If you happened to be swimming in the ocean next to a boxer crab, you might look at their little claws waving around and imagine that they were holding the most adorably small pair of pom-poms and laugh to yourself, thinking they were acting as cheerleaders for a game happening in the sea. But you would be wrong. The boxer crab actually buddies up with willing sea anemones and waves these little creatures around so that their stinging tentacles act as venomous boxing gloves, stinging any predators who get too close.

I’m aware of this and many other fun animal self-protection strategies because my girls have been interested in the topic of how animals defend themselves against predators. We have been lucky to observe some out-of-the-ordinary animals near our house, including some mallard ducks swimming in our pool, two geese walking right down the middle of our street, a raccoon walking along our wall like a tightrope, an owl nearly hidden in our trees, and a bobcat out for a stroll in our neighborhood. Each time we see — and then discuss — these animals, the girls are most interested in talking about the animals’ abilities to defend themselves.

One day, as I was driving my girls home from gymnastics, the question turned to how humans defend themselves. This got me thinking of the many defenses we use. I spent an entire car ride home expounding upon the fascinating psychology of human self-protection: We stop thinking about things when they are hard to think about; we hide behind our phones and put in our earbuds to protect our personal space; we create emotional buffers to avoid being hurt too deeply; we stay close to people who think and act as we do because it normalizes the way we act.

After the conclusion of my “psychology of human defenses” lecture, I looked in the rear-view mirror and noticed my girls were both looking down.

Wait, they weren’t looking down. They were both asleep.

They were unbelievably tired from the long week, I reassured myself; it wasn’t that my lecture was boring.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.