How My Insecurity Sabotages My Marriage
When you come from a broken home, broken feels like home. Chaos is the norm, and normal feels like chaos. How do we fight back, those of us who have made such a home in dysfunction? Speaking of myself, I have no idea, which is why I write: to try to unwind “ways of being” that no longer serve me.
One such “way of being” is my insecure defensive posture when I am confronted with any sort of critique or anything that even smells a bit like it. My guard immediately goes up, and I stop any form of impact from being made on me.
This shows up most in my own marriage. The irony of marriage is that Christy (my wife) gets the very worst and the very best of who I am. The very heights of heaven and the depths of hell are all bound within one relationship.
There are times she will ask me, “Would you mind picking up your clothes?” or “Would you mind cleaning the kitchen?” and many times my default is to attack—not physically, but much worse: emotionally. “Well, I did take out the trash, take the kids to school, make breakfast . . .”—my justifications go on and on. I already have my guard up. I am already unconsciously looking for a fight. Why? Why do I do that? I actually don’t want to be mean to my wife—I like her (most days I really do)—but why do I return to a young way of being?
The simple answer is “I learned it”; the more complex answer is that it continues to work for me. I learned it from my family of origin. Recovering from my parent’s divorce without any emotional processing, we turned on each other—survival of the fittest, or survival of the meanest. I developed a sharp wit and a mean bite. It protected me. Kept me safe from harm. It also still works for me. If I can defend my insecurity from my wife, then I won’t feel exposed.
One of the greatest fears for an insecure man is exposure of what we most want to hide and protect. We want to hide our futility, our powerlessness, and the young, tender places within our souls, subconsciously thinking that if these places were exposed, we would be less likely to be loved. Instead, the opposite is true: The more we expose our innermost vulnerabilities in trusting relationships, the more others are drawn to our goodness. It happens most in our most intimate relationships because we know that our partners see right through us—they know our truest self. My subconscious fear is being revealed by my wife, who already comprehends my deepest insecurities. I choose to defend rather than having the courage to be scared in front of her, to be vulnerable with her about my fears of not being enough or not having what it takes to love her or be a good father.
The irony of this process is that I defend and repel most where I need love most. These vulnerable places inside of me are the very places that need tenderness, love, and deep care. What I find when I lean into those raw places is that I am actually terrified to be loved well. It is easier for me to push her away than to receive her holy love for my tender places within.
So back to the how question. How do I (and maybe we) stop reenacting this insecure defensive way of being?
1. Awareness and Vulnerability
A new awareness starts by asking yourself the tough questions and beginning to tell yourself the truth of who you have become in light of your own story. When I feel myself beginning to defend, I must stop and ask, “What am I defending right now?” “What am I sacred of?” “Do I trust who I am with right now to show my heart instead of my anger?” If I can center myself back into what is true, I can begin to create a new way of being that is rooted in courage and vulnerability.
As I learn to let my defenses go, I first must bless the way my defenses have saved me and served me. I must bless my story. “Thank you, sharp wit and defensive posture. You have kept me safe from harm and injustice. I am now safe and an adult, and I no longer need you to protect me, as I can now protect myself.” When we bless our insecurities and defense mechanisms, we can gain strength to release them.
3. Developing a New Way of Being
A new way of being must take the old one’s place. You must practice this new centered, non-defensive posture with kindness and grace towards yourself. As Malcolm Gladwell says, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a professional at anything. It is no different with new “ways of being.” You’ve spend your entire life living out of your old way; it will take time for a new way of being to emerge.
As I become more aware, choose vulnerability, bless, and step into a new way of being, I can love with deeper hope and a richer courage. I know I will still fall into old patterns. (I actually responded defensively again last night to my wife as I was reading aloud this article on overcoming my defensiveness—geez!) Yet I am confident that as I find the bravery to name and bring my own sin to light, glory and goodness will soon follow.
Andrew J. Bauman is a licensed mental health counselor with a master of arts degree in counseling psychology from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. He and his wife, Christy, run Collective Hope Counseling in Seattle, Washington, and Andrew is the author of Stumbling Toward Wholeness, The Psychology of Porn and (with Christy) A Brave Lament.