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defences not defects - memorial locks - action institute of california - jean campbell

Defenses, Not Defects

defences not defects - memorial locks - action institute of california - jean campbellHaving facilitated hundreds – if not thousands – of psychodramas over the years with recovering addicts and alcoholics, one of my great beefs with AA is the term “character defects.” For those of you who are not familiar with the Steps, 6 and 7 are about being entirely willing to have those “defects of character” (that you identified in Steps 4 and 5) removed, and then humbly asking your Higher Power to remove those shortcomings. That word defects has always gotten under my craw.

In psychodrama after psychodrama after psychodrama I’ve directed with addicts/alcoholics, it’s their shame that has driven the disease of addiction, and it’s often what leads people back to relapse. And the thought that I’m “defective” is what’s at the core of shame.

For many addicts/alcoholics, those “defects” saved their lives. If they hadn’t learned to dissociate or to fight or to comply – or whatever else the brilliant coping mechanism was that they developed – they literally might not be alive today. And so I’ve come to call those behaviors character defenses instead – the tools I used (and the only ones I had at the time) that helped me get through difficult situations and feelings.

I’m defended, not defective, and with some willingness, I can begin to parse through which ones of those defenses I might use (and in what context) and which ones no longer serve me. For example, if I’m walking down a dark street at 2 am and a stranger starts to approach me, then my “Don’t F with me” posture could serve to protect me. If, however, I walk through the rest of my life with that posture, then people will typically avoid me or move away from me, and I’ll be alone.

In my own life, I have had to learn where and when to be appropriately defended, and when being so no longer works for me, or is the way I want to live my life. That’s a life-long journey – the hero’s journey…a coming back to myself. And that’s a journey worth taking.

And when I’m willing, shifts happen.

4 Responses

  1. terry crinin

    I stumbled upon this concept at a step meeting a number of years ago. The realization that this unholy terrors served a purpose real or imagined to protect this character. Defensive allowed to move past the defective model to a more humanistic concept of self. The human condition as it is and was. I’ve passed along that thought or design to others on many occasions.

  2. Tracy

    I appreciate the way you changed ‘Defects’ to ‘Defenses’, this makes much more sense to me and definitely dims the shame associated with alcoholism. I tried AA and I could not work the steps, nor did I find AA a place I wanted to be. The wording used in the text and how the members spoke made me feel as if it was a ‘cultish’ group – this is only my opinion and how the groups I attended made me feel. I was not successful with AA; however I was able to overcome my dependence on alcohol to ease the pain of my past.

    Thank you for giving me this new perspective, it is much appreciated.

    1. Thanks so much, Tracy. AA is certainly not for everyone, and a lot of the people I’ve been connected with have needed to change what I would say is very religious and patriarchal language. When I read the AA literature, I keep it in the context of the times and encourage people to change the language so that it fits. All that being said, AA (and all the 12-Step off shoots, such as NA, OA, etc) have meant a new way of life for millions of people. I’m glad you were able to find a path that worked for you, and I join you as a fellow seeker.

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