Mireille Reece, Psy.D.
Executive Clinical Director/Clinical Psychologist
Words are some of my favorite things. I often reference myself as somewhat of a geek because of my affinity for words. You see, fundamentally, words are powerful. They can be wielded in a variety of ways to impact people. Words have the capacity to translate chaos into order. They provide meaning and they hold emotions. They help us communicate as we seek to understand both ourselves and others. Words are a vehicle and a tool that help us maneuver through our lives. One of my favorite things about words is that they can be used in multiple ways like when they operate as both a noun and a verb. Love is one of these words. As a noun, love means an intense feeling; a great interest or pleasure in something; or a person or thing that one loves. As a verb, it means to feel deep affection for (someone) or to like or enjoy very much.
Love can be in response to a thing or it can be an action towards a thing
Love, like many emotions, moves us. It creates motion. It moves us in a direction. Love is a feeling we have while desire prompts us towards action. According to author and psychotherapist, Esther Perel, “While love is a biological need, desire is more centered on a motivation and drive.” When it comes to managing ourselves and our mental health in particular, we need to be reflective around what drives us towards this action of love because if we’re not aware of this, we can be prone to move more around self-protection and defense. We can focus on playing defense more often than offense. And the problem is that defense in any sport is never designed to score. When it does score, it’s haphazard. It’s not intentional but a by-product of the defend-ing.
In the process of therapy I often reference offense and defense as it relates to how people respond to the challenges in their lives. We all have defenses…and they can be helpful. The issue arises when people learn to utilize defensive strategies as the primary or default way of responding to obstacles, hurts and challenges. When we become fixated on navigating our lives and our upset through defense, we don’t necessarily move in the direction we want, rather we avoid things that are overwhelming, unwanted, or aversive. Or dare I say defense looks like avoidance. So we keep out things we don’t want. We keep out things, people or experiences that would create additional negative load on us and in our lives. But that strategy will not work for the long haul nor will it work as the primary coping mechanism. The result of playing defense can be loneliness, additional upset, anger, irritability and more. Because I am so fixated on self-protection and self-preservation, I forfeit opportunities to move ahead and make moves in the direction that I want to go and henceforth, experiencing more positive feelings.
You see offense IS designed to score. But offensive moves involve pressure, upset, challenge, and obstacles. This means that when I’m running offense, I’m going to find barriers, unwanted challenges, and more. But that can be confusing, right? Because I might think that if I’m doing things “right” or in the right direction, I shouldn’t have these obstacles. But this is why the reframe is so important.
Resistance is a part of making moves. It’s an indicator of the growth process.
If and when I’m unwilling to confront these obstacles that happen in moving forward, I forfeit opportunities to score in the game or in my own life. However, if fear runs front and center to guide the unwanted experiences I encounter, I end up focusing on what I’m trying to avoid as opposed to what I’m trying to accomplish. I voluntarily opt-out of the challenges which create growth.
So what I offer is not that we avoid running defensive plays rather focusing on making offensive plays as well. While I’m frustrated by unplanned and unwanted challenges, painful encounters, and obstacles, I have to deliberately choose to remember other desires and what I love. The key word here is WHILE. One doesn’t negate the other, but both are ever present alongside each other. I simply am choosing which one I’m focused on.
I’m not in charge of all the things that happen to me, but what I am in charge of is my response AND my perspective.
Changing our behavior involves changing our perspective which very simply put, means changing what and where we focus our attention. We will feed whatever we focus on. And attention can be quite the competitive environment. The way our brains are designed is based upon what we repeatedly set our minds to. I can focus on avoiding the aversive OR I can focus on where I want to go, what I’m trying to accomplish or what kind of relationship I’m trying to build. I can focus on and expand my lens in the direction of my desires while I allow the aversive or painful to fade into the background.
In life, we are going to encounter challenges. Have painful experiences–sometimes experiences we wished we didn’t have to. But IF…and when we can remember that not all pain is created equal and that love encourages us to do things alongside the possibilities of emotional hurt, we also take an offensive stance in approaching our lives, managing ourselves and impacting others in only the way that we can.
So I encourage you today to consider the lens you’re using as you go about your day. Ask yourself if you are focusing on the desires…on the things you love or on what you’re trying to avoid? And then practice moving forward in love. For others. And with ourselves. As we seek to buffer the aversive, the painful, and the overwhelming.