In the past week, I’ve written somewhere near 3,000 words on defensiveness. It was a thorough and thoughtful collection of blogs, but frankly that’s far too damn much to read for most people – me included. So, for myself and the rest of those who want to get digestible info quick, here’s everything you really need to know about defensiveness.
You can click on the section titles to get more info on that particular topic.
What is defensiveness?
Defensiveness is our way of making sure we don’t feel things we don’t want to feel. We don’t like to feel bad about ourselves. We don’t want to feel guilty, lazy, poor, forgetful or hurt. We don’t like to admit our faults to ourselves, and when others do it, we usually get defensive.
When people are being defensive, they’re essentially saying, “I’m incredibly insecure and don’t like people prodding at my soft innards.” They’re already stuffed to the brim with insecurities and damn sure don’t want anyone else piling new ones on.
Why is defensiveness a problem?
Well, defensiveness’s job is to protect by any means necessary. So, it’ll spend all its time trying to manipulate your feelings. It’ll do things like lie, hit, scream, cower, cry, blame and, well, anything it damn well wants to. It really doesn’t give a shit about you or your feelings, and will fuck everything up — if you let it.
What does defensiveness look like?
A stock photo of an angry girlfriend. You know: an eye roll, folded arms, physical distance, slouching, curling into a ball, that sort of thing. If someone is leaving the room, refusing to speak or acting like a bitter teen, you can be confident that you’re looking at a defensive behavior.
Some other signs: no/little eye contact, big gestures, pacing and moving faster/slower or more/less than normal.
What does defensiveness sound like?
Anything that is irrelevant and meant to make you feel one way or another. So, silence, denial, lying, screaming, blaming and crying. You’ll probably also hear things like, “How dare you,” “I can’t believe this,” “I’ve done so much for you,” “I don’t see any problem here,” “If you’d just calm down, I’d listen,” “Do it or I’m gone,” “You never listen to me,” “Stop attacking me,” “You think you’re better than me,” “You’re overreacting,” that sort of thing.
These types of statements can come from either party, and may be valid or bullshit, but they are a good sign someone is being defensive.
How do I avoid defensiveness?
You can’t, really. That’s like asking how you can prevent getting a cold. You can wash your hands and take supplements but you’ll get sick eventually. You’ll also get defensive eventually, and when you least expect it. So, the best thing to do is always expect it.
How do I deal with defensiveness?
You grab it by the neck, look it in the eye and say, “Shit you’re scary, but you’re not going to ruin this for me.”
Start by looking at yourself – do you do any of the above? If yes, then you should probably stop. If you have a handle on your shit, it’ll be harder for other people to mess with you in that way.
Defensiveness is a bully; starve it of attention by refusing to deal with the silly shit it says and stay on topic. Get your feelings out. Repeat them as much as needed. Don’t let people tell you how you feel but don’t get mad at them when they do.
Being able to see defensiveness and resist its tactics will get easier over time. Just keep at it.
What do I do if I know I’m being defensive?
Say, “Fuck, I’m being defensive asshole.” Then explain why you’re being defensive. Talk about how you feel but don’t blame the other person for those feelings. Let the person respond but don’t be shocked if they don’t immediately follow your openness. Just because you’re willing to be vulnerable doesn’t mean they are, too. Use the steps above to steer the convo in a more positive direction.
Give yourself room to screw this up. Ask my friends, partners and coaching clients — I screw this up a lot. I get lazy and I forget to say what I mean in the way I mean it. We all mess up; laugh it off and try again.
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