We are all hardwired to defend ourselves, which might lead to protective behavior. However, if you or your partner are constantly on alert, waiting on the front lines to jump into a defensive form of communication, it may be extremely damaging to the relationship. Let’s learn more about defensiveness, including its signs, effects, and how to deal with it in relationships.
What is Defensiveness?
Defensiveness is a feeling as well as conduct. The feeling is generally aroused when you believe someone is criticizing you, and it is accompanied by feelings of humiliation, sadness, and wrath.
In response, conduct, such as being sarcastic, giving someone quiet treatment, or being critical in return, is usually the result of the feeling.
Signs of Defensiveness in Relationships
Are you unclear whether you have been acting defensively? When it comes from within, defensiveness in relationships might be difficult to detect. Let’s look at some of the most common symptoms that you’re acting defensively.
Do you engage in any of the following behaviors when you are criticized? Read over the list and see if any of them strike a chord with you:
- Stop paying attention to the other person.
- Make justifications for whatever you are being chastised for.
- Consider blaming the other person for what they are condemning you for.
- Charge the other partner with the same offense.
- Make an effort to justify your behavior.
- Avoid discussing the current issue by bringing up prior mistakes made by the other partner.
- Inform the other partner that they should not be feeling the way they are.
Causes of Defensiveness in Relationship
If you’ve seen defensiveness in yourself, you may be asking why it started, what caused it, and what might be underneath it.
The following are some of the most common reasons or origins of defensiveness in relationships:
#1. A reaction to nervousness or an unwillingness to exert oneself. If you lack the ability to communicate assertively or are socially uncomfortable, you may exhibit defensive behavior.
#2. A reaction to embarrassment or guilt. If you are feeling bad about something and someone brings up a relevant topic, you may react defensively.
#3. As a result of concealing the truth. If you are trying to conceal the truth or are lying, you may become defensive.
#4. A response to criticism of your character or behavior. If you feel the need to justify your conduct or some facet of your character, you may respond defensively.
#5. A reaction to feeling powerless to affect change. If someone points out a flaw in you that you wish to improve but are powerless to do so, you may react defensively.
#6. A sign of a mental health problem. Defensiveness in relationships is sometimes a symptom of a broader mental health issue, such as a personality disorder, an eating disorder, or something.
In general, being protective is caused by sociocultural factors rather than biological or chemical factors. It is a style of relating to the world that is typically based on personal experiences or social context.
Types of Defensiveness
You may be wondering if there are different types of defensiveness in relationships now that you are aware of the signs of defensiveness.
In fact, there are several types of defensiveness in relationships. See if any of the following types of defensiveness connect with you:
#1. Ad hominem attack: Attacking the other person to discredit them in some way.
#2. Bringing up the past: Reminding the other person of a time in the past when they committed a mistake.
#3. The silent treatment: This is when you do not speak to someone to retaliate against them for criticizing you.
#4. Gaslighting: This is the practice of making the other person doubt their sanity or memory by denying or lying about doing something. This usually entails implying that the other person is acting irrationally or is not thinking clearly.
#5. Blaming/aggression: Assigning responsibility to the other person for whatever you are being chastised for.
#6. Righteous indignation: Behaving as if you should not be questioned about this subject for some reason (e.g., saying that you work hard and that is an excuse for not spending time with family).
#7. Innocent victim: Accepting the criticism but then crying and blaming yourself to make the other person feel bad and garner compassion (and prevent further critiques).
Effects of Defensiveness
If you tend to get defensive, you are aware that it can have a detrimental impact on your life. Perhaps you’re trapped and unable to adjust your defensive behavior, although it makes you feel worse in the long run.
The following are some of the bad consequences of responding defensively in your life:
- You are not behaving in a way that is consistent with the person you want to be or the life you imagined for yourself.
- You end up making other people feel horrible without meaning to, which makes you feel even worse.
- So, you make things more tense and aggressive than they need to be, and everything feels like it’s escalating into an argument or a fight.
- Eventually, you end up feeling like an outcast and as if you don’t fit in anywhere you go.
- Because of your defensive conduct, you wind up feeling worse.
- Problems are never solved; rather, it appears like you are always rehashing the same concerns.
- Your empathy and compassion toward others have deteriorated over time.
- Because of your defensive behavior, you end up in situations where others refuse to change.
- Overall, you are a negative person who has lost the ability to see the positive in anything in your life.
How to Avoid Being Defensive
Do you want to know how to be less defensive? You can use a variety of coping strategies and techniques to help you feel less defensive, which will lead to less defensiveness in your relationships. Here are some suggestions to get you started on the road to becoming less defensive.
#1. Recognize Your Defensiveness
The first step toward stopping your defensive behavior is to become aware of it when it occurs. It’s easy to avoid confronting your behavior or admitting that you’re acting defensively.
Instead, try to pay attention to how you are feeling and how you react to others in the present moment. You can also journal about your feelings at the end of each day, examining how various situations made you feel or how you reacted to them.
#2. Validate Your Emotions
Once you’ve learned to recognize when you become defensive, it’s critical to begin validating your feelings when you’re criticized. Recognizing that you are hurt, frightened, ashamed, afraid, or insecure can assist to diffuse the situation.
Instead of making yourself feel worse for having these feelings, try not to aggravate the situation. Instead, acknowledge your emotions so that you don’t become overly focused on them.
#3. Avoid Acting on Your Emotions
As you validate your feelings of being wounded or ashamed and show compassion to yourself for how you are experiencing, you can also recognize that you do not have to act on the inclination to react defensively.
While it is understandable to feel defensive, this does not necessitate immediate action. Instead, offer yourself compassion for how you’re feeling and acknowledge that everyone feels this way from time to time.
#4. Make the Decision to Align Yourself with Your Values
Is your defensive behavior consistent with how you want to be as a person? If not, it’s time to decide how you wish to act. When you feel yourself becoming defensive, consider how the best version of yourself would handle the issue. If you are unsure, use your notebook to make a list of things you could do in the present instead of acting on your protective feelings.
The following are some ideas for activities you could take to avoid acting defensively in the future:
- Tell the other person how you feel about their statements and why you are offended.
- Be assertive in your demeanor and request respect from the other person, regardless of the critique they chose to deliver.
- Rather than becoming diverted, stay on topic and offer possible solutions to the problem.
#5. Anticipate When You Will Become Defensive
Do you know when you’re most likely to become defensive? Perhaps it is in the presence of a specific person or a specific situation. Making a list of situations that are more likely to cause you to become defensive is the best thing you can do.
When you are caught off guard or surprised by someone, you are more likely to react defensively. As a result, if you can predict when it is more likely to happen, you can plan how to be compassionate to yourself as well as how you want to react.
#6. Increase Your Self-Esteem
If there are specific issues or areas of your life where you are more likely to become defensive, doing things that make you feel more confident or boost your self-esteem may be beneficial.
For example, if you feel bad when someone brings up your physical health, you might feel more confident if you already know you’re doing everything you can to be the healthiest version of yourself.
#7. Consult a Psychologist
If you are struggling with defensiveness and are unable to control it on your own, you may want to consider investing in therapy or counseling to address the issue. This may be especially beneficial if you are experiencing defensiveness in your relationship.
You could even go to couples counseling to improve your communication as a couple.
#8. Accept Responsibility
Instead of reacting immediately to your feelings of being hurt or criticized, you could try accepting responsibility for whatever role you may have played in the situation.
For example, if you were asked to do something and did not, you could say, “You’re correct, I should have done it.” I sincerely apologize.”
Recognizing your role in the problem will assist to diffuse the tension and allow you to collaborate with the other person to solve the problem.
#9. Improve Your Communication Capabilities
Improving your communication skills in relationships is another technique to deal with defensiveness. If you know that a certain topic always makes you feel hurt or angry, it’s okay to inform the other person that you don’t want to discuss it unless the purpose is to find a solution.
It is not productive communication to keep rehashing problems to debate. To improve your communication skills, begin by rehearsing in low-stakes circumstances or thinking about how you would like to communicate before a problem arises.
Instead of reacting defensively, imagine yourself being cool and collected while discussing a problem.
How to Avoid Making Others Defensive
We’ve covered a lot of ground in terms of what to do if you’re defensive and how to be less defensive. On the other side, you might want to know how to quit making other people defensive.
While each person is accountable for their own feelings and behaviors, how you communicate can set the tone for how they react.
Let’s look at some strategies for preventing defensive behavior in others around you.
#1. Don’t criticize; instead, make requests.
Rather than beginning with a criticism, attempt to frame your desired outcome as a request. This might be accomplished by conveying something nice that you require from the other person.
In one scenario, it appears that you simply wish to complain. In the other situation, your message has a clear aim and an easy way for the other person to comply. If you want to lessen the likelihood of the other person becoming defensive, add something to the end of your request like, “It would be a tremendous assistance to me,” or “I would truly appreciate the help.”
#2. Stop attempting to exert control over the other person.
If you try to control the other person, he or she will most likely respond defensively. Remember that you are responsible for your own actions and reactions; the other person does not have to act in a certain manner to make you feel better.
This is especially problematic if you believe you are “helping” the other person and don’t understand why they are defensive.
Allowing others the opportunity to select their own route in life is crucial unless their behavior has a direct impact on your life.
#3. Recognize Your Own Failings
Though you are unwilling to recognize that you may be incorrect and act as if you are superior in your conversation, the people around you may respond defensively.
Above all, it is critical to be aware of and admit your own flaws. This not only helps you appear more friendly and humble, but it also reduces the other person’s defenses, as they may feel attacked for their own difficulties.
Recognizing that everyone has challenges is the surest way to improve communication.
#4. Don’t Be Judgmental
Instead of being judgmental, describe what you wish to talk about neutrally.
For example, if your neighbor is playing loud music, instead of passing judgment on what the neighbor is doing, request that the music be turned down. Direct communication is always preferred over a judgmental demeanor.
#5. Show your concern and empathy.
Empathy and compassion for someone who is behaving defensively are preferable to being defensive yourself. As you’ve discovered, being defensive stems from feelings of embarrassment, hurt, guilt, being attacked, and so on.
Responding with more criticism is likely to result in stonewalling or an argument if a person is feeling this way. Instead, demonstrate empathy and concern for the other person’s circumstances. There’s a reason why we refer to it as “disarming” someone with your charm.
#6. Consider yourself a problem solver.
Rather than approaching things in a hostile manner, consider yourself and the other person to be doing an investigation. Consider and weigh various points of view, then work together to find a solution to the problem.
If you focus on fixing a problem rather than arguing with or attacking the other person, you will be able to reduce tension and focus on solutions.
How to React to a Defensive Individual
What should you do if, despite your best efforts, the other person replies defensively? Here are some suggestions for dealing with a defensive person and defusing the situation.
- Ignore the other person’s defensiveness and concentrate on issue solutions and effective communication, even if it is difficult.
- Maintain your cool even if you want to respond defensively (since this will not fix anything).
- Before attempting to solve a problem, find something on which you can all agree so that you may begin on equal footing.
Long-Term Overcoming of Defensiveness
If you find yourself being defensive in your relationships with others, it is critical to analyze the emotions that are driving your response. When you react defensively, you are likely unaware that you are upset, angry, unhappy, ashamed, or feeling belittled.
The first step toward reducing defensive reactions is becoming aware of when they occur and what your feelings are at the time. Journaling about your feelings or keeping a written log is a useful method to become more aware of them.
As you become more aware of your patterns, you will be able to predict when you are likely to experience a setback and plan ahead of time how you will respond.
Finally, if you notice that others around you are behaving defensively, your behavior may be causing these defensive behaviors. In that instance, it’s critical to appreciate the advantage of viewing circumstances as issues you can solve rather than debates.
Being able to empathize with and appreciate individuals around you will also help you avoid the trap of reciprocal defensiveness.
Defensiveness is a taught behavior, which means it can be unlearned as well. If despite your best efforts, you are still unable to quit your protective behavior, you may benefit from professional assistance.
Don’t be afraid to seek the advice of a therapist, counselor, or other mental health experts. This could make or break your ability to improve your communication skills and manage your protective behaviors.
You are not alone in feeling this way, and your feelings are very natural. However, if they are inconsistent with the person you want to be or the conduct you want to exhibit, there is nothing wrong with focusing on modifying how you react. As a result of performing this action, you and everyone around you will profit.
Is defensiveness a character trait?
Defensiveness, which is naturally passive, frequently transforms into aggressive aggression. When a person feels under assault, he or she may quickly shift gears and go on the offensive. What motivates him to act in this manner? On an inner level, his passivity is regarded as a heinous trait.
What is the root cause of defensiveness?
People normally react defensively because they anticipate or perceive a threat in their environment, not because they wish to be difficult. Unfortunately, protective conduct leads to a vicious circle.
What's the difference between being defensive and defending yourself?
There is no distinction between being defensive and defending yourself. One of the most significant relational skills you can develop is the ability to break away from the desire to defend oneself in each given situation. There are very few situations in which we must properly defend our position.
How does defensiveness affect communication?
Defensiveness creates inefficient and damaging communication in social interactions when people deny their flaws, project their flaws on others, or use judgmental communication techniques.