‘Stronghold’ is a term I’ve often heard used to describe patterns of thought and/or behaviour that are particularly difficult to access or change.
To me, it is like having a fortress somewhere deep in our psyche that holds these patterns and protects them from normal efforts to change or influence. The walls are so high and so well defended that we are often not even aware of what is being fortressed.
In the darkest dungeons of these fortresses, we tend to keep our oldest and deepest traumas; The hurts from childhood and the patterns we were roll-modelled in our upbringing.
The fortressed patterns even go beyond the walls and create supplemental patterns of thought and behaviour in our life that support the existence and influence of our strongholds. In other words, the help us stay sick or become even sicker. They act like the moat around the fortress. Helping keep it strong and defended.
From my own life, I can easily see my alcoholism as a stronghold. One that eventually got broken… at least as far as active drinking went. In the deep dungeons, I kept the rolemodeling of my alcoholic family members, among many other things I am sure.
But I had no idea that I was learning alcoholic behaviour and thinking. In fact, it was hidden from me by my professed despising of the behaviour of the alcoholics in my family. And I did truly despise it. I remember feeling a sense of security in this aversion to their behaviours, believing that my aversion would not keep me from following a similar path.
This sense of security played the role of one of the supportive patterns of thought that fortified the stronghold. It was a completely false sense of security. It was in fact, a diversionary tactic to my alcoholism.
A friend had been abused horribly as a child. She seldom talks about it, yet the evidence is plain. She continues to lock the experience in the dungeons. Her stronghold seems to be self-destructive relationships; poor choices in men, needy friendships, and door-mat family relationships.
She supplements these patterns with achievement in her career. Rationalizing that she must be ok because she is doing so well in it. And she is… but only on the surface … and only for now.
Why would anyone want to look in the dungeon, or break the walls of the fortress when they are (over) achieving?
I could go on at length, with example after example, in my life and others’. It is a pattern I observe again and again.
Why do so few people break down the strongholds in their lives? In my experience, we are often to afraid or unaware to ever go there. But for those of us whose lives have either exploded or imploded, we are often faced with nowhere else to go but to deal with the stronghold if we ever want a chance at recovering our lives.
It is often then and only then that we are prepared to unlock the dungeon and deal with that ominous trauma that has been locked away for so long. And similarly, it is only then that we begin to recognize and become willing to deal with the supportive thoughts and behaviours that keep us sick.
When life blows up, maybe it is time to ask, what stronghold(s) got me here? What am I avoiding? What, if I dealt with it, would give me the opportunity to come back better than before I crashed?