Integration Of Defensive Line Of Development

By Dr. Keith Witt
June 28, 2024

Defenses definition

Defenses are how we automatically and consciously protect ourselves. Most relevant to the integration-of-defenses line are defensive states, which happen to all of us daily.

Defensive states instantly take over when our adaptative unconscious—our Shadow self—detects threat. Defensive states have amplified or numbed emotions, distorted perspectives, destructive impulses, and diminished capacities for empathy and self-reflection. Defensive states hijack our consciousness and cause us to injure others or ourselves in predictable patterns.

The integration-of-defenses line tracks how people become better aware of defensive states and more able to regulate them to states of healthy response to the present moment.

People can be lower or higher on the integration-of-defenses line of development at every vMEME including crimson and magenta. 

Adjusting defensive impulses to maintain social harmony is present in all mammals constitutionally. Some animals are wired for more aggression and less cooperation, and some are wired for more conciliation and care for the troop. Social learning takes place from birth to automatically amplify or suppress defensive states when they show up.

With the advent of self-aware consciousness, the whole game changes. Having a self who can develop the capacity to observe destructive impulses and distorted perspectives opens up the possibilities for continual growth in self-awareness and self-regulation. Since humans spend most waking hours in states of healthy response to the present moment and defensive states, how well people perceive and manage defensive states has huge consequences on their health, emotional balance, social effectiveness, and ontological evolution.

Correlations with typology systems

I believe people at upper levels of the integration-of-defenses line of development would have high HEXACO scores in honesty/humility (H), lower emotional reactivity (E), higher agreeableness (A), higher conscientiousness (C), and more openness to experience (O). I don’t think extraversion (X) or introversion would be any different. 

Lower on the integration-of-defenses line predicts the unhealthy aspects of all worldviews

Unfortunately, indulging destructive impulses to fight or flee and believing distorted perspectives causes great damage, and results in unhealthy expressions of all the vMEMES.

Quadrants, healthier functioning: 

  • UR—higher HRV, lower stress markers.
  • LR—in harmony with local rules and ordinances, while still feeling secure and kind.
  • UL—Feeling virtuous on all six moral foundations. Being quick to notice the sensations and thoughts of defensive states and confident of adjusting to states of healthy response. Not losing empathic awareness or self-awareness even in stressful moments. 
  • LL—Keeping social harmony while feeling true to core values. Instantly noticing objectifying another and adjusting to kindness and empathic attunement.

Growth on the integration-of-defenses line of development progresses through embodying certain competences that make it easier or harder to recognize and regulate defensive states

People start self-regulation with primitive shame dynamics beginning at around one, and then build intricate networks of values that keep shifting throughout a lifetime. Our core defensive programming on the six moral foundations of care, fairness, loyalty, sanctity, respect, and liberation is largely in place between 4 and 7. After that, it’s up to us and the cultures we’re embedded in. As we progress from concrete operational to formal (and post-formal) operational capacities we can develop better tools to self-observe and self-regulate to states of healthy response to the present moment. Progressing through the spiral gives us additional choices at each progressive vMEME. More choices give us more authority to transform and more responsibility for everything we experience and do.

I believe that families and cultures who understand defensive states and have skills to regulate them make it easier for children to grow on the integration-of-defenses line—teenagers are certainly more psychologically aware now than any time in history, and that’s beautiful aspect of the current generations. 

Milestones on the integration of defenses line.

  • Egocentric—Some individuals are constitutionally easier or harder for caregivers to soothe and set boundaries for. Beginning with external regulation, infants, toddlers, children, adolescents, and adults develop crucial self-regulation skills in social referencing, self-awareness, and social harmonizing. Better skills reflect higher altitude on the integration-of-defenses line.
  • Ethnocentric—Children and adults in ethnocentric moments are aware of social norms and more or less motivated to generally harmonize with cultures like family, school, team, or friends. They can have more or less understanding they are unreasonable when upset, especially when their states change. You can hear this in apologies made after someone calms down and is ashamed of acting badly. Examples? “I didn’t mean ‘This marriage is over!’ last night.” “I’m sorry I said, ‘I hate you! Mommy.’” 
  • Rational/pluralistic—A rational identity generally involves principles someone is willing to sacrifice for. Are they aware when they violate their principles and feel appropriate shame? Do they organize to live their principles? These capacities reflect higher altitudes on the integration-of-defenses line.
  • Integral—Developing a progressively more central Wise Self is a core feature of teal altitudes. Wise Self can recognize defensive states and inner exiles and love them, guide them, and integrate them into a unified self, always connected to the non-dual self, always committed to the highest good.

A vMEME progression with a psychotherapy view

The following is a description of how the integration-of-defenses line shows up at different stages. 

I understand defensive states largely through 75 thousand sessions with individuals, couples, and families at every developmental level for 50 years, so I’m going to include how therapy deals with defensive states in each worldview.  

Crimson – on the troop level like chimpanzees there are genetic mandates to emotionally engage the group and the world. There is personality, learning, affection, and problem solving, but not quite self-aware consciousness. Dominance/submission patterns and innate tendencies determine self-regulation. Success is survival and reproduction. 

  • Therapy here is external influence through environment, kindness, compassionate constraint, and radical acceptance.

Magenta – BAM! Self-aware consciousness! The FOXP2 mutation giving humans grammar, metaphor, and imagination changed everything 200 thousand years ago. A self-aware “I” in relationship with others, nature, and the other world became a potential superpower for all humans. Individual success here is being a contributing embedded member of a blood kinship group, and passing on your genes. The first therapist was a Shaman. Tribes need healers and bridges between nature spirits, the other world, and the tribe. Tribes need wise elders to discuss problems, with everyone feeling connected to nature constantly.

  • Therapy here is the Shaman, in service to individuals and the tribe, surrendering to the other world and channeling through ceremonies of all sorts.
  • Exercise— Shamanic ceremony. Feet tapping, hands shaking in unison. Vocalize yes, yes, yes, yes softly. Feel nature everywhere including you. Feel us drumming in nature and nature coming up through our drumming and chanting. We are nature. Feel our loves harmonizing healing all of us and projecting a bubble of living light shining out to heal the world.

Red – At red the survival instinct is focused on individual survival and survival of my immediate family and friends. In an authoritarian power structure people want security in whom to direct and whom to receive direction from. Defensive states are adaptive in red. Quick sensitivity to threat by dominating or being submissive is necessary at red. Vigilance and hypersensitivity are valuable traits in authoritarian cultures. 

  • Therapy in a free society offers transformation into basic trust and agency to love and grow. I imagine therapy in an authoritarian culture looks very different, maybe like Lao Tzu imagined in the Tao Te Ching. The therapist is a wise other teaching liberating wisdom to serve both self and an authoritarian leader. The Tao Te Ching is artfully done, promoting compassion and self-transformation while always respectful and supportive of the rulers.
  • I’ve had success challenging egocentric red men to be “A Man of Wisdom.” I encourage them to lead and inspire through kindness, wisdom, and radical acceptance. 

Amber – The sacred texts of the mythic membership demand virtue. If you believe you are being true to the sacred teachings, you feel virtuous. You also have personal moral systems of care, fairness, honest authority, sacred beliefs, loyalty, and liberation that never align perfectly with conformist rules. When the sacred texts are warped to support violence or ethnocentric hatred, bad things happen, and this can put people’s personal moral standards in conflict with their culture’s. This friction drives the evolution of consciousness. 

Threats to self or the mythic membership trigger defensive states, with multiple consequences. Altitude on the integration-of-defenses line reflects individuals having more compassionate self-awareness and self-regulation to states of healthy response, and being more troubled by objectifying and dismissing or attacking others, even if their culture condones it. 

  • In therapy with Amber, the leading progressive edges of the sacred beliefs will support remediating symptoms, enhancing health, and supporting development. The therapist becomes the good priest. The progressive edge of all religions is 2ndtier Unity. Anchoring in a client’s sacred beliefs is a smooth onramp for helping them expand care for (and commitment to) body, family, purpose, world thriving…everything.

Orange – Formal operational rational cognition sets the stage for capacities for deep understanding of how Shadow-self generates defensive states, and the potential damage than can ensue. The value of being responsible for successfully regulating defensive states towards the highest good reflects higher altitudes on the integration-of-defenses line.

  • In therapy we can now examine distorted defensive stories with rational interest, bringing in mythic, magic, and world-centric aspects as historic support for previous and future worldviews. This paves the way for the next developmental leap towards green legitimatizing shamanic traditions and tribal thinking and integrating them into world centric perspectives. At this stage, the more defensive states can be viewed as objects requiring conscious attention, the higher the altitude on the integration-of-defenses line. 

Green – Green can be characterized as often feeling collective consciousness and shared moral drives, and generally being interested in facing and transforming defensive states.

  • Green legitimatizes shamanic traditions (teal systematizes them). 
  • At Green it’s easier to be aware of defensive states, but still hard to face some of the more offensive states and mistakes, sometimes leading to spiritual bypassing. I can often induct people into peak experiences of teal by looking with love and interest at all their different selves, including the ones involved in defensive states.
  • In therapy we can go almost everywhere in green—it’s usually a lot of fun! People can look with love at distressed parts of themselves and others that show up in defensive states and offer compassion and commitment. In the sessions, clients and I operate frequently at teal altitudes. This makes it more fun to face regression to destructive defensive states. People regress periodically to defensive patterns, but find them more interesting, acceptable, and manageable at green.

Teal – The explicit standard of individuals at this altitude is being aware of defensive states and regulating them to states of healthy response.

  • In therapy there is often little resistance to acknowledging and regulating defensive states. We move more easily into the triggers, the vulnerabilities, and the growth opportunities when defensive states show up. At teal defensive states are interesting and important tools for growth.

Turquoise – At turquoise altitudes, commitment to transparency, authenticity, integrity, and with joining with others to serve the highest good make defensive states simply another aspect of the human experience to explore and learn from.

  • In therapy we are in a turquoise container, addressing defensive states with the shared intent of insight, growth, love, and service. 

Blind spots in the integration-of-defenses line

Each worldview from magenta onwards has blindspots in enacting the integration-of-defenses line. Most blindspots involve cultural permission to objectify, exploit, or abandon other human beings. 

1st tier:

  • Crimson doesn’t have enough self-aware consciousness to have blindspots as we know them.
  • Magenta can objectify non-tribal people. 
  • Red can be cruel, impulsive and feel morally justified in objectifying others. Dominance/submission trumps human rights and care.
  • Amber can deny human rights to non-members.
  • Umber can defend distorted beliefs/behaviors without conscious awareness of the bias or self-destructive behaviors. 
  • Orange can normalize taking advantage. 
  • Green can narcissistically dismiss opposition to their non-hierarchical communitarian ideals.

2nd tier:

  • Teal consciousness tends to be excited by blindspots, but that paradoxically feeds into a teal blind spot—to contextualize away from current experience. Defenses become objects of interest for better (exploration and transformation) or worse (avoid some central experience/understanding by contextualizing out of the present moment). Such contextualizing is also usually interesting at teal. It’s a striking contrast to 1sttier resistance—denial, repression, projection, and suppression of blindspots. Teal consciousness looks with interest and amusement at emerging states of amplified/numbed emotions and distorted perspectives, as well as contextualizing away from more deeply experiencing amplified/numbed emotions and distorted perspectives. What’s going on here?  What is the deeper yearning? Where is the transformational opportunity?

Negotiating defensive levels as a defense

Maybe you live in a psychotherapy, new age, spiritual pluralism kind of world. Maybe you live in a “Let’s make this thing happen!” kind of world. Maybe you are deeply religious. In all the worlds, you can meet someone who says they’ve done lots of personal work, have defeated personal demons, and are now dialed-in. These are intense people who have big auras, and often make amazing things happen. 

Occasionally, when challenged, such a person might trip on a personal blind spot—a passive aggressive habit, a sense of egoic entitlement, or a subtle objectification of others are all examples. If he or she recognizes this slip-up immediately and quickly regulates into awareness and repair, we tend to feel more trust, respect, and connection. If he or she defends or denies the blind spot, we tend to trust less and feel more disconnected. 

Sometimes, I’ve heard some version of, “Look at all the work I’ve done and powers I’ve demonstrated! I’ve resolved the issues you think are affecting me. You are so wrong to tell me I have a blind spot!” I see this reaction as unconscious negotiation, “Acknowledge the levels I’ve navigated so I won’t have to face this shameful blindspot.”

The above is a common defense in people who pride themselves on doing self-reflection and inner work. They grasp onto one or two levels of authentic work to avoid confronting a deeper, more shameful core issue.


The Witt/deVos lattice

Dimensions on the integration-of-defenses line and different MEMEs – The following five are horizontal dimensions with people having varying capacities on each dimension in each vMEME. I give 1 to 5 scores for every individual’s current capacity in each of these dimensions. 1 is least healthy. 5 is most healthy. Most healthy is very aware of impulses, great ability to choose alternative courses of action, inflicts very little damage, aspires for harmony, and embodies harmony. People can be high or low in any of these capacities in every state and vMEME.

  1. Impulse: Aware/not aware of impulses—Aware or unaware of impulses to fight, flee, or freeze.
  2. Choice: Can choose alternative perspectives and actions or is surrendered to distorted perspectives and destructive impulses.
  3. Damage: Allows high levels of damage to self and others, or allows minimal levels of damage. 
  4. Aspires for harmony:  Passionately aspires to create intra/interpersonal social harmony or doesn’t care much about creating harmony.
  5. Embodied harmony: Creates harmony by embodying harmony. Ineffective to overwhelmingly effective (Buddha, Jesus, Obama, Taylor Swift). 

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