What should we be defending ourselves against? All the things that have happened to us that have caused us pain and unhappiness starting from the beginning of our lives. The earlier the experience the greater the effect on the rest of our lives. I have often been asked “How could something that happened such a long time ago still affect our lives by making us suffer?” The answer is simple. When we are born, all we bring with us are the genes we inherit from our ancestors: not just from our parents but all the rest of the people who came before them. Are you a musician and surprise your family because they have no interest at all in this art? If you could go back far enough you would find a musical antecedent.
I was so different from both my parents in so many ways that I was convinced that my real parents were somewhere else. From a very early age, say about three or four years old I discovered that my parents could not answer the myriad of questions I put to them. Decades later I was listening to an interview on the radio to celebrate the seventieth birthday of the pianist, Alfred Brendel, one of my favourites. To my delight he said that he had almost nothing in common with either of his parents. His experience was similar to my own. The only time his mother was delighted about his music was when he was presented to the Queen of England.
He said that he was fortunate enough to have managed to forget everything his parents had tried to teach him! My experience was identical. My interests meant nothing to my parents. I cannot remember any words of wisdom coming from either of them. Everything I learned was in the books I read. All my friends were therefore dead ones. I developed a powerful gift for self hypnosis that enabled me to go into another world of my own where I could cut off anything I found disagreeable. That was my defence mechanism, to work things out for myself and to question everything teachers tried to teach me, except for the ones that interested me.
Defence mechanisms can be positive or negative. The positive mechanism is much shorter than the negative one, which is much longer, laden down with phobias of all kinds. They are negative because they don’t give you something you can take away. For example, claustrophobia is a good excuse for getting out of any groups of people in restricted places, but that can cause you to lose something that might be useful to yourself.
There are effective ways in psychotherapy to deal with such things, but it takes courage and cooperation from the clients to overcome such useless fears.
My defence mechanism prevented me from talking and making friends from fear of having nothing in common with anyone else. I went into another world when I was studying and thus I developed from a very early age a very useful skill. I learned to concentrate deeply on everything that interested me. In addition, as I grew older, my curiosity about people and their strange ways led me into making myself meet people I could talk with about my work.
Since then my main interest is human behaviour and thought. Unwittingly, I learned to think logically and keep my strong feelings under control. Just the kind of temperament that makes a good psychotherapist.
The best thing I learned from my strange childhood was to be independent and to trust my own judgement, whilst at the same time I maintained an open mind. Difficulties in childhood, as long as we have parents who are basically kind and do not try to force their opinions on us, as my parents were, can be overcome by ourselves. The help I got was from books and not from people.