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How to Transform Our Natural Instincts to Get What We DO Want Instead of What We DON'T

Photo Credit: Ashlyn Ciara

We have certain instincts that we’re born with. They’re natural and are supposed to be there. These are things like security, self-esteem, and personal relationships. But what happens for many of us is that these instincts get distorted and out of proportion.

The way we talk about that in 12-step recovery is we say that that happens because we’ve acted out of our “defects of character.” One of my programs uses the term “defenses of character” which is a little softer than “defects of character.” Plus it conveys the notion that these character traits are a defensive reaction to something that happened to us. “Defects of character” makes it sound like it’s an inborn trait that can’t be changed, which is untrue.

The problem with all this is that when we're acting out of our defenses of character, we tend to get the opposite of what we want. That’s because when we act out of our defenses of character, we typically focus on what we don't want we end up creating that very thing.

The way this was explained to me the first time was this: let's say you want to have a good reputation. If you’re acting out of your defenses of character though, you instead focus on what don’t want: a bad reputation. So in order to enhance your reputation because you’re so fixated on not having a bad reputation, you lie, make stuff up, and/or embellish the truth. Maybe you fudge your sales report or say you’ve been places and done things you really haven’t. The goal is to make yourself look better, but by being dishonest and embellishing you actually ruin your reputation, the very thing you were trying to enhance!

Let’s take a look at this. If you change your focus from avoiding a bad reputation to building a good reputation, you’ll eventually achieve your goal of having a good reputation. Building a good reputation means things like being honest, kind, a woman of your word, following through, and not talking about people behind their backs. In other words, being a woman of integrity.

Another example that might resonate with you is the fear of abandonment. Most of us don't want to be abandoned by other people so we focus on that, rather than on what we do want: connection. If our primary concern is to not be abandoned by other people, we do things like cling and grasp at others. We cater to what they want, need, and like and we push aside our own preferences. As a result of that, we abandoned ourselves.

The result is that you’ve built abandonment into the relationship. You’re not actually in a relationship with the person when you’ve abandoned yourself to their preferences. Some fake version of you is in that relationship. They're not in a relationship with the actual you because they don't know who you really are. Even if they don't leave you, you’re emotionally abandoned by them because you've abandoned the relationship by not being there yourself!

The very thing we're trying to achieve – a good reputation, and true connection with others - is the very thing that we create when we act out of our defenses of character.
Here's the key to stopping that pattern, instead of going after what you don't want, go after what you actually do want. Keep the focus on YOU and what you want. Proactive people are much more focused on what they want and much less focused on what they don’t want. Where your attention goes, your energy follows.

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