Tag Archives: psychology

Episode 5: Reaction Formation As A Self Defense Mechanism

Defense Mechanism

Self defense mechanism

 

 

Episode Five: Reaction Formation As A Self Defense Mechanism

 

 

“Thank you for meeting with me Alfred. I won’t take up too much of your time, I just have a couple of questions about the night Mrs. Zahir’s necklace went missing” I said.

“Of course” Alfred, the butler, replied with a quick nod.

“In the earlier investigations, you said you went upstairs right after dessert was served, correct?”

“Mrs Zahir needed ice for her rash. I had no choice. I was only doing my job” Alfred went pale and his hands were shaking.

“Calm down. I’m just confirming the information with you.”

“I’m sorry. I’ve just been around long enough to know the unprivileged always serve as everyone else’s scapegoats….”

 

A couple of months ago….

“What are you, deaf?” Mohanad snapped. “I said Scottish smoked salmon. This is clearly Norwegian”

“I will have it replaced right away, Mr. Zahir” Alfred replied with courtesy, even though he was burning inside.

“Rich people are arrogant sick freaks. What difference does it make Scottish or Norwegian? They’re both stinky pink fish!” Alfred slammed the plate on the counter top when he walked into the kitchen.

Giselle, the housekeeper, didn’t say anything. She gulped down the unwanted food, straightened out her apron and then stood at the sink to wash the dishes.

“He’s taking out his anger on me like he always does. We’re lucky we’re not like those people. Their lifestyle is so pretentious and toxic. They have everything they want and they’re not even happy. Take Mr. Zahir, he’s always grumpy, right? And Mrs Zahir is popping pills all day to relax. But people like you and me Giselle, we sleep peacefully coz our conscious is clear.”

“So you wouldn’t want to be in Mr. Zahir’s shoes?” Giselle asked with one eyebrow up.

“Of course not. I hate this exaggeration and fakeness. I’d rather lead an honest simple life, than sit by the pool smoking cigars all day and crying coz my drink doesn’t have an umbrella in it!” Alfred spit out bitterly.

“I’ve worked for many rich families. They’re not all bad” Giselle shrugged.

“Money is a curse I tell you, a CURSE! It turns people into monsters. Wealthy people are everything that’s wrong with this world. They’re bloodsucker. They exploit the poor for their hard-earned money and then pat themselves on the back when they give their leftovers to charity!”

Alfred went back to his room after making sure everyone was sleeping. He looked at the suits he was supposed to take to the dry cleaners for Mr. Zahir, put one on, and sat down to eat a plate of salmon and caviar. He followed his little weekly tradition with lighting up one of his boss’s expensive cigars, while looking at pictures of Mr. Zahir’s Ferrari.

“I hate myself..”, he sighed….

 

 

“So how long have you been working for the Zahirs?”

“About six months now.”

“How’s your experience so far?”

“I can’t complain. They’re fine people. I hope to stay working here for years to come.”

“I heard you got married recently.” I told Alfred, watching his facial expression slowly.

“What does this have to do with anything?” He panicked.

“Well, I spoke to your wife earlier this morning. She’s under the impression you’ll quit your job in a couple of weeks and move permanently to South Africa. She said you plan to buy a house by the beach. Is this true?”

There was a long awkward silence. I could sense the poor butler’s inner struggle and embarrassment at being caught in a lie. He obviously had no intention of working for the Zahirs’ ‘for years to come’.

“We’re still thinking about it….” Alfred finally said after clearing his throat a couple of times.

“Well it does sound like a good plan. You must have a lot of money saved on the side”

 

 

Later that day

“He’s totally busted. So what did he say?” Jenna, my eager assistant asked curiously.

“He said he wasn’t planning on serving rich people for the rest of his life. He was ready to do something meaningful for a change.” I replied as I stared out of my office’s window.

“Did you notice his antagonism towards wealthy people? Is that a ‘communism’ defense mechanism?” Jenna joked.

“No” I laughed. “He’s using Reaction Formation as a self defense mechanism”

“Sounds like something we learn in Chemistry class.”

“Except this mechanism is used when there’s no chemistry between the heart and the mind. It makes people appear the opposite of what they actually are. Like Alfred, he criticizes rich people and yet deep down he wishes to be one of them.”

“What a hypocrite!” Jenna put a hand on her hip.

“It does seem that way, but it’s more like repressing socially unacceptable feelings. Some people cover them up and instead, behave in the completely opposite manner.”

“But why?”

“Because fitting in is a basic need, Jenna. And whenever you start feeling you’ll be ridiculed, judged or left out for having different views or emotions, you sometimes ‘self defend’ yourself against this ‘social pain’ by pretending you’re one of the crowd.”

“But why?”

“La Hawl Wala Kowata Ela BiAllah, I just explained.” I laughed. “Like for example, a father who’s emotionally unavailable, will go the extra mile to show he’s overly protective of his kids. Or a man who secretly has homosexual tendencies yet openly and excessively criticizes gays. Or a woman who inwardly despises her colleague might be extremely nice to her in public. This kind of exaggerated behavior is what we call “Reaction Formation’”

“Good luck treating patients who use this weird mechanism” Jenna scoffed.

“There’s usually a deeper and a much more complicated psychological problem beneath the surface of what the ‘Reaction Formaters’ show. Therapy can provide a safe environment for them to explore their contradictions and perhaps get to the bottom of their primary conflict.”

“Maybe Alfred’s primary problem is his inferiority complex. And maybe he stole the necklace to trick his wife into thinking he’s rich and that way he’d feel superior in her eyes.”

“Maybe….”

“Come on! There’s no other explanation. It’s definitely him!”

“There’s one more suspect.” I said slowly.

“Oh you mean the house keeper, Giselle? You gave me the impression she’s as timid as a blushing newborn rabbit.”

“Yes, but I saw her under a different light.”

“How so?”

“She was eavesdropping on us. And it wasn’t the first time….”

 

To be continued…..

 

 

 

Author’s Commentary:

So I couldn’t tell Jenna but I’m gonna tell you guys what I really think, since we’re all friends here. She was right; Reaction Formation is a sort of hypocrisy, but surprisingly it’s an unconscious one. I know I’m not making a lot of sense but go with me coz it’s a very thin line.
When people try to cover up undesirable feelings or opinions, they’re using a self-defense mechanism to protect themselves from social stigma, but when they add contradictory ‘action’, that’s when they become hypocrites.

 

In Islam, they’re allegedly the ones who want both this life and the Hereafter but end up getting neither. They think they’re so smart they can actually deceive Allah, but He knows their real intentions.

 

“(The hypocrites) will call the believers: “Were we not with you?” The believers will reply: “Yes! But you led yourselves into temptations, you looked forward for our destruction; you doubted (in Faith); and you were deceived by false desires, till the Command of Allah came to pass. And the chief deceiver (Satan) deceived you in respect of Allah.” (57:14 Holy Qur’an)

Now I’m going to touch on a very sensitive subject and please forgive me if I don’t do it very eloquently. Some people judge and criticize sinners so forcefully it makes one wonder why they’re so ruthless when our beautiful religion teaches us to be merciful and tolerant of others. Could it be that those same critics have undesirable wishes to sin, too? Could this exaggerated hatred be a sign of using ‘Reaction Formation’ as a self defense mechanism?

If you catch yourself attacking someone’s lifestyle or behavior in a brutal manner, stop, and take a moment to analyze your intentions. Helping others find the right path involves love, compassion and most of all patience….
We all know this:

Through judging we separate, but through understanding we grow stronger…

And it goes both ways…

If someone condemns you in a hurtful way, (and before you get so mad you feel the smoke coming out of your inflamed nostrils) I need you to remember that perhaps it’s more about them than it is about you. Judging others isn’t listed in our job descriptions as Muslims, and so when we take it upon ourselves to become the world’s most infamous critics, it usually has nothing to do with Islam.

So don’t take the hurt to heart, and try to understand when someone deliberately tries to break someone else, it’s usually because they’re already broken inside…

And ‘having mercy on broken hearts and souls’ is definitely on our job descriptions…

See? Right here on the list, in a bold huge font!

 

 

Lilly S. Mohsen

Episode 4: Displacement As A Self Defense Mechanism

 

Defense Mechanism

Self Defense Mechanism

 

Episode Four: Displacement As A Self Defense Mechanism

 

“Mr. Nadir. Thank you for meeting with me. I know you’re a very busy man” I said when I went to question Sameera’s husband the next day. “So can you tell me what happened that night at the dinner party?”

“Nothing abnormal. Mohanad and Amy insisted on having a dinner party for Sameera’s birthday, so we went to their house, ate, talked and left around midnight.” Nadir said, cracking his knuckles before resting both his palms on his big belly.

“I understand you brought dessert. A lemon meringue pie?”

“Of course I did. It’s my wife’s birthday. I couldn’t walk in empty handed.”

“I heard you got into a huge disagreement with the Bakery’s owner a few weeks back, right after your interrogation to be more specific.”

“It was their fault this whole ordeal happened. I told them NO STRAWBERRIES! How hard is it to follow instructions?”

“But the analysis confirmed it wasn’t the Bakery’s fault.”

“Huh? Still” Nadir shrugged, his face completely flushed.

“So what else did you do that day? Before the party I mean.”

“I went to work. Picked up the pie. Went home, showered, got dressed and then Sameera and I went to dinner….”

 

Three months ago….

“I can’t believe you stayed late at the office tonight. It’s my birthday. Seriously, you’ve reached a whole new level of inconsiderate!” Sameera complained as she strapped on her seat belt.

“I told you, I left the office on time, but there was a line up at the bakery! Damn it, what’s wrong with this stupid Radio?” Nadir yelled as he jolted it angrily a couple of times. 

“And now you’d rather listen to the radio than talk to your wife. Nice!” Sameera crossed her arms. “You know, I never asked you to take me to Paris or buy me diamonds every two and a half seconds like Amy’s husband does. I just want you to show me you care. Once a year!”

“Let’s not forget the fact that Mohanad is a millionaire! Not that we could ever forget, he never fails to rub it in all our faces.” Nadir steered the driving wheel, yelling and cursing other drivers on the road.

“You don’t have to be a millionaire to get your wife a decent gift on her birthday.” Sameera protested.

“Am I gonna have to ruin the surprise?”

“Yes, I think you should.”

“Listen, I have a plan, but you gotta keep an open mind okay…?” Nadir smiled wickedly.

 

“Mr. Nadir, you recently bought a lake house, is that correct?” I asked. His wife Sameera tripped when she heard the question, and dropped a glass of the drinks tray she had come to serve. She quickly apologized, cleaned up the mess then hurried out.

“Yes, it was a late birthday gift for Sameera. I’m still paying installment, so I didn’t technically ‘buy’ it yet” Nadir tried to compose himself.

“Well, according to this title in my hand, the amount has been fully paid upfront when you bought the lake house last week.”

Nadir choked on his juice, obviously taken aback by the amount of information I had gathered on his family.

“Back to the dinner party” I continued. “You went to wash your hands in the guest….”

Nadir’s cell rang suddenly, even though he had assured me he put it on mute.

“Sorry, one sec” Nadir raised his index finger. “Hello? What? You locked yourself out? You idiot! I need those documents ASAP! Is it too much to ask for an assistant who ISN’T also a blithering MORON?” Nadir yelled into his phone before hanging up on the poor guy’s face. “I’m sorry, we’re gonna have to postpone this questioning to another time. I gotta go deal with this.”

“That’s okay, I think I got everything I need….”

 

That same evening…

“Lemme guess, he’s using his assistant as a self defense mechanism” Jenna, my eager assisant pointed out over dinner.

“There’s no such thing, hon.” I smiled. “No, he’s using displacement. That’s when some people take out their anger on innocent victims.”

“Like how?”

“Say this husband has had an argument at work with a client. He drives home like a maniac, yelling and cursing and goes all hulk on his helpless wife because the meat loaf is ‘too salty’. Displacement is an unconscious self defense mechanism that shifts frustration on people or objects that are less threatening.”

“Yeah, like my brother. My whole life, I was practically his punching bag. He used to pick a fight with me every time he got detention. It wasn’t my fault his teacher despised him!”

“Probably because expressing his hostile feelings towards his teacher could have gotten him in more trouble. So to protect his inflamed ego, he took it out on you. What are sisters for, ha?” I joked.

“Not this! People who use displacement, they’re just passing the pain on to someone else. Someone who’s innocent and completely clueless. Seriously, how do ‘Displacementers’ sleep at night?”

“Sometimes, as loved ones, it’s our jobs pick up on the ‘not-so-subtle’ clues of displacement and try not to take it personally.” I leveled.

“Or maybe people who ‘displace’ their frustration should stop being so mean and evil!” Jenna crossed her arms.

“Nadir doesn’t seem evil or mean. He takes his anger out on the broken radio or his poor assistant. I think he unconsciously uses displacement because deep down he feels weak and insecure. His wife overpowers him so he needs to overpower someone else.”

“Okay so let’s recap. Amy uses ‘dissociation’ since she lives in La La Land. Her son Hamza acts out in “Angry Bird’ world. Ummm Sameera uses projection to pass her faults onto others and her husband Nadir uses ‘displacement’ as a self defense mechanism, coz he’s a wuss”

“Jenna!” I scolded.

“Sorry but it’s true. And since he obviously feels subdued under Mohanad’s piles of money, perhaps he misplaced his frustration…. Took it out on an innocent object, like I dunno… a diamond necklace?” Jenna’s eyebrows popped up.

“You’re cute.” I laughed. “It does sound plausible. But Nadir isn’t the only frustrated man in this scenario. Someone else is even more intimidated by Mohanad’s wealth.”

“Who?”

“His butler. Alfred….”

 

To be continued

 

 

Author’s Commentary

 

Ahhhhh the prodigy of displacement.

The husband takes his frustration out on the wife (or the other way around I’m sure). The frustrated parent takes it out on the kids. The kids take it out on the timid classmates. And the timid classmates take it out on food. It’s a game called ‘pass the fury ball of rage’; a vicious circle of always hitting on the weakest links, the ones who can’t afford to fight back.

Oh my God you guys, I just realized. We all use displacement somehow and it’s not very nice!

It’s probably the number one reason behind bullying, having unexplained phobias, hundreds of shattered devices, innocent kids in time outs, rebound relationships and even obesity coz of all the binge eating. And you know what, it’s not fair. Defenseless human beings shouldn’t have to pay the price for our personal problems. Especially when they’re the ones keeping us stable. Listen to this Hadith:

Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Seek among your weak ones, for you are given provision and help only because of the weak amongst you.” https://sunnah.com/riyadussaliheen/1/272

I’m not saying you’re not allowed to get frustrated. Of course you are, you’re human. I’m just suggesting instead of using vulnerable targets as punching bags, get an ACTUAL punching bag and you know, knock yourself out. Channel the rage into something more productive like cleaning or running or even screaming into a pillow.

But what if I’m the victim of displacement?’ you ask.

(Oh man! I was secretly hoping you wouldn’t put me in such a predicament by asking that.)

Okay, if you find yourself a target to this specific self defense mechanism, I’m gonna have to ask you to swallow your anger and stay patient. Don’t take it personally because we both know it’s not about you. Try to soothe and understand….

Wouldn’t you want your loved ones to do the same…?

Oh yes, you would!

 

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