Have you ever gone into defensive mode after someone criticized you? You remember your walls going up, and all you want to do is shift the focus away from the critical remark.
Defensiveness describes ways in which we react towards another person after they criticize us. It’s a coping mechanism that happens after being criticized. As opposed to listening to the criticism, when someone is defensive, they shift focus away from the criticism by criticizing back or giving someone the silent treatment.
Instead of dealing with the conflict or criticism, defensiveness shows up as a way to protect yourself.
Everyone has felt defensive before. It’s a completely normal reaction to criticism. However, in the long run, defensiveness can block us from both connecting to others and growing as a person.
There are a few reasons why people may react to criticism with defensiveness. Maybe they did not receive the unconditional support that makes us feel confident as a child. Defensiveness could also be a result of anxiety or poor assertiveness. Sometimes, defensiveness also reflects guilt or shame that a person wants to keep hidden.
Overall, defensiveness stems from fear or insecurity.
If someone is defensive, that defensiveness gives them an illusion of control. However, if we are constantly defensive, deflecting criticism or blame, how can we grow or become closer to others?
Are you wondering how defensiveness might play out in your relationships? There are common types of defensiveness that we might display when we react to criticism.
3 Common Types of Defensiveness:
- Ad hominem attacks. These are attacks on your partner’s personal character or history.
- Silent treatment. The silent treatment is when silence is used to punish someone and make them feel hurt.
- Bringing up the past. This looks like bringing up something someone did in the past to use against them instead of dealing with the criticism or issue at hand.
Remember, defensiveness is a completely normal reaction. But it can prevent you from getting closer to those you love. To strengthen your relationships, you can implement different strategies to feel less defensive.
How to resolve a disagreement when you feel yourself becoming defensive:
- Practice noticing your defensiveness. The first step to overcoming your defensiveness is being able to notice how it shows up in your daily life. What events trigger your defensiveness?
- Identify the feeling. When you notice yourself becoming defensive, be transparent about what you are going through. What feelings does defensiveness bring up for you? Are you defensive because you feel sad? Angry?
- Identify a need. What do you need at that moment? Letting your partner know that you feel guarded and communicating what you need is a great way to invite them in to help you feel supported.
- Examples of needs: to be understood, acceptance, safety, support, touch, communication, consideration, compassion, empathy
- Think about the intention behind a comment. Sometimes, we hear criticism from someone else and immediately perceive it as an attack. But what is your partner saying? Take a moment to reflect. Are there different ways you can interpret what your partner said?
- Breathe. When you notice yourself feeling defensive, calm your nervous system by taking a few deep breaths.
- Take responsibility. Most importantly, accept responsibility for the role you play in each situation. Learning to take responsibility can help you get closer to your partner and grow as an individual.
Remember that disagreements are a natural part of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. It’s normal for someone like a partner to constructively bring up something that can be improved.
When you find yourself getting defensive, take a few moments to think about the intention your partner had when saying something. Can you see the good in your partner’s intentions? Is there somewhere you can take responsibility?
You and your partner entered a relationship because you trust and love one another. If you start to feel defensive, remind yourself that your partner loves you. Reminding yourself about your partner’s good intentions and love can help you receive constructive criticism as well.