When I was a kid and my parents tried to discipline me I would burst into tears in an embarrassingly vocal manner. This drove us all crazy. As I got older, this became even more upsetting. I wanted to be able to be a smart mouth or appear nonchalant. Truth was, I was incredibly defensive about any perceived correction. Decades passed and I assumed that my parental units were bad a giving me feedback - or else, why would I have been such an emotional wreck?
This perspective did not last long. When I left home and got married, I began to notice that I was defensive with everyone. Pete said it was hard to discuss a touchy subject with me because I was so defensive. I had to explain to him that I didn’t even know what that meant. And I wasn’t kidding. I was so naturally defensive that I couldn’t even recognize it in myself. Slowly, my self-awareness increased. But let’s be real - I am still a very defensive person.
Defensive behavior is a way some of us try to protect ourselves from a perceived attack. We do this by trying to turn the blame around onto someone else. (My parents were bad at providing feedback is one example of how I tried to blame others.)
Look, I am the last person in the world to suggest that we all try to not be so defensive! It would be the height of hypocrisy. But I do have three suggestions that I practice:
If you know you are prone to being defensive, admit it to God, to yourself and other human beings. Sometimes it helps just to tell the truth.
Acknowledge that you are powerless over your defensiveness BUT still accept responsibility for it.
Actively seek ways that work for you to address your defensive reactions.
I am terrible at being defensive with Pete so I started practicing being less defensive in artificial situations when the stakes are low. I set the situations up so that I would not be startled. Although I would never do this at one of my regular coffee shops, I decided to go to another one that I do not and never will frequent often (safe, low risk environment). I would place my order and then deliberately not give them enough money to pay for my coffee. They would call my attention to my error and I would say, “I am sorry; you are right. Here is the fifty cents I still owe you.” It was surprisingly hard.
What do you struggle with? Contempt towards others? Criticism? Blaming others? Defensiveness? Start small and try to make a few changes to move you away from your predictable, habitual responses to others!