Saying Goodbye to Defensiveness
One way we intrude into someone else’s business is by defending ourselves. As soon as we start to defend ourselves, we step out of our own life and into someone else’s. We are living ‘over there’ as we try to prove that we’re ‘right,’ ‘good,’ ‘okay,’ ‘of value’ and ‘worthy of love’ to someone else.
Not only can our need to defend our words and actions be exhausting, our defensiveness removes our sense of well-being and real power. What I have seen is that defensiveness can be a form of self-betrayal because it is rooted in self-judgment. Our underlying belief may be we’re not okay or enough just as we are. We believe that something’s wrong with us or that we have to be perfect. So we defend…and defend….and defend, and our partners or friends may not feel heard or as close to us as we truly want.
What can defensiveness look, sound and feel like? You may…
• Feel hurt and hear yourself say such words as “How could they say this about me? I try so hard!”, “I don’t feel understood or accepted,” or “I did it wrong again.”
• Be feeling fear and hear yourself say these words: “They don’t like me/love me and will leave me” and/or “I have to be perfect in order to be loved.”
• Use anger to express your hurt or fear by saying: “How dare they say this about me! They aren’t being fair! What about them?!”
• Be frustrated. Words that may accompany this feeling may be: “Here we go again,” “I can’t get this right,” “There’s something wrong with us, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t fix it.”
• Analyze the other person and look for reasons that make whatever they’re saying all about them and not about you.
• Notice that you’re trying hard to convince them to think like you. That entails a lot of repetition and a voice that starts to escalate in its intensity.
• Become aware that your body is feeling tense with the tightness showing up in your jaw, shoulders or stomach.
How does your defensiveness look, feel and sound like for you?
Start noticing your feelings, your body, and your words either expressed outwardly or inwardly when you feel the urge to defend yourself. What’s the impact of your defensiveness? Get to know yourself and evaluate what is working for you and what isn’t in this very human dynamic.
Remember, the entire time you tune into your defensive behaviours that you’re in a learning mode. A shift in this old habit takes time, awareness and a clear intention. Be loving and compassionate with yourself while you learn how to act differently.
All close relationships have incidents where one person or both feel critical of one another, especially during times of stress. From my own experience, it has taken a long time to see that my defensiveness comes from a place of my telling myself that I am wrong. I then project onto the person with whom I’m talking for making me wrong. This is an old story of mine that has had its many layers to clear away. What I know is that no one can make me wrong or feel ‘bad’ about myself except me.
What I have seen and experienced is that these steps can support us in shifting the pattern of defensiveness in our relationships to a new way of being:
1. Reflect on the belief that feeds your defensiveness. Then ask yourself: What would my life be like without the thought that I have to prove myself to anyone?
2. Imagine what it would be like if you truly believed that you are a good person who is doing your very best, and it’s human to make mistakes. Breathe that in. Notice the impact on your body while sitting in this perspective.
3. Get curious. When you hear feedback, ask questions so you fully understand how the person is thinking and feeling until you reach the point of being able to ‘walk in their shoes’.
4. Say “I’m sorry that you feel that way” from a place of genuine caring. These simple words when shared from the heart supports a person to feel heard and understood. Any tug of war that may have happened with a defensive response is stopped at the pass.
5. To support you in being able to be there for another person when it may feel like they’re criticizing you is to remember that their perspective is their own. It doesn’t mean that they’re right and you’re wrong or vice versa. It just means that you have two different ways of perceiving what’s happening.
Even though we may feel justified, inner suffering occurs when we live in the land of right and wrong which leads to defensiveness. We either feel that we’re right and, therefore, ready to fight for our point of view (defend) or wrong and possibly feel shame and poor self-esteem.
There is a wonderful sense of freedom when we truly recognize we don’t ever have to defend ourselves in order to prove ourselves, feel understood by another or be right….again.