By Esther Veltheim

In every conflict we experience, elements of defensiveness and betrayal are always present. Regardless of what the conflict might seem to be about, the minute we over-react it is always because a deep-seated, unconscious belief is being betrayed.

To understand this it is necessary to recognize that underpinning each strong, conscious belief we defend is one that is diametrically opposed to it. Whether our conscious belief is negative or positive, it will be underlain by an opposing, equally strong belief.

The work we do in BreakThrough is to expose these underlying, core beliefs. Via BreakThrough's Steps process we investigate the dynamics of conflict with this goal as our focus. What eventuates, each time we see that we hold diametrically opposing beliefs, is that we become aware of the root cause of the particular conflict we find ourselves facing.

In general conflicts arise and persist because we focus on the obvious elements that seem to be causing our distress. It might seem that our body, mind, emotions, another person or people are blameworthy. But the fact of the matter is that all conflicts are the manifestation of pre-existing inner turmoil.

Sometimes the external conflict is a clear betrayal of a conscious belief we hold. In such a case it means that our unconscious belief is being validated. Because it is unconscious it is one we don't want to know about. Although there appears to be an external conflict that is causing us distress, our struggle really has little to do with anything or anyone external to us. Our real struggle is to defend ourselves against knowing something we don't want to believe. In all cases these unconscious beliefs are ones we don't relate to in the least and are sure we do not hold.

Alternatively, a conflict might betray an unconscious belief. Although there appears to be an external protagonist, the real struggle is, yet again, to uphold what we desperately want to think we believe. Whether a conscious or unconscious belief is being betrayed, on a conscious level our defenses are geared towards the same task. We are trying desperately to guard against seeing something about ourselves that we do not want to look at.

By exposing this preconditioning, and the defensiveness it gives rise to, the BreakThrough Steps put both our role and the role of the perceived protagonist into perspective. Because all conflicts entail the regurgitation of pre-existing mental and emotional factors, it means that conflict always begins and ends in our own minds.

The external is only ever a catalyst, and never the real cause, of our own inner conflict. This means that the idea that someone or something is disempowering us is a false notion. Clearly if conflict existed in us long before the one that we are dealing with, then any sense of control or strength we might feel we are losing cannot be real strength. All it can possibly be is a false strength that we have used as a means of covering up and denying the conflicting beliefs that keep us feeling powerless and needy of control. In other words, all conflicts are as much an internal as an external power play. And all over-reactions are a testament to false strength.

If we can ever hope to live a healthy, natural, responsive, responsible life then it is necessary for us to understand the nature of defenses.

Defenses are emotional contractions; suppressing, rejecting, trying to change and denying certain emotions. Emotions are nothing but the movement of energies in relation to memory. This means that emotional contraction happens in relation to preconceptions or preprogramming that happened, usually, in very early childhood.

It is impossible to understand how personal identity can attach itself to the sense of being. It is impossible to understand how personal identities can take a paramount place of importance in comparison to the sense of being. But what we can come to understand is the dynamic of defensiveness.

When the desire to know the Truth is underway it is clearly an indication that, on some level, we understand that we are living a lie. This means that the absence of Self-knowledge denotes self-deception. This is the first thing we can understand about our defenses; that they are lies. When we are defensive towards others what we are trying to defend is always our self. Because this self is unnatural to us; not our true self, defenses only ever serve the purpose of inhibiting self-knowledge.

When we are faced by the lies of others it is very easy to fixate on the idea that we have been betrayed by someone on the outside. It is very easy to want the other or others to atone or apologize before we feel we can move on and get on with our own life.

When this is our experience what we are, essentially, telling ourselves is that we cannot be conscious until the other is. In other words, we need the other person to behave non-defensively before we can. If we are honest with ourselves, when this neediness for an apology is happening, what we really want is for our victimhood to be validated. Rather than demanding an apology we might be more honest in saying admit that you have victimized me and that I am the victim here and then I can stop being one!?

This is another thing to understand about defenses. Defenses are always a state of blame and victim consciousness; false pride and false strength. We cannot blame anyone unless we consider ourselves a victim. We cannot believe we are a victim unless we have someone to blame. This means that all defenses are an indication of blame and victim consciousness.

Defensiveness is self-deception, and unconsciousness is synonymous with self-deception. When someone else blatantly deceives us or betrays us and we believe that they have to be conscious of what they have done before we can be at peace we are essentially saying that they need to be honest before we can be.

Before anyone else can lie to us or betray us their behavior is always preceded by our own self-deception. The fact that we focus on what they have done, rather than acknowledging our own role in the story, is an indication that we are unwilling to take responsibility for our own experience ? however terrible it might seem.

Unwillingness means the absence of will which is an essential quality. To be unwilling to accept responsibility for our own experience of anything denotes the absence of will. While we fail to express will it denotes that there is unconsciousness of what is natural to us. Will is something that can only be experienced through taking responsibility for our selves and our experiences. Unwillingness or the absence of will is another aspect of defensiveness.

In order to take responsibility for our role in any story of conflict we have to see how the other reflects our own unconsciousness. In the case of lying and betrayal by another, clearly, the other's behavior reflects the most fundamental aspect of our defensiveness, self-deception.

If we are committed to uncovering the Truth then will is necessary, as is strength of character. To withdraw our focus from the behavior of the other and focus on our own role in any story of conflict – be that conflict grieving for a loved one who has died; raging towards someone who has abused or disrespected us us; feeling sadness in the face of some hopeless-seeming situation etc. - whatever the conflict, unless we are able to be conscious of our own role the conflict will persist.

To take responsibility for our role in any conflict it is necessary to experience compassion towards the other or others and towards our self. Compassion is an opening of the heart and goes hand in hand with empathy - the capacity to feel what the other is feeling. But empathy is very difficult if we are in extreme defense mode because defensiveness is primarily the suppression and rejection of some aspect of our own emotional makeup.

A definition of sociopathy is the inability to experience empathy. All defenses are sociopathic in nature.

As long as we consider that the other 'makes' us feel then we are giving responsibility for our emotions to the other person. This is a very heavy burden to lay on someone. But to understand this is to begin to understand virtually any conflict. This is because ALL conflicts entail the superimposition of responsibility onto another person. And this responsibility is the responsibility of our emotions.

What we don't want to feel we project onto others in blame. What we love to feel we project onto others in adoration - which is another form of blame and abuse. Any extreme emotion that we attribute to another person is an indication of defensiveness on our part.

Frequently we blame others for being emotionally absent. This is a very easy defense to understand. What we are saying is that the other person needs to express emotions towards us, and that if they don't we feel emotionally deficient. This means that we are blaming the other for the very thing we are incapable of - being present to our own emotions. All defenses are an expression of our inability to be present to our self and life.

One aspect of defensiveness that is always at play in any conflict is the sense of being betrayed. We feel betrayed when a loved one dies. We feel betrayed when another person disagrees with something that we 'know' to be true. We feel betrayed when happiness gives way to grief or some other undesirable emotion. We feel betrayed when anything goes wrong in our life...we feel betrayed by life.

Whenever betrayal is felt there is a need to prove something: either that we deserve to be betrayed or that the other is wrong. Betrayal and defensiveness always go hand in hand. And what has been betrayed is always a belief that we have about life and self; an expectation. We expect others to betray us; we expect life to let us down; we expect that grief should follow happiness. On a superficial level we expect that others should be honest, others should be respectful, others should, should, should...Where ever there is conflict and defensiveness there are always a host of shoulds: rules that we have for ourself and rules that we have for others.

These preconceived rules, learned in very early childhood, are what manifest in all conflicts. This means that all conflicts that give rise to defensiveness, give rise to childish behavior - not childlike but childish. The degree of our defensiveness, lack of will, lack of true strength, lack of integrity is always a measure of our immaturity. And immaturity in adults is synonymous with unconsciousness.

In all conflicts there is a need to prove, and what we are trying to prove is that the expectation we have are right. In other words, we want to prove that childish beliefs (preconditioning that happened involuntarily in childhood) are correct. We want to prove that a false identity we adopted in childhood is a truth. This is the case even when the beliefs are negative because deep-seated, childish beliefs always have both a negative and positive aspect to them.

All of our preconditioning - positive and negative – is based on low-self esteem because these beliefs are superimpositions upon the natural self, which means they are false representations of our self. On some level we intuit this superimposition to be unnatural and, although we find ways of masking this insecurity as we grow up, we feel constantly insecure.

Defensiveness is always a sign of insecurity and the need to feel safe. But instead of finding constructive ways of communicating our need for safety, we demand that the other change; demand that they take responsibility for our experiences. In this way we perpetuate our own insecurity, because our defenses continue dictating that we are incapable of being responsible for our self. No wonder the feeling of insecurity continues to be felt so strongly. No wonder the neediness to control our environment and those in it continues so strongly.

It follows that in all conflicts our defensiveness denotes lack of self-responsibility, lack of self-respect, the inability to be emotionally present to ourselves (experience our emotions healthily), self-deception, unconsciousness/immaturity. Here already we have enough descriptions of our own role in conflict to, perhaps, divert our focus away from the external conflict. Where our focus needs to be is towards our own internal conflict. This is because conflicts we experience in the present are only ever catalysts of inner conflict that preexisted long before the one we are experiencing right now.

The need for self validation or to prove a point is always at the heart of any conflict.

Because we are trying to prove something about our self - a belief we identify with - this need is always an indication of doubt. After all, we don't feel the need to prove anything we are sure about - such as our gender, that we are alive etc.

Conflict, then, is always all about the need to prove, which is always an indication of self-doubt. Where there is self doubt and we battle to prove that we are right, there is always self-deception. Where there is self-deception and, simultaneously, the need for another person to behave 'appropriately' there is always hypocrisy.

When we find ourselves fixating on the behavior of the other, or the unfairness of any situation, there is always a wake up call happening. To heed it is the trick. One way of beginning to behave more consciously in conflict is to start to understand, and absorb this formula:

Defensiveness = the need to prove = proof of self-doubt = self-deception = hypocrisy = false strength = false pride = ignorance.

When conflict arises, be it towards our self or another, and we recall this simple recipe it makes it far easier for us to withdraw blame and victim consciousness and behave in a more constructive, honest way. This recipe of defensiveness, when followed, is a means of living dharmically. Dharmic living is a crucial element to any spiritual pathway.

In this way, by means of this simple process of deduction, it is possible to understand that all the conflicts of our life offer a potential wake up call. It is also possible to understand that conflict is a very necessary part of coming into consciousness.

The foregoing is, in part, a description of our focus and the work we do in BreakThrough.

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