Everyone has defense mechinisms to handle stressful situations and decisions.These play a role most importantly in traumatic instances, including an abortion decision,and how both men and women cope with a difficult decision and after effects, says Greg Hasek, a licensed clinician with more than 20 years of experience helping me work through trauma.
What is a defense mechanism?
Hasek describes a defense mechanism as essentially our built-in ways to survive the trauma and use rationalization or minimization, telling ourselves essentially untruths to just get through a difficult situation. We do this as a way to not feel the full effect of the trauma.
“For example, if we didn’t have the defense mechanism of denial when someone close to us dies, the overwhelming grief would be so difficult to deal with that we couldn’t function, couldn’t go back to work, couldn’t plan a funeral,” said Hasek.
So saying something like “maybe that person didn’t die” or “they are just on vacation and will get back soon” helps to get us through that initial shock and difficult time. The pain would be too much to handle and cope with otherwise.
But after the denial and you move through grief, you start to feel that pain. The defense mechanism works to help us survive until we can deal with it.
The harm defense mechanisms cause with an abortion decision
A common defense mechanism for an abortion decision is trying to rationalize that the fetus is not a human baby. For men especially who are not feeling any physical effects of the pregnancy, this line of defense is easier to tell themselves and believe, at least initially.
This will get people through that initial period of survival after an abortion decision. But after that time is over, the pain can come back with a vengeance and Hasek says that is when most people suffering with the pain of this decision will start acting out in ways that try to numb the pain and forget the decision. Men usually will take up behaviors to mask the pain like substance abuse and addictions.
Hasek reveals that studies from pregnancy centers show that when the woman, and if the man was with her, saw the ultrasound, they were more likely to decide not to abort. The ultrasound helps to break through that defense mechanism of attempting to ignore the reality of the humanity of the baby.
Culture and defense mechanisms
What if our culture as a whole recognized the humanity of the unborn child and the reality that abortion ends that life and causes pain to both men and women? Hasek says our culture would not survive, which is why it uses defense mechanisms in the first place.
“If our culture actually felt the reality of the millions of children that have been lost to abortion, the culture pain that they would feel, our country would be a mess,” said Hasek. “In fact, I think that’s part of why our culture is a mess because a lot of the pain is repressed.”
Have you read the classic novel, The Giver? Jonas, the main character, was being trained to hold the position of the Receiver of Memories, which meant he would receive both the joyful and painful memories of history. The past, and those good and bad decisions and their aftermaths, would be held only by him. If that didn’t happen, the Giver revealed that his society would crumble under the weight of the awful things done and the horrendous experiences that mankind had gone through. That society portrayed in the book had no defense mechanisms to handle the reality of painful decisions and the agony associated with them.
In our culture today, we deny that the baby a woman is carrying is a life. We deny any after-effects of abortion, whether mental, physical, or emotional, and suppress studies that show otherwise. Culture says men don’t – or should not – hurt from abortion.
These are all examples of the defense mechanisms our society uses today to get through the reality of abortion and its effects on individuals and their families.
Getting beyond the defense mechanism
For counselors and clinicians, Hasek strongly recommends asking if the patient has experienced a loss of a child through abortion in their intake form as they assess previous trauma.
Hasek has found almost 40% of his patients who are experiencing addiction or substance abuse also have an abortion decision in their past. By recognizing that trauma, Hasek is able to not only validate the feelings the male is experiencing but also work towards healing from that specific decision.
It is a crucial step in the healing process to recognize and validate the feelings men have surrounding their abortion experience, says Hasek. Our culture doesn’t talk about the male aspect of abortion hardly ever and healing programs for men are limited to trauma experienced in war. If men are not offered healing from abortion and continue to act out in ways that are devastating to themselves, to their partners, and to society, more people will be hurt and the cycle of abortion will continue infinitely. Support After Abortion has extensive content to help men who are wanting to explore healing from past abortion wounds at our website, which anyone, from mental health clinicians to pregnancy centers, can take advantage of. To view speakers and presentations from the Unraveling the Roots of Men’s Trauma conference.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by abortion, you are not alone. Call or text our confidential hopeline at 844-289-HOPE (4673). Women, this is your call: if your partner, male loved one or friend has had an abortion, visit us at www.supportafterabortion.com to learn how to create a safe space, and create dialogue so more men can receive hope and healing after abortion.