Defensiveness and Innocence

Defensiveness and Innocence

(please do note that the male pronouns used in this article can  be interchanged with female pronouns when the subject is female)

Remember that when we are defense mode, we aren't thinking much about how the other person feels. If we have PTSD from abuse and we feel defensive, we may jump to fight or flight quite easily, and there is not much awareness about what we're doing to the person we're defending ourselves against in fight or flight.

To picture this quickly, if one imagines being chased and cornered by a mountain lion, one's fight-or-flight instincts take over as an automatic brain function. Even the zoologist who is studying the mountain lion will block out his affection for the cat in order to survive. Whatever the cornered person can defend himself with, a stone, a branch, a flashlight, anything, that's what the person will use. Survival is the subconscious's goal when it's completely in fight or flight. The zoologist may remain hopeful that he can scare the cat away, but if the cat keeps trying to get him, he will continue to defend himself whatever way he can. The more the cat tries to get him, the less and less empathy he will be able to hold on to, and the more his fight or flight will take over.

Children who grow up in abusive environments, whether it's from parents, siblings, or others in the area can develop a hair-trigger defensive reaction when they feel any threat. We all knew the kid who had a reputation for flying into a rage and beating up anyone who crossed him;  he may have developed that reaction because he was a target first. (As a child I did always wonder why no one was helping those kids, as an adult I know the answer; hardly anyone cared enough to help, hardly anyone had a clue, and hardly anyone had the guts to stand up to abusive adults, or help one parent get away from the other with the children. Those who did care or try to help could be crushed under the political weight and threats of those who did not.)

 I have known more than one person, like those kids, who was quite proud of their hair-trigger-rage reputation, "I see red, and I can't be responsible for what I do, I can't help myself". The reason every one of those ragers proclaimed this hair-trigger instead of getting help for it was because it gave them something; it served them. It gave them a "bad-ass" reputation so those who had hurt them would be afraid of them (since that's all bullies seem to understand, is who to fear and who they can bully). That same reputation warded off new bullies from hurting them. That reputation also gave them a "warning sticker" on their heads just in case they did have a tantrum and didn't control themselves, people are usually easier on the "crazy guy who can't control himself" for acting that way than a person who has a "Mr. Normal" reputation. ("Mr. or Mrs. Normal" goes to jail, "crazy guy or gal with a hard life" gets put in the psyche ward or released.)

One of the beliefs all these ragers had in common was their belief in their own innocence. They really believed that if someone upset them enough to "make them see red", that they were not responsible or accountable for their actions after that. They believed that because their emotional reaction was so strong, that they could not be held accountable for what they did, and that the person who "caused" them to "see red" was the one responsible for the entire course of events.

They were all stuck in childhood, at the time in their life when they were being targeted by bigger and older people. The child who is being bullied or abused is of course innocent. But because of the intense emotional trauma at the time of these events, the child kept that feeling of being the innocent one defending himself, and made it part of his identity. Not purposely, perhaps, but subconsciously.

As the child grew up, he (or she) kept that identity of "the innocent being bullied" as a protective measure. Most ragers would deny to the death being a "victim", or having "victim mentality", but that's still because they have internalized the "innocent" identity, and they believe that having a 'victim mentality" means a person is weak and manipulative, (because that's what bullies/narcissists TOLD them, in order to brainwash them from telling on them.)

When a person has internalized the "innocent being bullied" identity from past trauma, they can be completely convinced that any time they FEEL something coming from someone else, they are being attacked. Anything that feels like a demand, a command, an insult, an accusation, a humiliation, or a burden on them can trigger their feeling of being bullied or abused, and they can become instantly defensive, and STAY defensive, and stay in the belief that they must defend themselves.

When a person truly believes they are defending themselves against a real threat, their ability to empathize is severely hampered, and even turned off completely. Like a child throwing a pet hamster across the room when it nips his finger, completely disregarding the hamster's life and safety. Some children would not ever do that, but many would~ The ones who WOULD do that often get taught inadvertently that they will not receive consequences for harming the hamster because the hamster bit first. This can lead, obviously, to a skewed belief that "as long as I'm defending myself, I am innocent, and I deserve no consequences for what I do in my defense, and whatever I do is okay." 

To further this, many children who develop this belief also eventually develop methods to magnify and capitalize on being the "innocent one", and it can work well in families with dysfunction and abuse. They may not realize they're doing it, or they may be aware of it on some level, but they usually don't consciously think about it much intellectually, they just keep doing it and testing it, and doing it more.

So the child can end up being the biggest bully in school and get away with it because they have honed their "innocent one" methods so well. In the closed system of a family or school, even sometimes the local community, this child can continue the behavior unchecked for years, because the people are USED TO the same things within the system. But when the child grows up and goes out into the world, or meets people who are not from the local collective, the child will have a hard time with the social interaction skills required to communicate effectively and respectfully, and will probably expect to continue to get away with his "I'm the innocent one" method whenever his behavior is questioned, or when he crosses lines and boundaries.

(Many celebrities have made headlines because of their expectations of being seen as the "innocent in defense of him/herself" when their behavior was clearly abusive and out of line. Even the glare of a world-sized spotlight didn't cause them to stop and think about their actions BEFORE they did it, and since most of them repeated their behavior again, apparently it didn't cause them to think about it AFTER they did it either.)

The consequences of this internalization of being the 'innocent one being bullied" can be far-reaching, and affect many people in the person's life, as well as the person themselves. It can be stopped in it's tracks if it's recognized by the person, and the right combination of healing, therapy and support can lead to recovery, but the first step is the recognition, and the willingness to learn about it.

written by M.M.Black