We defend ourselves in many ways, not only against things which threaten our life, health or well-being, but also against whatever we perceive as an attack on our self-concept, i.e., who or what we believe
we are, think and do. Here we will limit ourselves to considering only some of the verbal defenses that we tend to use to protect ourselves in situations that make us feel tense or threaten our self-image.
We believe it is important, especially from the point of view of our unfolding, to become aware of our verbal defenses. While on one hand, these defenses help us face the circumstances of life; on the other they impede our advancement and the possibility of knowing ourselves better.

We are so identified with our verbal defenses that, even if we’re aware of them, we don’t recognize how they blind us to how we really are, why we are that way, and what we generate in others and the environment when we use them. Since we think the way we talk is because of the way we are, we feel we’re free to say whatever comes out of our mouths. We think we’re being spontaneous, without realizing that we’re obeying impulses which drive not only the words themselves, but which also establish the quality of our entire system of relationships. It’s logical, then, to work on language as a way of working on our unfolding and our relationships with those with whom we live. When a situation reveals our problems or touches a sore spot, we react in many ways, from physical aggression to the silent treatment, from mockery to formulating a theory of reality. In any case, the way we defend ourselves always highlights something we don’t accept in others or in ourselves, or situations we can’t solve or prefer to ignore. Moreover, despite our precarious certainties, we feel the need to be absolutely certain of what we think and believe, not only about life and the world but especially what we think of ourselves. Anything that threatens
or casts doubt on these certainties automatically activates defenses that generate emotions and reactions which we usually express in words.
Many of our conversations serve more to relieve our tensions and reinforce our self-image than to establish successful communication with others.

Talking as a de-stressor is a way of defending ourselves from ourselves and others. If something bothers us too much we use language to channel the strength of a reaction that we’re unable to master. Since we find it hard to acknowledge our weaknesses, we’re in the habit of pointing out—with words—all the reasons we lack control. In our interpersonal relationships, many of our conversations are also more like escape valves than real means of participation. For example, when we are going through a difficult situation, we look for someone to talk it over with. When we unburden ourselves, we feel better afterwards, without noticing or caring whether that person has time to listen to us, or whether they’re sufficiently prepared or strong enough to handle what we’ve told them. Nor do we consider how much we will upset their day—or their life—with what we tell them.

Our verbal defenses are also self-justifications. Expressing our anger when others criticize us is a way of affirming ourselves in what we think and do. When we criticize others we feel superior to them, justifying
the way we are and strengthening our belief that we’re right. In the context of how we use our words, we can identify two types of automatic defenses.

The first we call Limiting Defenses because they cloud our perception and understanding, for example, when we justify ourselves, refuse to listen, or complain. The second kind we call Aggressive Defenses because we use them as weapons to attack. Examples of these would be sharp words or condemning

What should we do about our verbal defenses so that they don’t become obstacles to our unfolding or damage our relationships? A simple way to work on them is to make them evident. Seeing them as they are makes it obvious how futile they are and the low level of consciousness that they imply. The exercises of stopping described below have this aim in mind.

Exercises of stopping can also be very valuable for learning about ourselves. If we practice them not only when we notice our verbal defenses but also at other times, we can become much more aware of ourselves and our situation.

When we stop what we’re thinking, feeling or doing, what happens in us is like what happens when a loaded vehicle stops suddenly. Whatever is loose is thrown forward, while whatever is fastened down tightens the straps that hold it in place.

In the same way, when we stop ourselves interiorly, whatever is “loose” in us is projected onto the screen of our mind: habitual thoughts and feelings, associations, memories, grudges. Whatever is “fastened
down”—pre-conceived ideas or prejudices—may become even stronger. With practice, and perhaps spontaneously, we begin to understand why we think and act as we do.

The habit of observing impartially what’s inside us helps us to understand why it’s there. This prompts us to expand our view of things, to deepen our notion of being and to harmonize our relationships.
To be able to practice the exercises described in this course, it’s good to make a plan, including what exercises to practice, as well as how often and for how long. The characteristics of each exercise will suggest when to use them.

It’s also good to complement these exercises with exercises of reflection. An exercise of reflection consists in taking distance from our reactions. Since our reactions are spontaneous and habitual, we tend to identify them with our way of being rather than seeing them as aspects of behavior that we can analyze by thinking about them. For example, at a moment of peace and quiet, we can reflect on the various ways we reacted to events that day. We don’t label these reactions; we simply observe them and try to identify what sometimes motivates us to react in ways that hurt the people we care about—reactions
that also hurt us, even though we might not realize the harm we’re doing to ourselves.
Another exercise consists in reflecting about what we experienced when we practiced the suggested exercises. As in the previous exercise, we find a quiet and peaceful moment to go over what happened during our exercises. We observe our inner reactions and the way in which those around us react when we do the exercise. For example, we reflect on what happens inside us when we don’t say something that we feel the impulse to say. We also observe what happens in others when we give them space by not talking too much. And we draw conclusions.

There are exercises in the following Teachings that can reveal our verbal defenses to us. In the last Teaching there are some guidelines to help us organize our thoughts, assimilate concepts, make our conversations more enjoyable and, especially, develop empathy and participation with others.

All the exercises go together. Each of them is an aspect of a single exercise that can be summarized as an attitude of inner freedom and respect for those around us.