In Defense Of Defensiveness

Defensiveness is usually given a negative label. How often have any one of us been told (or told someone else) to not be defensive? I don’t think anyone enjoys being defensive; that seems to make sense. Defensiveness is usually accompanied by anger, perhaps feelings of resentment, and certainly agitation. So let me be clear from the onset: this defense of defensiveness is not a prescription encouraging defensive feelings or behavior. It is an acknowledgement and acceptance of defensive feelings in service to decreasing defensiveness.

Defensiveness has a functional aspect: it’s protecting our vulnerable hearts/minds from perceived threat. When you feel defensive there’s a reason: you perceive something important is lacking (i.e., safety, respect, order, etc.). It’s called ‘defensive,’ of course, because you’re defending yourself from some perceived threat. It’s also good to remember that our perceptions are sometimes inaccurate and that our minds can create threat where there is none. Experiences in our environment can also trigger memories (both conscious and unconscious) that cause us to feel threatened or unsafe. Whether accurate or inaccurate, these perceptions produce emotions that are certainly powerful and real.

The quickest way to decrease defensive feelings is to admit to yourself (and possibly to others) when you are defensive. If someone tells you, “Don’t be defensive.”, remind yourself that it’s o.k. to feel defensive; it’s a normal response to a perceived threat. Depending on the situation, you might admit this to the person you feel defensive toward: “You’re right; I am defensive and I’ll tell you why.” Accepting defensive feelings gives the feeling less energy or charge. Accepting your defensive feelings will also enable you to better understand the
fear-threat underlying the defensiveness. Acknowledging and accepting the fear-threat further reduces defensiveness.

Most of us, I think, have been “trained” to believe that defensiveness is more than undesirable, it’s somehow bad. I’m here to tell you that feeling defensive is not bad, it’s human. True, behaving defensively can interfere with communication and connection in relationship. However, the more you are able to acknowledge and accept any emotion, including defensiveness, the more choice you have regarding how to express and creatively work with all emotion. Feeling defensive is your heart/mind wanting to protect you; that’s love. Respect and honor the intent as you become more curious about the reality. --Doug