Defense Mechanisms:
Why & How We Block Intimacy
As found in Identity Network
By courtesy of Author Junior deSouza,
July 2009,

Junior deSouza
Intimacy can be incredibly elusive! Though we all desire and need it, oftentimes we ourselves are the very reason it escapes us. May the Lord illumine our eyes to see and move beyond our defense mechanisms into fulfilling, lifelong intimacy with our loved ones.

Authentic Connection
What is intimacy?

Intimacy is the meaningful and fulfilling connection between two or more authentic selves. Vulnerability and trust are assumed, since the authentic self is essentially and perpetually vulnerable, needing assurance of safety for expression. Intimacy is when the real Me meets

the real You in a moment of trusting, soulical intercourse.

Emotional Fears
Why do we block intimacy?

Just as intimacy can happen between people, it can also happen with God. In our relationship with Him, we enjoy intimacy when our truest self is presented regularly in His presence--the good, the bad, and everything in between. When the deepest Me approaches Him, the deepest Him can reciprocate and sweep over me (Ps 42:7); I become one with His heart and soul, beyond His deeds, gifts, and Lordship.

Intimacy blocking is when a person employs certain behaviors to fend off potential intruders to their heart and soul. These behaviors are commonly referred to as defense mechanisms, or simply defenses. We'll get to them in a sec. In general, we block intimacy for four reasons.

Fear of buried pain
Those with unresolved, buried emotional pain are terrorized at the thought of ever reliving that pain. The greater the trauma, the greater the buried pain, the greater the fear of that pain. Consequently, they block persons, interactions, or scenarios whereby that pain might be triggered and relived.

Fear of judgment
Who likes to be judged, criticized, or picked apart? No one. Some personality types and maturity levels can absorb or deflect it better than others, but nonetheless it is not desirable or good (Mt 7:1-5). Some block intimacy when they anticipate judgmentalism.

Fear of ridicule
Affirmation is a basic need. Unfortunately, many grew up in families where validation was scarce and shame was abundant. These wounded souls tend to shut down if they sniff out potential shame, canceling all meaningful self-expressions. Who wants to let their true self out, only to be laughed at, belittled, or ridiculed? Saul hid himself at his kingly proclamation for this reason (1Sam 10:21,22), which ended up happening anyway just as he feared (v27).

Fear of rejection
Just as we need appropriate doses of affirmation, so also we need a social niche in a group or community, or acceptance. Some block intimacy for fear that their self-expressions would cause them to be disenfranchised, or rejected, by the very group they seek identification with.

Defense Mechanisms
How do we block intimacy?

Defense mechanisms are behaviors people employ to fend off potential intruders to their heart and soul. All of us, at one time or another, for one reason or another, have used these barriers. However, as God continues to heal us emotionally, free us from the fear of man, and purify our overall personality, defenses should become less and less important. Keep in mind also, these defenses are, at times, erected subconsciously; we might not realize when or how much we depend on them until a moment of clarification dawns on us. May this be our moment.

Marketing accomplishments
Some divert attention away from their heart and soul by marketing their accomplishments. In other words, they continually spotlight their successes, victories, and achievements in their conversations and interactions with others. This is a form of "putting your best foot forward". In a job interview that might be okay, but not so with loved ones or the Lord who need us to be deeper and broader than our successes. The needy and naïve are often impressed by such self-promotion; the stable are bothered by it and spurn it as bragging; the emotionally whole and spiritually discerning perceive the defense mechanism for what it is.

Playing to strengths
Some play to personal strengths, such as talent, beauty, heritage, wealth, and so on. This is slightly different from accomplishment-marketing in that playing to strengths spotlights what one has, while the former spotlights what one has done. This is also a form of "putting your best foot forward". Again, this might be okay in a job interview, but not for intimate relationships that require a comprehensive self-presentation.

How well does this work? Very. Occasional rage, a violent explosion here and there, an aggressive tone, a seething irritability, a tense face, quick movements...who wants to mess with that? Anger is certainly among the most successful defense mechanisms. It begins to crumble though, when one comes along unmoved and unbothered by such childish temper tantrums.

Staying busy Martha avoided intimacy with Jesus by staying busy (Lk 10:38-42). Extreme busyness, being always on the go, and hyperactivity are defensive schemes to keep meaningful connections at bay. Who can be close--truly close--to a person who won't slow down enough to bond? This is true of both our relationship with people and the Lord (Ps 46:10).

Intellectual garble
At times, the head can be the enemy of the heart. Some, especially the intelligent, barricade themselves from intimacy by being a "talking head". They use intellectual garble, rhetoric, and diversions to avoid raw emotional vulnerability and bonding.

"Parenting" Parents do not share full intimacy with their kids. The mental and social gap created by the age difference is simply too great. Similarly, adults who play the "Parent" role with other adults also maintain such a distance. Those who arbitrarily and continuously seek to parent, pastor, and patronize those around them do so as a defense mechanism. Their conscious and subconscious logic goes something like this: If I'm your parent I don't have to relate with you heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul...because I'm your parent remember? The Parent game is simply another intimacy blocker.


A tricky defense found often among Christians is superspiritualism. Christians hide their real person behind excessive Christianese, Scripture quotations, dramatic spiritual stories, "God told me" lines, and so on. These annoying brethren occasionally need to be interrupted in the midst of their performances and asked, "Hello, is the real person in there somewhere?" I'm not at all doubting the validity of their relationship with God or their experiences, only the validity of their spiritual maturity, emotional wholeness, and relational fulfillment.


Independence is good and necessary, but hyperindependence is a hiding place from intimacy. Isolation, seclusion, extreme privacy, and lonerism are protective reactions, so also the extrovert who advertises an I-need-no-one persona.


Codependence is not intimacy, it is survival. It's not a meaningful connection, it's a desperate lifeline. It's one person sucking life out of another, or two people sucking life out of each other, but not two people floating in the buoyancy of genuine vulnerability and trust.

Precious Lord and Father, we identify our fearful defenses, we repent of them and ask your forgiveness, and we ask for more grace to practice better, biblical ways of responding to our emotional needs and crises. In Jesus name, Amen.

Defenses vs Boundaries
Guarding Our Hearts

Proverbs 4:23 tells us, Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Solomon is not urging us to be defensive or nonintimate, but to have wise personal boundaries that others cannot trespass. The opposite of defensive is permissive. Swinging to a permissive extreme makes us vulnerable to the wrong people, at the wrong time, in the wrong way. Psalm 48:12,13 tell us the city of God had watchtowers, ramparts, and citadels. John 2:24,25 tell us Jesus Himself had boundaries. How much more we? Not only do boundaries guard individuals from the harmful, they also guard relationships. When intimacy begins to blossom, such boundaries will protect the vineyard in bloom from intrusive foxes (SS 2:15).

We establish boundaries through selectivity in four areas: talk, time, touch, and tangibles. We are to be selective with our talk, the type of personal information we share with others (Ps 141:3, Pr 13:3, 18:6,7). We are to be selective with our time, carefully predetermining and administrating the time we spend with certain persons and in certain places (Ps 101, Pr 12:26, 22:5). We are to be selective with our touch, monitoring with whom, when, and how we experience physical contact with others (1Sam 20:41, SS 2:7, 1Th 4:3-6, 1Ti 5:2). We are to be selective with our tangibles, screening who, when, and how our belongings are shared with others (Ezr 8:21, Job 5:24, Pr 12:27 NIV).

Lifelong Intimacy

God desires that we enjoy lifelong intimacy with others. This is done by understanding intimacy as four "right" connections.

Connecting with the right people There is a type of person that is ideal for intimacy (Ps 101). We should all seek to be that person, and we should all pray for these persons to be sent or cultivated for us. This type of person is, for the most part, nondefensive; they are willing and wanting to emerge from their fortress to share their soul with someone. This type of person understands boundaries; they are willing to maintain limits around their talk, time, touch, and tangibles so that any blossoming intimacy would be safeguarded. Most of all, this person is intimate with their First Love (Rev 2:4); intimacy with Jesus is the foundation and schooling for all human relationships (Mt 7:24-27).

Connecting for the right reasons Intimacy is the equal giving and receiving of authentic selves, giving being the beginning and the basis (Ro 12:10, 1Co 13:5, Php 2:3,4). Those who approach relationships to receive first do not have an intimacy mentality. Connecting for the right reasons means giving first, receiving last. Relationships implode or explode when one or both persons put receiving first.

Connecting at the right times Intimacy is an opportunist--it can be heightened and microwaved at certain times. Victories, crises, and change are golden opportunities to connect profoundly (1Sam 20, Ro 12:15). More energy, thought, and prayer should be exerted in these times. Connect at the right times.

Connecting in the right ways People have different love deficits, based on past experiences. People have different love preferences, based on their personality and calling. Sensitivity and observation will reveal these. Connecting in the right ways means customizing love so that deficits are healed and preferences are satisfied (Eph 4:29, Php 2:4).

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