night with a persistent rash and of course, sadly, she missed her trip.

 

 

“I was going through Amy’s medical reports. Other than the night of your birthday party, the last time she got a similar allergic reaction, was here in your house. Is this correct?” I asked.

“So what are you insinuating? Every time she gets the hives, I must be blamed for it?” Sameera asked. She was trying to keep her cool, but her body language betrayed her, for I could tell she was extremely uncomfortable.

“No that’s not what I’m saying at….”

“You know, opening this case again makes absolutely no sense. Amy didn’t even bat an eye when the necklace got stolen. She genuinely didn’t care, so why do you?”

“Stolen? The investigations were inconclusive. There’s no proof yet the necklace was stolen. Do you have reason to believe it was?” I sneered.

“I just assumed since it was never found…” Sameera stammered.

“I understand” I nodded. “Did you see the necklace after the hives incident?”

“How would that be possible? Amy took it off in her room!”

“Amy’s son Hamza said he saw you go upstairs right after dessert. Is that correct?”

“Umm yes. I needed to wash my hands and the guest bathroom was busy. Ask anyone, I was only gone for like five minutes.” Sameera replied quickly.

I put my pen down and folded my arms, staring back at the restless woman for a silent moment.

“I don’t appreciate your accusatory attitude. I’m a college professor. I think I deserve some respect.”

“I apologize if I’ve offended you in any way. I’m just gathering information, it’s nothing personal.” I said as I got up to leave. “One last question, who was occupying the guest bathroom at the time when you had no option but to go upstairs?”

“Ummm my husband? Why…?”

 

That same evening

“Oh my God they’re in this together!” My assistant Jenna shrieked. “Sameera and her husband planned the whole thing.”

“Or it could be random.” I added.

“There’s nothing random about her attitude. She’s toxic! She takes everything so personally. Only a guilty person would get this defensive”

“She’s projecting,” I said.

“Eeww like vomiting?”

“No” I laughed. “She’s using projection as a defense mechanism.”

“Elaborate please”

“Okay I’ll give you an example since you love them so much. Let’s say you step outside wearing those new designer Cat-eye shades. You know they’re in style but deep down feel insecure about wearing them. If someone so much as looks at you a little longer than they should, instead of admitting you feel weird about the shades, you might get defensive like ‘You don’t like them? Do you know how much they cost? Only A-list celebrities wear these. You obviously know nothing about fashion.”. That’s projection. Get it?”

“Umm no?” Jenna had a legendary puzzled look on her face.

“We all have flaws and insecurities, but sometimes they can get too overwhelming, and we find them too painful to deal with. When this happens to you, you might project them onto other people and tell yourself they’re the ones with the flaws, not you. They’re the ones making your life miserable, not you. Instead of facing your shameful, embarrassing or uncomfortable feelings, you pin them on others, making them the villains in your story while you’re the innocent victim. Get it now?”

“Yes”

“Really?”

“No”

“It’s okay, took me a while to fully comprehend it too” I laughed. “I’ll give you examples of different types of projections:

A wife calls her husband ‘uncaring’, ‘insensitive’ and ‘selfish’ when he goes out with his friends. She’s projecting an inner fear of abandonment.

A man says ‘my boss hates me for no reason’ instead of admitting that he’s the one who loathes his boss.

A woman thinks she’s over weight but won’t face that ‘worst female phobia’, so instead she snaps at her loved ones for thinking she’s unattractive, even if they’ve never uttered a word of dismay.

A teenager makes a silly mistake and then gets offended or aggressive when his or her friends jokingly point it out. They’re projecting their insecurities onto other people because deep down they worry they’re not smart enough.

A person is anxious in social situations so they say ‘people are horrible’ instead of admitting to his or her anxiety.

Recognizing our own shortcomings causes pain, and so we use projection to protect ourselves. ‘I’m not envious, they’re envious of me. I’m not ashamed; you’re the one who should feel ashamed. I’m not cheating, you’re the cheater’. Get it?”

 

“I finally get it. So perhaps Sameera is projecting her inner feeling of jealousy from her friend Amy”

“Exactly”

“How do you fix projectors?” Jenna asked and we both laughed at the pun words.

“So projection allows us to throw out our ugly feelings and insecurities onto others, but the thing is, it’s like a boomerang, those feelings will always find a way to come back to us again. A chronic projector will eventually master the victim’s role and be convinced that everyone else is trying to destroy him. That’s no way to live. Unless we learn to put our egos down (and it’s not easy), it’s almost impossible to cure what we refuse to see. Whenever we feel judged, threatened or criticized, we must take a moment to reflect on the words being said as opposed to how we heard them. Swallow our pride instead of believing every comment or piece of advice is an indirect accusation.”

“You gotta admit, it does seem suspicious. Wasn’t it Sameera’s fault Amy got the hives that night? She’s brought dessert to her own birthday dinner and insisted it was strawberry free!”

“No it wasn’t her. It was Nadir.” I said.

“Who’s Nadir?”

“Sameera’s husband….”

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

Author’s Commentary

Imagine a projector. Now take out everything you don’t like about yourself, project it on the wall screen, get some popcorn, mingle with the crowd and enjoy the show.
You cease to be the culprit when you’re part of the audience, right?
Instead of dealing with unwanted emotions, you can simply pin them on someone else and walk away. How cool is that?

Actually it’s the opposite of cool. Ask ‘chronic projectors’ and they’ll tell you the whole process of putting innocent people on guilt-trips feels like swallowing burning lava. (Oh I should know!). Sometimes, because we can’t own up to our feelings, we sit on a ‘moral throne’ and judge people instead. Blaming our faults on others and then lecturing them about it is exhausting, and honestly, it makes absolutely no sense.

There’s a far better way to explain this actually. You know what, scratch what I said earlier, because our One and Only Lord has summed it up so eloquently in the Holy Qur’an.

“Do you order righteousness of the people and forget yourselves while you recite the Scripture? Then will you not reason” (Holy Qur’an, 2:44)

Intense, ha?

And yet we all do it…. and it’s absolutely okay

I’ll tell you a little secret (wait, let me make sure no one is listening. Okay all clear loool)

There was a time when deep down I felt I was failing as a parent. I projected those feelings unto others like there was no tomorrow, until the day Allah took off my blindfold and helped me see….

The questions on the ‘Test of Life’ examination paper might be hard, especially if you know you’ve never done your homework. Now, you can go around telling those who try to help they’re getting it all wrong.

Or….

You can seek all the help you can….

Whenever you can…

However you can….

Because perhaps the time has come for us to reflect instead of project.

Besides, lucky for you and me, the test is an open book….

604 pages filled with beautiful, logical and spiritually fulfilling answers.

May we always be guided by Allah’s words. Amen

 

Lilly S. Mohsen