Our favoured defences become habitual mental manoeuvres . What has worked well in key moments, keeping anxiety under control with the rewarding results, is likely to be tried again. Leslie Epstein, The Novelist, found as a child that isolation fended off the sorrow of his father’s death; that same cutting off feeling offers itself years later when he confronts the horrors of Holocaust. Anna Freud’s patient, whose feelings were damaged by her father’s scorn, grows up to be a sarcastic, scornful woman.

Successful defence becomes habit (schema), habit moulds style. These familiar tactics become second nature; when psychic pain confronts us, we fall back into their soothing arms. What may have been at first a serendipitous discovery in the battle against anxiety comes to define our mode of perception and response to the world. Becoming adept at such strategies means we favour some parts of experience while blocking others. We set bounds on the range of our thoughts and feelings, limit our freedom of perception and action, in order to feel at peace.

Defensive style is character armour. In therapy, it leads to a typical mode of resistance, which will arise unmistakably no matter what the specific symptom. The stamp of armour is on a persons mode of being. According to Wilhelm Reich, the resistance stemming from character;

” … is expressed not in terms of content but … in the way one typically behaves, in the manner in which one speaks, walks and gestures; and in one’s characteristic habits (how one smiles or sneers, whether one speaks coherently or incoherently, how one is polite and how one is aggressive). It is not what the patient says and does that is indicative of character resistance, but how they speak and act; not what they reveal in dreams, but how they censor, distort, condense, etc.”

Character armour is the face the self turns to the world. On it are etched all the twists and turns the defence demands in their struggle to avoid what is unpleasant. By reading character, the defensive structure is revealed, like the skeleton of a cadaver under the anatomist’s dissecting knife. That structure maps the special contours of one’s experience.

“If everybody has some character armour, everyone is also somewhat of a fetishist. If you are obliged to close yourself to the multiplicity of things, it follows that you will focus somewhat on a restrained area of things; and if you cannot freely value everything, nor freely weigh all things against other things, then, you must give disproportionate weight to some things which do not deserve this weight. You artificially inflate a small area of the world; give it a higher value in the horizon of your perception and action. And you do this because it represents an area that you can firmly hold on to, that you can skilfully manipulate, that you can use easily to justify yourself, your actions, your sense of self, your option in the world” – Ernest Becker

From the need to soften the impact of threatening information, lacunas arise. They operate on attention, through a variety of tactics, all of which filter and censor the flow of information. These strategies for dealing with the world come to define the shape of the responses as well as perception.

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