U.S. society has gender stereotypes of strong, clear, competent, and reliable vs. soft, nurturing, adaptable, and caring. Every person, regardless of sex or gender, has an innate capacity to be both Structured (strong) and Flexible (soft). Our Defense describes our bias or tendency we have when under stress and also how we tend to behave throughout our life, work and relationships. There are 4 basic reactive Defenses and 1 responsive and responsible, non-defensive, conscious stand. Our Defense is not innate but learned during the first two years of life based on our relationships with our parents and caregivers.

Our Defense impacts how we generally live our lives, and these unbalanced tendencies in us get exaggerated when we are triggered and stressed. For example, people who are Structured typically keep their spaces neat and are on time, whereas people who are Flexible tend to be messier and more often late. The way to end defensive behavior is to recognize when it is happening, relieve and soothe our underlying fears, become present to what we lose by being defensive, and take small steps in the direction of the other Defense. This can be done during our everyday experiences (noticing how we tend to plan and organize or tend to avoid planning and prefer spontaneity) as well as when we are particularly reactive. This needs to be done by choice, not from the context of “should” or it becomes a Mask. 

Defensive differences often cause the greatest problems in professional and personal relationships; coaching or therapy in this area frequently leads to rapid and significant growth.

As mentioned above, it is possible to have a Mask for a Defense as well. For example, a person who is not Structured might believe they must be Structured at work, so they might have a messy house, car and bedroom yet have a perfectly organized desk at the office. They are, however, still not likely to directly address all conflicts at work. Alternatively, a Structured person might be very strong and clear at work but then be overly adaptive, cautious and held back from expressing their opinions (Flexible) in romance.



Distant people play out stereotyped roles as an act. They hold back both natural abilities with Flexibility and Structure and instead simply do what is expected – they don’t engage from skills but learned roles, such as the provider or nurturer. Those with a Distant Defense have a deep fear of not being wanted. They don’t share, or sometimes even know, their own opinions and preferences. In a conflict they may freeze. They tend to make commitments only if it is expected.



Structured people overuse and depend upon clarity, avoiding their natural capacity with Flexibility and connection. In subconscious reaction, they protect themselves by focusing on knowing what they want and need and by requesting (or demanding) it. Structured people tend to be organized in space and time. They are strong and determined. They are hesitant to ask about or adapt to what others want and instead do what they choose. They are more likely to notice a conflict and take action about it, not scared of a fight. They love to plan, execute, and demonstrate how much they can accomplish. If they make an agreement and realize they prefer to change it, they promptly reach out and say what they want instead. They tend to over-commit and then struggle to reach their goals, ultimately under-delivering and blaming themselves despite lots of hard work.



Flexible people overuse and depend upon adaptability, avoiding their natural capacity with Structure. In subconscious reaction, they protect themselves by putting the attention on other people and their needs and wants. Flexible people tend to be spacious, disorganized in their physical environment, and loose with time. They are soft and caring, willing to shift what they’ll do so it works for others. In a conflict, they are more likely to flee or faint (feel unclear or confused), physically and/or energetically. If you ask their opinion, they may not know their own preference, or they may know it but feel afraid to say it, asking about what you want instead. Sometimes they make agreements, realize they want something else, then avoid creating a new agreement, and just do their own thing hoping it will all work out. If an issue arises, they avoid it, hoping the problem will go away. They tend to avoid setting goals or under-commit, agreeing to do less, and often then over-deliver and impress people by the end.



Switchable – goes back and forth from overdoing Structured to overdoing Flexible in subconscious reaction to whatever is happening. Switchable people can flee, faint or fight or even go back to Distant and freeze. When less mature, and this is most common, they tend to switch or flip to the opposite Defense of the people around them. Eventually Switchable people mature to a second stage in which they still automatically or subconsciously react, but now they move towards the other’s Defense instead of away. This is a huge step towards decreasing overall defensiveness, because when two people of the same defensive style interact, they avoid conflict or soothe it easily. Switchable people can have any pattern of under- or over-committing and under- or over-delivering based on their defensive expression in each moment. Switchable people can be challenging for others because no one can easily predict what they’ll do. People with Switchable Defense also often do the opposite of others in a variety of ways as well (e.g., if another person worries, the Switchable person with them often stays calm and vice versa).



Fluid – is a non-defensive stand, both soft and simultaneously strong, embodying and expressing both Flexible and Structured in conscious choice. Fluid people realize that reactive Defenses don’t actually offer any protection. They instead flow, knowing that they can honor themselves and others simultaneously. They look for co-creative winwin solutions which tend to calm others’ defensiveness. Everyone can grow to become Fluid by getting conscious of their fear signatures (their particular patterns of freeze, flee, faint, and fight) and learning to shift in the moment. Another trick for becoming Fluid is to notice others’ defensiveness and attempt to consciously match them.