On Defensiveness

I want to talk for a moment about defensiveness. It’s part of the human condition and something we all struggle with, but it’s important to confront because it is a barrier to honest relationships and conflict resolution.

One reason humans get defensive is because we don’t want to feel yucky feelings about ourselves. It’s not fun to be faced with our own mistakes, or to come to terms with moments when we’ve hurt others or made the wrong choice. But it’s imperative, especially if we want to develop and maintain real and lasting relationships with other humans.

One way we talk about this in our home is recognizing and giving name to the physiological sensations that accompany or precede defensiveness. My boys sometimes call it a “surge” which resonates with me as well, but people do respond in different physiological ways to defensiveness. The boys are learning to pause when they feel that energy surge before responding. Counting to ten has been a powerful tool for them and me. During that pause, I challenge myself to take it a step further and lean into my defensiveness, asking myself questions like- “Why do I feel defensive in this moment?” “Is this really a personal attack, or am I only tangentially related to the topic at hand?” “Am I over-identifying with one of my many identities (woman, mom, writer, suburban dweller, the list goes on…) in a way that makes something feel personal that is not, in fact personal?” Or when defending someone else – “Why do I feel the need to defend this person’s actions right now? Why do I feel like their actions are linked to my own identity?” “Do I need to revisit my opinion on this subject in light of this new information?”

The next thing I do is spiritual, so it may not apply to you given your own faith/spiritual practices, but I pray that my eyes will be opened to the truth behind my defensiveness and that I will have the courage to face my own internal discomfort and be changed by it. I think this would work even if you are not someone who subscribes to the idea of a higher power, God or other consciousness by using a simple mantra that affirms your own openness to accepting internal discomfort and being changed by it.

Do these things work every time? Nope. I’m a human being so I mess this up a lot. Just ask my husband. 😉 But, it works some of the time, and the more I practice it, the easier it gets. I hope this is helpful to one of you today.

Peace and love.

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