P1 If an actual attack is made on you, all your faculties will withdraw from their usual preoccupations and will be directed to and concentrated on this one danger. In such a moment, your glandular system releases a certain substance that shoots through your entire nervous system, speeding up your blood pressure and accelerating your pulse beat. All this happens for the purpose of focusing your faculties on the danger point, to heighten the speed of the appropriate reaction, and to quicken the power of your perception.
With the glandular reaction, however, you will develop more strength—physical or mental – than you normally have in order to defend yourself. Or you will quickly judge and decide whether defense by counterattack or flight is the better way to deal with the particular danger. The substance released from your glandular system contains a certain poison which will not damage you if your defense mechanism works only in those rare instances. After the danger is over and your system goes back to normal functioning, the poison is absorbed and dissolved. This poison is a necessary stimulant for the moment, but if the stimulation is permanent, damage to your system is unavoidable.
When you are on the defensive in psychological conflicts, for irrational, unrealistic reasons, your glandular system does not question the validity of the reason. Therefore, it is important that unrealistic fears should cease, and being on the defensive for no valid reason be ruled out of your life, otherwise the poisonous substance will affect your bloodstream and nervous system, and physical damage will accrue in one way or another.
As to the mental side of your nature, when you are in actual realistic danger, all your mental faculties will automatically concentrate—with the help of the poisonous stimulant—on the issue at hand. You cannot concentrate on anything else. You will not be capable of harboring thoughts of truth and wisdom, except those that deal with the danger of the moment, and with protecting yourself. All other considerations, which are otherwise important for a harmonious and meaningful life, will be excluded.
However, if you are constantly, or often, in a psychological state of warding off danger and attack at a time when there is actually no danger of attack, the development of your mental faculties is bound to suffer. Your concepts will remain immature and limited, even if you happen to have a good brain. Your outlook will be much too limited to deal with life adequately. Thus the same processes are operative when the danger is imaginary as when you are in actual danger. You choose either the pseudo-solution of aggressiveness, or withdrawal from life, or appeasement, which robs you of your integrity. The emotional side of your nature, when faced with actual danger, feels only fright and anger.
All other emotions are withdrawn at that moment. You not only defend against hurt as a supposed mortal danger, but also against frustration of your will, and thus against anything that does not go according to your wishes. Frustrations may be undesirable, but not necessarily dangerous. Yet a defense mechanism, by its very nature, is a process of warding off danger. When the process is used for actual danger, it is meaningful; when it is not, your entire system is put out of balance. In other words, your instinct of self-preservation is at work when not required.
P4 I wish to make one more important point: the more you use the instinctual faculties for unreal danger the less they will work effectively and spontaneously when required for real protection. Even unjustified criticism cannot endanger you, provided your attitude toward it is mature and realistic. Is it not true that the criticism, against which you so strenuously defend yourself, often threatens to expose something you do not wish to face?
Perhaps it is uncomfortable for you to consider changing, or you believe that, if the truth came out, you would not be loved and worthy of respect, and you defend yourself against what is true, even though the truth may come from people who are, in their own way, as imperfect as you. Maybe one is stronger and the other weaker, but what difference does that make, since everyone has their own rhythm and value system. No one can be compared with another. Evaluation on that basis is never valid.
P5 This is why a free admission of the worst fault or distortion will bring forth acceptance, while a defense against exposure brings forth contempt, dislike, rejection, and fear, and is bound to make the other person defensive. You do not ask yourself at such moments, “Is it right? Is there a grain of truth in it?” Your concern at the moment is, “Am I right, or is the other person right?” It is this limited concept of “I-versus-the-other-person” that befogs the issue of what is right or true.
Defensiveness not only damages your physical body, but limits your thoughts, your range of emotions, your concepts and your creativity, your spiritual life, your ability to relate to others, your inner freedom, your concern with truth, and therefore also your ability to love and respect yourself and others. Another cause of fear and dislike of others is the erroneous feeling of inadequacy when life and others do not respond to your wishes and frustrate you. Such unfulfillment is not half as painful as the error of believing yourself to be inadequate.
P6 But whether the defense is outer aggressiveness or withdrawal and flight, both are equally damaging and have the same negative results. QUESTION: Do you mean that we should just listen to someone who criticizes? ANSWER: Calmly listen and evaluate: Could there be some truth in the criticism? Observe your inner reaction of fright.
QUESTION: But what if we get annoyed at being unjustly criticized? ANSWER: The very feeling of annoyance is the proof of your defensiveness. Without defense, you would not be annoyed. Justified or unjustified criticism cannot really harm you, unless you think you cannot be loved and respected if something to be criticized is found in you. The less defensive you are, the more adequate you will be to straighten out an outright lie or misunderstanding.
I do not mean to imply that you must never defend yourself against a flagrant lie, or harmful rumor. This falls under the category of realistic defense, which can be adequately handled only to the degree that unrealistic defensiveness is absent. I would like to say again that I did not imply that people should take any injustice or betrayal without doing whatever is necessary, constructive, and productive to ward it off. There are many instances when it is wrong to sit back and do nothing. There exists a proper and healthy aggressiveness and assertiveness.
P9 The more you understand the limitless possibilities and potentials of any human being, the further do you come in understanding a particular human being. Merely observe the wrong, childish, untrue, and distorted reactions and concepts. Get a clear understanding of how they are erroneous, inadequate, destructive, disadvantageous, and unrealistic.
Compare these reactions with your knowledge—as yet only theoretical—of the realistic, truthful, and productive reactions, without trying to force yourself to feel the latter. Fully acknowledge that you are not yet capable of feeling and reacting in the desired way and without guilt, without any forcing current, and fully accept yourself as you are, recognizing your immaturity.
—The Pathwork® Guide