Protect or Connect

Good Morning Friends 🙂 ,

I am thankful today for the concept I learned from a dear friend that in relationships we either protect or connect, but we can’t do both.  

This sweet friend, while going through the process of becoming a guardian for foster children, had a training which taught this principle.  If a child, or anyone for that matter, feels unsafe, they will automatically go into protect mode.  While consciously or subconsciously protecting ourselves, connection will not be possible. As long as we are in protect mode, we see others as villains, walls go up, and relationships suffer. Connection on any level is fruitless if either party is protecting themself.

I had an experience recently where I felt ganged up on and attacked.  I immediately got defensive.  Byron Katie says, “Defense is the first act of war”- it’s true!!  I’ve been working so hard to eliminate defensiveness, but I failed hard core in this situation.  I’m not proud of how I reacted. In the heat of the moment, probably because I slipped into protect mode, I forgot so many of the powerful tools I know to use during difficult conversations.   The situation quickly deteriorated and the result was damaged relationships.  

Looking back at the incident I realize I was definitely in a place of protect. My lower brain took over in a misguided attempt to save me from what it perceived as danger and I shut down.  The feelings of being “unsafe” stemmed from believing I was being criticized, misjudged and falsely accused.  I did not feel heard, seen or understood.  My brain subconsciously interpreted this as means for protecting myself and severing connections. Protect leads to victim/villain posturing.  As soon as I defend myself, I give up my power and land in the undesirable terrain of protect.

Connection and relationships are what this life is all about!!  Learning to love others unconditionally, even when it is tricky, is one of the primary purposes of this life.  Loving others is one of my core values, therefore I am so grateful for the knowledge that if we ever fall into protect mode, no loving connections will be possible.  It also allows me to have some self-compassion for my undesirable reactions.  I was understandably but naively falling for my brains preoccupation for protecting myself. However, now I know, and as GI Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle!”

So, how do we avoid falling into protection when it’s unnecessary?  Understanding that our brains are preconditioned to see differences as dangerous is a great awareness to keep us out of protection mode when it doesn’t serve us.  When there is a difference in beliefs, opinions, looks, ideas, habits, perceptions of what is true… our brains are wired by default to put up walls and run defense strategies for protection.  By recognizing when there is a difference, and then reassuring ourselves we are safe and furthermore that our goal is connection, we can avoid needlessly falling into protection mode.  A good question to ask when we feel our shackles rise and want to defend ourselves is, “Am I in danger?” “Is this person safe?” “Do I want to connect or protect?”

When we are to engage in a discussion that might become charged, it is critical to establish safety first.  This will ensure the other party will stay in connection.  Safety comes from feeling seen, valued, and understood.  When we know our worth is never in question and that we are loved unconditionally, constructive conversations will ensue and connection prevais.  

Being disappointed, disapproving, dismissive, critical, judgmental… will automatically trigger the need for protection. These reactions destroy relationships.  When we feel attacked in these ways, if we can drop the need to defend ourselves, no war will ensue.  Thoughts like, “It is totally ok for others to misjudge me, I am still safe” and “It’s ok for others to criticize, or falsely accuse me, I am not in danger” will keep us grounded in connection.  In the heat of the moment, if we can re-establish safety and simply realize “I have nothing to prove here”, we can simply just let it be a difference in perspective.  

I am thankful this week for this powerful realization that if we feel threatened in any way, we will automatically drop into protect, and in this space connection is not available. I desire to be a person that is seriously skilled at creating safety for myself and others.  I want to interact in my relationships in ways that help others feel seen and heard so that they know their value is never on the table.  I want to live in a place of fully owning my infinite worth so that any potentially hurtful words thrown at me from others don’t land.  Living intentionally from my higher brain, anchored in the land of connection is the goal. 

Have you noticed protect vs connect in your life?  What are your insights?


Rooting for you always,

Candice Noss


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