It is impossible to be productive in any discussion when you are on the defense. When you become defensive you start spewing out negative energy. This negative energy can manifest in two ways; it can project outwards (Total Denial) or it can leak inwards (Total acceptance.) Either way, defensiveness is an all-or-nothing concept, and it places a great brick wall in communication.
Defensiveness is not a productive use of your energy. You spend all your energy trying to preserve your sense of self, that you end up giving away more energy in your reaction, when you could keep it within you and use it to restore your sense of calm, balance and security. Once you find your sense of calm, balance and security, you could then use the left over energy to start implementing changes in your life.
These are the two faces of defensiveness:
Person: You are just so selfish.
Defensive person: No I am certainly not selfish at all. I have never been selfish in my life. Here is a list of reasons why you are wrong. And here is a list of times when I was not selfish. Now, tell me, would a selfish person do that? No. You know what? You’re the selfish one, asshole!
The first and most common way that defensiveness manifests is in the form of total denial. It is the almost instinctual and reflexive reaction you have to say “NO. WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS NOT TRUE. STOP SAYING IT. STOP THINKING IT. STOP BELIEVING IT, AND LET ME CONTINUE LIVING IN THE WAY THAT I CONSIDER GOOD AND TRUE.”
When you are in total-denial, exploring and understanding what lead the person to make such a remark is the last thing on your mind, nevermind actually changing any behaviour. All you want to do is defend and preserve yourself.
Total-denial is stupid. We are far too complex as human beings to be totally-anything. Our intentions are rarely black and white, good or bad, angelic or evil.
“You are just so selfish.” as much as it hurts to hear it, if you think about it realistically, instead of thinking”No, I am never selfish”, perhaps a more apt thought would be “What have I done to make you think I am selfish? I can see why you would think that was selfish of me. I can be selfish at times and there are also times when I am not selfish. In this situation I don’t feel that I was selfish, but after hearing your take on what happened, I can at least see why you would come to that conclusion.”
Person: You are just so incapable of getting anything right! I can’t depend on you for anything.
Defensive person: I know I’m worthless alright? You’re right. I never seem to get anything right. I guess that’s just me. You are right about me. Things just go wrong, and I am never in control – that’s just who I am. I probably can’t ever change, so why should I even try?
At the other end of the defensiveness-spectrum lies the art of “Total acceptance” or submission. This is where you act as if what this person has said to you is the only information you have ever received about yourself, and you cling to it like some kind of sacred and holy description of you. You play the role of the victim (and deep inside, you enjoy it). Playing the victim is a dangerous and self-fulfilling game to play.
Okay, so what should I do instead of getting defensive?
1. Whenever you feel the urge to react QUICKLY to someones comment or opinion, don’t.
It may be surprising, but there are actually few moments in life that require an immediate emotional reaction. An example of one would be if there was a train hurtling towards your mother – then it’s okay to react QUICKLY. But if you don’t see a train, then stop.
Whatever you heard may trigger an intense emotional reaction within you, but that too, with time, will simmer down. You can’t always control your emotions, but you can control your behaviour.
Whenever you want to react quickly to something, we are overwhelmed with a false sense of urgency. Just as reacting quickly to seeing an oncoming train aimed at your mother would illicit a “Life and death” scenario, when someone throws a hurtful or judgmental comment your way, your ego also illicits a “life and death” reaction regarding your self preservation. But this is a false sense of urgency, and is your egos way of tricking yourself into thinking that what someone else thinks of you is as important as staying alive.
What a false concept!
2. Don’t blindy deny anything.
I know it seems like an almost natural reaction to defend yourself against what appears to be false accusations and unfair judgements or criticisms. Try to resist this urge for a while. Replace the urge to deny with the urge to ask questions. Ask questions to find out why they think the way do they, and how they came to the conclusions they have come to. It may seem that your identity is at stake, but it is only at stake if you put it on the line. Keep your sense of identity and sense of self, strong and powerful inside of you. There is no danger. Relax. Ask questions.
3. Don’t blindly accept anything.
At the other end of the spectrum you may think you are being super helpful by blindly accepting everything you hear. But you’re not being helpful. You’re making things more difficult for yourself, especially if you haven’t given yourself a chance to truly contemplate the information you have received about yourself. Replace the urge to blindly accept comments about yourself, with the urge to look at the bigger picture.
As I mentioned previously, no one is “always” anything. Try to think about this objectively.
If someone says to you “you are mean.” instead of thinking “they are right, I must be a mean person.” try to think “What makes them come to the conclusion that I was mean? There are times when I have acted in a mean spirited way, and there have been times when I have been friendly and nice.”
You don’t even need to say all of this stuff out loud, which is why you need to ….
4. Take time to contemplate the new information you have been given about yourself.
Don’t feel as though you:
– SHOULD know how you feel: It’s okay to not know how you feel about something right away. Take some time to think about it.
– SHOULD prove or disprove what you have heard right away: Take time to gather both sides of the story, taking into account what you know for sure, and what you don’t know for sure, and then say something of substance. Don’t try to just throw everything out there at once just for the sake of self preservation.
– SHOULD have something to say: “I think I need to just take some time to think about what you said, and I will get back to you to discuss it further” is ok.
– SHOULD do something with the information you have heard right away: You don’t have to make any changes or do anything at all until you decide that you feel okay with that. No one has to bully you into feeling shitty, or making changes you don’t understand, just because for that moment, they were more assertive.
5. Make up your own mind.
Our goal is to finally get to a stage where we can judge the accuracy of criticisms and compliments for ourself. Our goal is to rid ourself of our instant aversion against difficult conversations, and instead approach them with an open mind. Our goal is to make up our own mind about ourselves, to think about what people may say about us with objectivity and detachment, and decide how true something may be. After all, we are the best people for the job. No one knows us the way we do. They can offer new information, perhaps bringing to light information that was in our blindspot, and may be hard to face, but it is our duty to decide what we must do with it.
The moral of the story is: Don’t waste your time or energy getting defensive. Lose the ego. If you want to be in an intimate relationship with any other human being, sometimes you just gotta lose the ego. It may make you feel vulnerable as hell but that’s just the price you got to pay sometimes, but the rewards are sweet. In life you will have to face some hard things. Some of those things will be hard just because they are “hard”. But many of them will be hard only because they show you an aspect of yourself that you are not ready to face and accept. Sometimes people can make it easier for you by saying things like “You know, you’re selfish/mean/irresponsible/not dependable/untrustworthy” even though it’s going to feel shitty to hear it, deep, deep, (DEEP) inside, they are actually doing you a favour because they are bringing to light something new to consider. It ain’t always going to be pretty to see darker aspects of yourself that are hard to accept but if you communicate well, and look at things objectively, you will be fine. Stay curious. Define yourself. Make your own decisions about yourself. Think about things and don’t always act out of impulse.
I hang out a lot on this particular animation forum, where people put up their works for others to critique and help with. I see so many Denial type people that it makes me angry. They are just completely unable to accept that they might be wrong at all – which makes it redundant to post your work on a forum that is meant for people to critique each other’s works.
I’d direct them to this post, but I doubt they’d even consider reading this as they’re too deep in a river in Egypt (the Nile, geddit?). Hahahah I love that pun! It’s terrible, but I love it.
That is an excellent pun! I enjoyed it very much. I might use it from time to time ;)!
This was very well put. You would make a very good counselor. If you aren’t one already! I would be using some of your approaches in my practise. I hope this would not be illicit and I hope this elicits a response from you 🙂
Thank you! Are you a counselor? I don’t mind if you use what I have written. It isn’t “mine” since I didn’t invent defensiveness 😀
Am a doctor (the equivalent of a Primary Care Physician) who also counsels…body, mind, ‘spirit’. Thank you for forsaking your ‘copy-write’ ! After all you are the creator of this piece.
What a wise, balanced discussion. Thank you for posting this! 🙂
Thank you very much. “Wise, balanced, discussion”. I feel like this is just how I intended it to be, and I’m glad it manifested that way.
Fantastic. thanks for your writing! Keep it up!
You are very welcome. Thanks for taking the time to comment!
I Love Love Loooove you blog!! Its nice to have someone relate to young people while discussing abstract topics without getting it all complicatedl! It makes learning lessons from life (and from you) so much better! Thank you, Malavika!! Cheers from Rwanda! 🙂
Shivani, that means so much to me! So glad you like my little blog. I think that’s part of my writing and also LIVING LIFE style – breaking things down into simple concepts and first steps. That’s where it all begins anyway.
This was another great post! To not get definsive is hard but worth it if it allows you to learn and grow as an individual. It’s so important to have respect for other people and their opinions especially when their heart is in the right place. Thank you for posting!
It is very difficult indeed, but everytime you take a little bit extra time to reflect on your desire to be defensive, and inquire where it’s actually coming from – you open up a new realm of possibility.
Thanks you! Would love your insight on my journey as well! What a great blogger you are!
Thank you, and I wish you all the best for your photo-a-day-challenge.
I would love to take part but my camera DIED :'(
I really like this challenge because it forces you to see the beauty in every day things. And of course, be creative!
Good luck! Stay committed!
Love that post – I deal with both spectrums of this article on a daily basis – let’s face it depending on the day and what’s going on we can all be defensive – your solutions to these reactions make so much sense – I’m going to practice these tips and send them to someone I know!
You are not alone in dealing with these reactions. They are so natural and instinctual, especially when we grow up learning how to use our egos, and not our hearts. Making the shift is challenging, and initially will require a lot of effort (I’m still in the “Initially” phase of this, so it’s hard work for me) but I assume that over time, the desire to be defensive will get less and less apparent. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
I like that you took the time to post this. My boyfriend and I both had awful issues with becoming defensive and it almost broke us up. What we decided to do was set up an outline for our conversations. It was an unconventional experience, but it was very helpful. By outright addressing what makes us feel defensive, and how things can be brought up to the other person so that they can really HEAR it, we have minimal problems communicating, and it’s caused a lot less arguments.
Once you become acquainted with different languages, and how to bring things up, it helps you talk to other people too. Knowing why other people do things, helps us realize that we do that too. Your tips are very helpful!
The closer and more intimate you become with someone, the stronger the need to become defensive becomes also. I think it’s because we allow someone into our private and personal emotional space, so the emotional risk becomes higher in any discussion an argument. What he says about me defines me.
Of course, this is not true. What he says about me may give me an indicator of something I need to check in myself.
Thank you for your valuable comment. I agree with everything you say. How you approach a topic is important, and most importantly, taking a primary interest and concern in UNDERSTANDING eachother is fundamental in good communication. Amen:D
I’ve nominated you for The Versatile Blogger award! Stop by my blog and check out the details! v3ronicavida.com
Thank you so much!
It is just amazing how your posts can so easily be related to everyday issues in life. Its a pleasure to read and understand all the facts of life in such simple terms. I do have a doubt though about the idea of ‘TOTAL ACCEPTANCE’ and i hope you can clear it out for me. In the post you describe that one person tells the other that he is mean or selfish or whatever and that other person becomes defensive, what if there is no second person present and the one who blames me or accuses me is myself, my own self conscience and then defend myself by saying “Yes, i’m worthless, i can’t improve, this is how my life is and will be”. How do u think this situation can be handled? Your comments are much appreciated !
I am happy that my posts can be related to every day issues in life, but that’s only for one reason – that’s because these are the issues I’m going through and learning through every day!
If you are the one making criticisms or observations about yourself, TO yourself, you can still follow the same steps listed in this blog post. Instead of quickly accepting these accusations about yourself, you too can avoid reacting quickly, decide not to blindy accept or deny these “Truths”, and take the time to contemplate the “Trueness”.
Simply act as if the voice in your head that put a label on you was another person, and act accordingly.
thanks for the timely post! (have you been listening in to my phone calls? 😉 ) It’s a great reminder, I appreciate the suggestions of what to do, and the encouragement to not say anything quickly. today someone said “I miss your temper” and my first thought was “I have a temper?!” I’m glad I have friends to share these things with me. 🙂
Good luck with the process. It isn’t always easy and it requires a lot of self awareness, but I believe that most painful aspects of our personalities and lives can be cured with a little bit of self awareness.
Very interesting article. My boyfriend and I definitely need to learn how to stop getting defensive all the time. It’s really hard to change this instinctive reaction though.
It is difficult, but the rewards are worth it! Woo hoo better communication!
I couldn’t have said this better. Very well written. Wonderful. Thank you.
Amazing blog. Its more like an eye opener and gives me a better perspective about things. I would definitely follow some of the solutions. I’m glad I found this blog!!
Thank you 😀
And I am glad to have found you!