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16. Self-Esteem and the Suit of Armor

Updated: Oct 3, 2019

This is the second of a three-part blog series about the Individual in Marriage. Each blog covers how each individual in a partnership contributes to the relationship and changes as a result of the direction that the relationship provides.

Think back to the middle ages. A young man with a wife and two kids is called up for battle. He is to leave his home and charge into battle to defend his king. However, he has too much to live for. So he goes to the armory and demands the best suit of armor; however, he learns that even the strongest armor cannot protect against everything.

The young man is terrified, but the blacksmith reassuringly explains that he can sew individual shields of steal onto his skin so that he will be virtually impenetrable.

Even after learning about the pain involved with the procedure the young man is thrilled to find away to protect himself and to protect his future. He has the surgery and goes off to battle.

The surgically implanted armor saves his life multiple times and he returns home two years later. As he comes through the door he sweeps his wife up in a hug and the armor slashes into her face.

We all go through battles in childhood where we learn emotional self-defense skills. Sometimes these skills are ineffective as we carry them with us into our adult relationships. These emotional suits of armor undoubtedly saved us countless times through childhood, but as adults these coping mechanisms that saved can hurt the ones we love and even push them away.

The suit of armor is a metaphor that represents a defense mechanism for emotional pain. The armor is automatic thought patterns intended to protect us from emotional pain. But the longer we wear it, beliefs about ourselves begin to take hold, to the point where it can feel like the armor is sewn into our skin.

All of us have some sort of suit of armor, and no matter how thick the armor is, wearing it doesn’t make us broken or weak. We can’t control our emotions or thoughts directly, and we have to respect the fact that the automatic thoughts are not meant to hold us back or hurt our spouses. Those automatic thoughts--that armor--is there to protect ourselves from harm.

Time To Take Off The Armor

The armor we wear served its purpose well in battle, but once the war is over. it’s time to take off that armor and allow ourselves to enjoy peace. It’s time to rethink our thoughts by reprogramming automatic thoughts so that our beliefs can serve us rather than hurt the ones we love.

But with changing behavior, we can eventually redirect and make emotion conform to our desire to create a healthy relationship and grow closer to our spouse. The behavior is the only access we have to those programs of automatic thoughts--behavior which affirms our beliefs. By controlling our behavior, the beliefs follow.

How And Where It All Begins

All of us are born with a recording device of sorts in our head. From a young age on, your brain records your perception of other peoples’ perceptions of you. Then around the age of six, the brain doesn’t just record, it starts playing back.

For example, John, the youngest of four, is 10 years younger than his next sibling. Everything he learns and discovers throughout his life has already been done and learned by everyone else in his family. That family dynamic causes John to believe that other people perceive him as less intelligent.

So when John is in class, and the teacher asks a question, his mind tells him “you’re not smart, someone else has already figured this out long before you. Let her pick someone else. Then as he’s leaving the class, the voice says “see you didn’t answer. That proves you’re less intelligent.”

And a pattern like this can continue for his entire life.

Our behavior following the voice affirms its beliefs. So that small affirmation in class, 20 years later which has compounded over time, is crushing when he has a great idea in a business meeting but doesn’t speak up. Or when his wife asks him if he noticed the fridge seems warm, and instead of looking into it himself he calls a repairman and spends a fortune just to realize it had come unplugged. Every time the behavior follows, the voice gets stronger.

Bad News: We Are Human and Can’t Turn Off the Voice

No therapy and no drugs can stop it. But don’t worry, there’s good news. There are ways to overcome this challenge that John faces--this challenge that every single one of us faces.

Good News: We Are Human, the Only Animal on Earth that Can Rewire its Own Brain

The way we do that is first by being aware of the voice.

John says “I know the voice is trying to protect me but I know better. I raise my hand. I prove the voice it’s not so bad.”

Once we are aware of the voice we become empowered to chose the behavior based on what we want or what we think is best. And that begins rewiring the brain. It takes effort, but here’s some more good news: we can add positive affirmation to compound positive thoughts and beliefs.

The Power of Positive Affirmation

Just as over time, negative beliefs can compound so can positive beliefs. The difference is, more often than not, positive affirmation requires courage to push past our fears. Our fears are what tell us to put on that armor--not to raise our hand--to react defensively. It takes courage to

  1. Acknowledge our fears (being aware of the voice)

  2. Change our behavior (decide not to give in to the voice’s suggestion)

  3. By proving the voice wrong, you prove to yourself that you are capable of achieving more. This builds confidence, assuredness, and peace of mind.

The secret to successful positive affirmation is doing it over and over again. The best way to find courage is to create it by making a habit of being courageous. That, like making a habit of contributing to a relationship bank account, is what builds the better person and better relationship over time.

Once you do something despite how you feel, which can be incredibly hard but also worthwhile, your life and your marriage begins to belong to you, not to your emotions.

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