I’m looking around me and all I can see are babies wearing supersuits!
The lady next to me with pink and blue hair and big earrings? The man with the fidgety hands and expressive eyes? The lady behind the counter with a black apron? Myself, spacing out with headphones and staring at this computer screen? Yes! Everyone!
Our supersuits are incredible feats of engineering. They’ve been created out of necessity, sometimes built hastily in a time of need, or constructed carefully in conjunction with the people around you. Some of them are clunky and haven’t been upgraded in years. Some of them have awesomecool gadgets or can morph instantly in response to the environment. These supersuits protect us from getting overwhelmed or hurt by the world, allowing us maneuver freely and confidently and safely.
Sometimes, the baby chooses to poke its little head out. The younger the person, the less thick and multi-layered the supersuit tends to be. Imagine a cute lyrca superhero outfit vs an ancient tortoise built like a battle tank.
Sometimes, less gently, the supersuit fails dramatically, leaving the baby to rear its ugly head as it rolls around on the ground screeching.
Our babies in supersuits are awesome! We’re tough, powerful! We made these suits for a reason. And we can gain awareness of what our supersuit is. Then we can think about how to make them even better.
Supersuits in Action!
Imagine you’re at a baby party. There’s a cute baby in a supersuit talking to your cute baby in a supersuit. But then you say something, and a faint wince crosses their baby face. VROOOM. A face shield comes down. It has holes for its tiny baby eyes, but the rest of the face is a painted-on polite smile.
This baby has mastered the art of decoys and sleight of hand. When you weren’t looking, it snuck off. You’re talking to a puppet, and anything you say impacts the puppet first.
If the baby is a talented actor, they can create an entire new baby illusion in a different place. Phew. That would feel safe, when the other babies don’t know exactly where you are. If something comes swinging, it knows that it can’t hit the real baby!
You leave that baby alone to recover and wander off to find something else to do at this party. You walk towards a baby standing in the corner, morose. The conversation seems to be going well, and you get the feeling that your babies are getting along. But no sooner do you ask an especially personal question, all of a sudden, you see something activate, a metal shell growing and enveloping the baby. Aww. All you can see now is a very round, very hard sphere. That’s a hell of a wall. You wonder if it’s suffocating in there.
Across the room, two babies are duking it out. They’ve set down their cups of supersuit-disabling juice, because this is serious business.
ROUND ONE. FIGHT!
The baby wearing the “Energetically sensitive, empathetic healer” suit has a lovely placebo energy shield. “I have a shield of energy that is protecting me from all toxic energy. It’s pink.” The baby’s soft faceplate smiles peacefully. It projects ‘not bothered.’ You think you can see the baby inside clenching its fists, though it’s hard to tell.
The other baby wears an impressive suit like a frog wears bright red. “I’m dignified and important. Don’t mess with me. I’m more powerful than you.”
You know how when people are defensive, they start attacking ideas that come their way? Some babies have figured out that the best defense is a good offense! Using emotions as weapons. The narcissistic complex is one example of this. “By not being bothered by this, that shows how YOU’RE a bad person!”
The baby with the pink energy shield takes the blow on one of their outer shields, using their hurt expression to lash back at the suited baby. The suited baby scoffs, sliding the shield between them and their emotions. Nice try.
You bump into a table. They turn to look at you. The suited one begins to say something, and—
Your supersuit freezes up. A faint whirring activates, and before you could blink, your supersuit suddenly sprouts tensed grasshopper legs. “You thought I was here? BYEEE.”
You spring far into the distance, leaving the rest of the babies to fend for their crazy selves.
A supersuit can be mediocre in countless different ways. One example is knight’s armor. It works well if there are only swords and other sharp-tipped metal weapons around. It’s not great against much else, plus it takes forever to put on and take off. Iron Man’s suits, on the other hand, assemble quickly when needed and fly off when they would otherwise get in the way.
What would a great supersuit look like? Here are a few ideas.
- A good supersuit is easy to put on and take off quickly. Many defense mechanisms are always on, and it’s required they be that way given the way they were designed.
- A good shield activates when needed and doesn’t come on when it isn’t needed.
- Focused. Yelling or screaming influences everyone on the street. A dirty look does not.
- Effective at actually protecting you. Some defenses do nothing more than hide the fact that you’ve been damaged. Some defenses work by hitting yourself first, to take you out of the fight. My baby loves to give me a headache or activate the feeling of sleepiness. “I’m tired. I have a headache. Can I go now?”
- Adaptable and flexible. Works well in unusual circumstances and fails gracefully.
- Something you’re aware of. It’s good to know when your defenses are on, even if you don’t share that fact with anyone.
- Doesn’t take a lot of energy to power. Works automatically, doesn’t require stress or adrenaline or complicated thinking.
- Sustainably manages and heals any pain that gets absorbed.
What should we know about our own supersuits?
- What are we protecting ourselves from? How can we tell if we’re in danger from that source or not? Is the thing we’re blocking primarily physical, emotional, or social?
- What happens if we don’t block it?
- Where does the redirected pain or energy get stored? Are your shields blocking, neutralizing, or just redirecting energy and storing it somewhere else inside of you?
- What powers it? If you’ve ever said something like, “But if I didn’t feel shame / happiness / anger / fear all the time, then ALL OF THIS would fall apart,” you know one thing your defenses are powered by.
- How does it work in unexpected circumstances? In another country? Around your family? When you’re tired? When you’re drunk (aka supersuit disabling juice)? If you’re afraid of losing control to the point of not trying new things, you might have a system that has low robustness.
One of the first shields we learn when young is “NO!”, the first stage of the effective supersuit. It’s a violent blast of “GO AWAY!” Like FUS RO DAH from Skyrim.
This is stage one. Things get more complicated from there.
Some of the defenses we build do protect us, but boy do they cause unnecessary extra damage.
I took some time to list out my protective strategies, what they do for me, and ideas for how to upgrade them.
Shield: Noise Cancelling Headphones
Problem: Overwhelmed by city sounds and people sounds in crowded places. Can lead to critical failure of an anxious spiral meltdown. When untreated, causes avoidance of all overwhelming places.
+ Very fast to put on and take off. I always have them on me, easy to carry. Usually stops strangers from talking to me.
– Lessens situational awareness somewhat. Might overuse.
Overall, this is a defense of mine that I think is excellent. This shield gives me more agency to go places in the world, actually blocks the energy that might overwhelm me, and doesn’t much limit or burden me. It might make me more sensitive to my environment when I’m not using it, so I can mindfully try using it less to investigate non-headphone ways of shielding, and also practice using it less when it’s not necessary.
Missing defense: Constant boundaries
Problem: When I have to constantly enforce my boundaries, be it with a pushy suitor or an enthusiastic dog that loves you very much, it is exhausting. I feel uncomfortable and drained afterwards. This can be physical or emotional. A very strong wind has a similar effect.
The main issue is that my current strategy requires active attention and energy on my part, plus an action that is tiring.
One idea is to leave the area or situation entirely. This could be avoidant, or limit my agency in the world. For this to work, I would have to get better at identifying this situation, and remembering that I can leave.
Another is to get a perverse feeling of fun out of enforcing my boundaries, even if that seems “mean” or might make someone uncomfortable. Seeing boundary enforcement as a fun practice that makes me stronger might be a helpful reframe. I feel resistance to this strategy, so it probably won’t fit me well long term without major changes.
Counter-attack: Energy Blast NO
Problem: Sometimes I feel like I’ve just had someone’s baby desperately thrown at me with the expectation that I hold it and take care of it. What I do is that I fling the baby away, freak out, and avoid that person forevermore. Sensibly, they avoid me as well. This happens roughly once a year.
+ Well, it does keep me from taking on Other People’s Problems when I can’t do so in a healthy way. Sometimes I don’t want that relationship to persist.
– What a mess! I damage the relationship and feel guilty afterwards. It interferes with my self-concept as empathetic and caring.
This aspect of my supersuit could use some work.
One idea is to practice saying no in the mirror, in many different ways, in order to feel more comfortable with No. “No” is simple enough that a 2-year old can do it with a lot of gusto, so I have hope that it can work even in adverse circumstances.
“Marie! I need your help right now!” -> “Hmm. Why do you think I need to help you with this?” “I need space to think about what you said. I can’t say yes or no honestly right now.” “No. I can’t help you with that.” “When you say that, I feel like pushing you away as fast as possible.”
It’s a place to start. Supersuit design isn’t easy. But one thing cool is that most of our defenses were built without conscious thought. If we add our intelligence to the design process, we might be able to get way further.
Taking Apart the Supersuit
Sometimes it seems like we shouldn’t need our supersuit. Our lover might ask for us to take it off, or we might decide that the limitations aren’t worth it.
There’s isn’t necessarily a “real you” under all of the layers of supersuit. The supersuit is part of you. But maybe the supersuit doesn’t play well with the people that want to get close to you. Or maybe things are different now, and aspects of that supersuit might not be necessary. An astronaut that needed a helmet to breathe probably should take off their helmet when they get back to Earth.
If that astronaut has needed a helmet to breathe for as long as they remember, that first breath without it will be terrifying.
If the goal is to reduce the supersuit to only what’s necessary, it’s important to ask the question of “Am I sunburning the baby, or am I giving it a tan?” Toughening up requires taking care of yourself in the process and being realistic about your capacities.
Letting your defenses down and accepting a hit can be powerful. It’s good for connecting with a person sometimes, especially if you can let them know how their actions honestly impacted you. You can learn that some situations that you thought needed a shield are actually okay, and become more calibrated. We can practice putting up shields and taking them down.
Back at the Baby Party
… The baby in the suit takes off his elaborate professionalism mask, and looks at the baby with the pink energy shield, hurt in his eyes. That baby softens, and you can see the shield tilt downwards and become a little more transparent.
Your grasshopper legs took you far away, but not too far. You can still see the two of them and you know you can still bounce back if you feel like it. But it’s comfortable here, watching them from afar.
(This post is inspired by Jordan M. Allen)