Emotions 103: On the Defense

Anxiety, shame, and guilt are all very uncomfortable emotions. When they arise, we often use various strategies as defenses against them (Hendel, 2018), and these defenses are usually what bring people to therapy

Take a moment to think of some things you do to avoid core or inhibitory emotions. You may “doom scroll” on your phone, procrastinate, work too much, use substances, dissociate/space out, or self-harm. Depression is a defensive strategy to push down (or depress) uncomfortable feelings. As well, many people unconsciously learn that the bodily feelings associated with emotions are too overwhelming. They disconnect from their bodies and retreat into their heads.

Defenses developed to protect us, but stopped being as helpful a long time ago. Understanding the ways we defend against our emotions is the first step in gaining back access to them. When we don’t have access to our core emotions, we lose out on important information to guide us in life, as well as the potential to deeply feel positive emotions and connect with others.

While different therapists do different things, in my work with clients, we look at the defensive strategies that aren’t working anymore and see what inhibitory emotions are present. We pay attention to the body and start to learn the language of emotions. Over time, we work to manage defenses and inhibitory emotions so we have greater access to core emotions. We feel and listen to the core emotions in order to understand what is really going on, and celebrate the wins together along the way.

For your own work, a really useful tool is called The Change Triangle from the book It’s Not Always Depression (Hendel, 2018). This helps you map out your journey back to your core emotions, and a brief explainer can be found here. I hope this series has been helpful in making you curious about your emotions. It can be difficult, but also very worthwhile to become friends with your emotions once again.


Hendel, H. J. (2018). It’s not always depression: Working the Change Triangle to listen to the body, discover core emotions, and connect to your authentic self.  Random House.

Thank you to Danny for writing this blog post! If you are curious about exploring your emotions, consider booking a session with Danny (or any of our other counsellors).

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