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Please note: This guide is designed for existing clients who wish to understand more about specific patterns discussed in session. Please be sure to read "Understanding Defenses” first.


Imagine being about 4 years old.  Although you're still quite young, you’re no longer completely dependent upon your parents.  Although your interactions with the world are still largely mediated by them, you understand that you're a separate, unique person.  You have strengths and weaknesses, as well as gifts to share with the world.  

You’re ready to take a big step.  It's time to bring who you are into the world.  It's time to find the places of natural connection within your community.  Maybe you’re in preschool or are about to start kindergarten.  You're nervous and excited.  Like everyone, you want to be recognized and invited to contribute.  You want to belong.  But at this young age, you need the people in your community to really see you.  You need your teachers and other community leaders to reflect back the light they see in you, so your full potential can be realized.  You need to be accepted and welcomed for all that you are, so you can feel where you fit in the larger, interconnected puzzle.

Sometimes, as you're trying to find where you belong, though, you may run into rigid expectations.  It might even seem like you're being asked to become someone else in order to fit in.  Just when you're longing to connect and bring your unique light into your community, maybe you receive subtle (or not so subtle) messages that you must do what everyone else is doing or become something different than what you are.  Do you feel rejected?  Does it feel like your community wants you to hide what makes you unique or become something other than what you are?  Maybe they have strong opinions about the "right" way to do things.  What about your parents?  In trying to help you find your place, do they encourage the expression of your unique, spontaneous essence?  Or do they value "performance" or outward appearances over authenticity? 

What did you do in response to the pain of their rejection?  Did you reject yourself, too?  Maybe you tried to hide your essence and become what you thought your parents or larger community wanted you to be.  What happened to your heart?  What happened to your flowing, sexual energy?  Did you try to become "perfect?"

* * * 

At around the age of 4 or 5, children start to reveal who they uniquely are and what they’re here to experience and share on this adventure of life.  A child whose master destiny involves acting on Broadway may start parroting back lines from her favorite show, trying out different voices, facial expressions or exaggerated postures.  A boy, whose master destiny involves becoming a police officer or firefighter, might put on a superhero cape and run through the house, crashing through imaginary walls and rescuing unwilling pets or siblings.

As a child, exploring what it means to share yourself with the world, we all need the freedom and encouragement to get a little messy or make a little noise.  We are creatures of incredible depth, creativity and passion.  We're designed to express ourselves freely, to love fully, to experience authentic pleasure, and feel deeply.  We need the adults around us to mirror back our magnificence (Wow, you’re so heroic!  You’re really good at memorizing lines!).  Even when the creative process of self-expression is imperfect, we need unconditional love and an acknowledgement of the unique magnificence we're trying to bring forth.

We all want to be accepted and valued for who we are.  But when our attempts to flow and connect feel like they’re being rejected, it places incredible strain on the energy body.  Energy wants to flow outward, even as the world seems to be asking for strict adherence to non-flowing expressions of energy.  We find ourselves trapped in a double bind.  We must figure out how to limit the flow and movement of our authentic energy, while also finding an outward expression that will be accepted by the larger community.  We must lock ourselves down, but still somehow remain appropriate in outward expression.  We must find a narrow channel of expression that will accomplish all of this.  We then must lock it in to prevent any impulsive flow of energy that might threaten our place in the community.  We must find an acceptable expression and then rigidly stick to it.  This is how the rigid defense forms.


With the rigid defense, we learn to hold back.  We choose to shut off the flow of creative expression rather than deal with the repeated pain of rejection.  In doing so, we learn how to control what we express and show others.  We solidify a mask that conforms to what we think others want.  Maybe you became the "good child," the funny one, the A-student, the star-athlete, or whatever else you thought they wanted you to be.  The love you received while hiding back that mask was conditional, but it felt better than the alternative. 

Over time, you probably got really good at “reading” what other people wanted you to be or what the situation called for.  As an adult, you may even be a great chameleon, showing only what you think is acceptable in any situation, changing on the fly, moment to moment.  Like an actor on a stage, you know how to give the people what they want. 

In the process, however, you probably lost touch with who you really are, what you want, and what you're really feeling in the creative flow of life.  This saves you from the embarrassment of messing up and potentially being rejected, but it also keeps you trapped in that double bind.  Like a suit of armor holding you back, you can move, but not spontaneously.  You can express yourself, but only in ways that are acceptable.

With rigidity, we try to eliminate all the natural, instinctual, spontaneous, creative expressions that don’t seem to fit or that seem to threaten our place in the larger community.  We oftentimes learn to harmonize by rejecting the most unique parts of ourselves.  We then work tirelessly to perfect the outer expression, so no one will see through to the messiness underneath.

The degree of rigidity that develops depends on many things.  Although the expectations of the larger community highly contribute to this defense, it can be softened or made worse by the smaller community of the family.  Parents oftentimes model their own rigidity for their children.  They may try to deny or hide the messy or difficult things taking place at home (alcoholism, illness, etc.).  They may actively work to appear appropriate to the neighbors or their community.  They may demonstrate their ability to overcome or control their own impulses, feelings or spontaneous expression through the force of their will.  Strict expectations, pressure to achieve, or an overfocus on propriety or appropriateness all contribute to further hardening. 

This hardening not only contains the free flow of energy but serves to strengthen the system.  Like reinforcing iron rods laid in concrete, rigidity in the energy body reinforces certain kinds of acceptable behaviors, while minimizing what’s been judged as unacceptable.  Oftentimes, emotional expression, spontaneity, creativity and free movement are limited.  With rigidity, feelings can be more easily ignored.  We can do whatever we need to do to achieve what’s expected.

Because most of us have already experienced a fair degree of developmental challenges by the age of 4 or 5, the rigid defense can be hard to isolate from the underlying defensive patterns it flattens and locks in.  Generally, it tends to create new splits or harden existing ones in the energy body, making those underlying responses more predictable or likely.  It slows down or stifles the flow of energy into narrowed channels. 


To keep the inner world from flowing too freely into the outer world, the energy body must be split, so that the core is walled off from the periphery.  This reduces the risk of any sudden, inappropriate expression of energy leaking out.  Because emotions can be messy, they also must be isolated so they can be “rationalized” before they can be seen by anyone.  In this energetic fortress, the main energy is held on the periphery, where it connects only lightly and appropriately with others, safely minimizing the possibility of rejection.  Oftentimes, the perceptive capacity of the third eye is used to read what others want.  Cut off from the core, the outward expression quickly morphs, like a chameleon, into whatever the environment is calling for, sometimes on the fly, moment-to-moment. 

Because so much of this defense relies on the power of will to contain the spontaneous flow of energy, the back sides of all of the chakras (our will centers) become overused.  The front aspects (our feeling centers) atrophy, numbing you to the juice of life like deep emotions, creative flow, and authentic connection.  If you’ve been doing this long enough, you may not even be aware you’re blocking anything.  It’s as if there’s just nothing there.  The entire system becomes “held back” in an automatic way.  


Because so much energy is held in the back, the back and spinal muscles grow overcharged with the rigid defense. Knots in the back may become so rigid, the muscles along the spine start to feel like rods.  In other areas, muscles may harden into plate armoring.  The pelvis may be tipped to hold back creative impulses.  This can create an exaggerated curve in the low back.  In extreme expression, the entire body appears to be held up and held back, in the ram rod straightness of a military cadet.  All of this armoring limits free or spontaneous movement.  Breathing may be shallow, but sufficient. Oftentimes, the rest of the body is harmoniously proportioned and appropriate in appearance.  It may move smoothly, though monotonously.  With rigidity, we dress well and keep a neat appearance. 


When this pattern is held long enough, awareness of the energy being expended in the holding fades.  As with all defenses, it works best when we forget that we’re actively defending against anything.  With the rigid defense, it eventually starts to feel like there’s simply no creative impulse or spontaneous emotion to hold back.  Life becomes routine and automatic.  It becomes nearly impossible to let go, live in a flowing manner, or let loose.

Even exchanges with loved ones may lack depth.  No real emotion can be shared when no real emotion can be felt.  Instead, a focus on perfection, social correctness, morality or propriety may take hold.  This perfection is sought both internally and externally.  Any imperfection or spontaneous expression internally or in the environment threatens to break through the appropriate shell.  That means, it may be rigidly judged against, denied or outrightly rejected.

Even the real love that’s felt must be held in check.  This can lead to feelings of emptiness.  Relationships may look good from the outside, but lack depth, or feel destabilized when the other person inevitably shows their imperfections.  Without access to feelings, there’s little need for emotional support of any kind.  The entire system becomes self-contained and self-regulating.  


This defense gives us a strong capacity to get things done, though it offers little room for satisfaction.  Underneath all the high-functioning, however, there's usually a vague sense that something is missing.  That life should be more meaningful or interesting than it is.  Do you feel like a ghost in your own life?   Do you feel critical of others, expecting them to behave perfectly?  Do you reject or admonish them when they react in ways you deem inappropriate?  When you meet new people, how long is it before you assess what they’re all about?  Do you take the time to get to know them, listen to how they feel, try to connect at a heart level and accept them for who they are?  Or do you go through your checklist, figuring out what part of them to reject and what limited part of yourself you’re willing to share with them, if anything at all?  Do you hate when things get "messy?"

Do you find yourself thinking these kinds of thoughts:

  • There are right and wrong ways to do everything.

  • Losing control is something to avoid.

  • Winning is important.

  • Money, status, success is important.

  • Emotional outbursts are embarrassing.

  • A real man (or woman) doesn’t....

  • It’s important to have rules to guide the way you live.

  • Self-control is important.

  • I like to get the job done. I have good values.

  • How I look or dress reflects who I am.

  • You can tell a lot about someone just by looking at them, or in the first few minutes.

All defenses have a way of attracting matching experiences, and the rigid defense attracts rigidity.  The more rigid we become, the more rigid our environment becomes.  The focus on outward appearance and harmonizing tends to attract others who are outwardly focused and willing to similarly harmonize.  In what’s both a gift and curse, the more rigid we are, the more likely we are to have the perfect job, the perfect spouse, and the perfect life, all of which feel vaguely empty.  With the rigid defense, we may achieve the goals we think are important, only to realize that the rigid container we’ve created disallows the flow necessary for satisfaction.  Without access to our own core, our goals are based on what the environment values, not what we personally value.  Without flow, we cannot experience authentic pleasure.


Rigidity can become so stifling, it eventually creates the tension necessary to break through its own rigid blocks.  This process can be a slowly unfolding softening of the rigid holding.  It can be an intentional movement to realign, so that more of the unique essence is brought forward.  Or it can have a messy urgency, as all the held back emotions, impulses and creativity crash through the rigid walls.  When rigidity reaches this extreme expression, the perfect life crumbles.  The perfect marriage disintegrates, the perfect job is lost, or illness upends everything.  The successful CEO quits his job to go live in a hut in the Amazon.  The perfect husband and father has an illicit affair with a porn star.  The pendulum swings in the other direction, and the “perfection” crumbles.  A sharp, corrective turn is taken, so greater harmony can be developed between the external environment and the denied, inner essence.

Healing the rigid defense requires that we fundamentally change the way we view the world and ourselves in it.  Holding back is an effective coping method, and you may have needed it when you were young and vulnerable.  It helped you fit in and survive in an environment that discouraged your natural creativity or emotional expression.  By now, you might even think “this is just who I am” or “this is just how the world works.”  You probably feel that the way you’re responding to life is “realistic.”  But your freedom lies in challenging those ideas.  The world has suffered without your unique light, and you have suffered by closing so much of who you are off.  You’ve been denied the sweet beauty of authentic connection and the thrill of free-flowing, creative expression.

To heal this wound, you must learn how to love yourself unconditionally.  You must get comfortable with getting messy, being imperfect and expressing what you’re really feeling, in the moment that you’re feeling it, without judgement.  Accept that you’re human, and then work at loving yourself - not despite that fact, but because of it.

If you have the courage to do this, your life can become an amazingly rich and moving experience.  Every moment will be infused with flavor, because you’ll have found the one ingredient that’s been missing from all your cookbook recipes – You!  

A great question to ask yourself as you're working with this defense is “Where can I be flexible in this?”  If you find yourself thinking in rigid ways or insisting on a specific path, ask yourself where you can make room in your thinking.  Where can you drop out of "performance mode?"  Does the house really have to be spotless for you to relax and have a little fun?  Rigidity is very supported by our society.  Oftentimes, the denial is so deep, we don’t even recognize we're using a defense.


Opening up to flow may sound scary, but you don’t have to have it all figured out.  Find someone you can open up to.  Don’t tell them about all the good things going on in your life, or how well you're doing, or insist that things don’t really bother you.  Let go of looking perfect or appropriate.  Try being real.  When you inevitably feel the walls coming back up or you feel like you’re not really there, pause for a moment and focus on your core.  Be aware of your environment, but don't give yourself over to whatever it seems to be calling for.  Remain focused on yourself until you can contact your essence.  Then, see if you can bring this part of you into the conversation.

If you even just partially succeed in any of these ways, you’ll be on the road to reclaiming the real you.  Behind all that appropriateness is a passionate, carefree you, capable of deep connection with others and living life as an inspiring adventure. 

For more support, try my “Connecting to Core Star and Soul Purpose” meditation.

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