A TON of our material focuses on something we often refer to as “Defense Mode.”
The term has popped up in most of our products, and we constantly find ourselves informing people of it and its debilitating effects on whoever is caught in it. It’s definitely a complex concept, one that dominates many people’s lives without them even knowing it.
But what is it?
Why do we call it a “success killer?”
Is there any way to avoid it?
We’ve received thousands of questions pertaining to Defense Mode and how it affects people with Asperger’s, so we decided to write a blog post on it. We sincerely hope this gives you better, clearer insight into this issue, and can’t wait to see what you get out of our teachings.
(We also regularly teach about Defense Mode through our free webinars. You can register for the next one here)
Ever wondered why your child violently lashes out at you and your family without cause or warning?
Or why they stay holed up in their dark, dirty rooms and waste away in front of a computer screen?
What about motivation, confidence, or social skills? Why don’t they have any of those very necessary, very important assets? Will they ever be able to live life in the happiest, healthiest, most fulfilled way possible?
If you’ve ever asked yourself any of these questions, then your child is most likely in Defense Mode.
Simply put, Defense Mode is brought about by an overactive fight-or-flight response that is triggered by perceived threats and results in a forfeiture of higher human functioning.
What exactly does this mean?
Well, it means complete cognitive shutdown.
Parts of the brain (the parts responsible for awareness, social connection, motivation, etc.) physically shut down when this fight-or-flight response is triggered. When we say physically shut down, we mean there is literally less blood flow to those parts of the brain, and they don’t work as well.
Because people with Asperger’s struggle with sensory over-stimulation, they tend to process EVERYTHING as a threat because everything is threatening to them. As a result, they are always shut off from the world because their fight-or-flight response is ALWAYS being triggered.
Basically, Defense Mode forces you to forfeit all higher functioning in a desperate, last-ditch effort to numb yourself and preserve your well-being. Additionally, your mind and body remain on high alert and are constantly busying themselves with ensuring your safety instead of enjoying and engaging in life.
When this happens, they are rendered completely incapable of thinking or feeling straight. Trying to “get” them to perform any task would be the conceptual equivalent of asking them to walk outside and fly to school. It’s impossible. In fact, heaping any type of pressure on them often leads to your child viewing YOU as a threat. They will go from trusting you to fearing you, which can make a positive relationship extremely difficult.
They aren’t trying to spite or frustrate you.
They aren’t trying to make your life a nightmare straight out of a Stephen King novel.
They’re living in constant terror. They can’t even think straight because their propensity for sudden overwhelm controls everything they say and do.
They’re terrified of everything, because most of what they know is fear and discomfort.
So, here’s the million dollar question, the holy grail of Asperger’s help: HOW do you get your child out of Defense Mode? What SPECIFICALLY can you do to help them grow, thrive, and become the person they want to be rather than the person they’ve been forced to be?
The answer is love. Let your love for them show in your everyday interactions. Create a safe place for them to process this terrifying overwhelm and let them know that they are valued and valuable.
Your first job is to make sure they stay far from whatever is triggering them until they can process the sensations they’re always feeling. If you’re at the grocery store and they start screaming because they smelled or saw something that triggered them, GET THEM OUT IMMEDIATELY. Keeping them in a traumatizing situation usually teaches them not trust you OR their environment.
Once you get them to a safe place, you can then go about connecting with them. Meet them in their world, and they’ll eventually learn to trust yours. Play video games with them. Go out and do something THEY want to do, even if it’s the last thing you want to be doing.
These simple, easy-to-implement solutions DO work. They’re incredibly effective, but you must be willing to try them first. For more strategies and tips related to getting your child out of Defense Mode, you can find our Deep Into Defense Mode course here, or join us for a free webinar.
Before I leave you, I want you to take a second and imagine how scary Defense Mode truly is. Think about terror gripping you whenever you step out of your house. Think about feeling assaulted by deafening sounds, blinding lights, and foreign smells everywhere you go. Imagine the crippling guilt, loneliness, and shame you feel when you can’t perform basic tasks because you’re unsure if that task is going to overwhelm or destroy you. And finally, imagine being terrified of life.
But like everything else, Defense Mode impacts everyone in different ways, with various degrees of severity. Some people remain completely submerged in their own suffocating fear, while others stand with one foot in, one foot out of Defense Mode. Regardless of severity, though, Defense Mode hinders, scares, and frustrates anyone dealing with it.
I really hope this post helps you see your child with softer eyes, because they aren’t trying to pester or hurt you. They are suffering, but they don’t know how to communicate how they’re feeling.
Please know that you can do this. It may seem tough, even impossible, sometimes, but I sincerely hope you keep on truckin’ and realize that your child needs you more than you can ever know.
If you’d like a more detailed explanation of how Defense Mode works and what goes on in someone with Asperger’s mind when they are in Defense Mode… register for our next free webinar.
Also, consider picking up a copy of the book “In an Unspoken Voice” by Peter Levine. Whenever someone joins the Asperger Experts team, we make it required reading.