Why we get defensive and how to stop

Reacting defensively is probably one of the worst things we can do in any interaction and in any relationship.  Some experts have identified it as a character trait that almost certainly will lead a marriage to divorce.  Others, have spoken of how it is a tremendous obstacle to the progression of a career.

In one of my segments for Al Dia con Leticia Mendoza, I spoke of a key reason we get defensive.  Yes, one reason is not liking the feeling of being “wrong”. Another reason may be a way to save face and avoid feeling embarrassment.  But there’s an even a deeper reason that can be quite ingrained in us.  Understanding it may free us from this toxic behavior.  It certainly changed my relationship with this behavior forever.  As always the segment is in Spanish.  If you happen to know both languages, the video is definitely worth a look!

While volunteering for a program a while back, a person once told me that she had seen a study on what happens to us internally when we get defensive. 

Though I was never privy to the work, the explanation made sense.  More importantly, it changed my relationship with defensiveness and helped me behave less defensively, which ultimately can this perspective a tool for success.

The team member explained how when we get defensive, it is our brain’s way of protecting all of realities, not just the subject matter at hand.  For example: Let’s say someone came to you and told you the sky was green.  Your whole life you have believed that the sky is blue.  You will defend this belief not only because of your history believing the sky is blue, but because if indeed you have been wrong and the sky is green, then what else in your life is incorrect?  What other beliefs that you have, that you have been living and making decisions under, are also not correct?

You can see how this could lead someone to feel that their world is subject to crumbling if a firmly held belief is contradicted.  Believing that our world is subject to crumbling makes us feel incredibly vulnerable.  And when we feel vulnerable we are more likely to attack, protect…and defend. 

There are many tools and strategies to help us avoid getting defensive.  As I mentioned, we can learn to better deal with being “wrong”.  We can learn to feel less embarrassed in certain situations.  Or learn to better deal with our embarrassment.  Yet, this post is about releasing the grip we hold over our beliefs and having the mental agility to be more open to the ideas, perspectives, and different points of views of others.  Most importantly, to understand that just because one of our beliefs is mistaken, it does not mean that every single belief in our mind is under threat of no longer being valid. 

If we do this, we will be able to handle sensitive topics with others better.  Imagine how much richer, happier, and peaceful our lives could be if when someone presented a contrarian opinion, we did not feel that we needed to defend ourselves or prove them wrong? 

What YOU can do TODAY:

  • Think of a time when you reacted very defensively at another person
  • Allow within your mind the space to consider that other perspectives other than your own could exist.  And that the existence of these does not make you wrong, just someone who thinks differently. And that thinking differently is not something to be ashamed of, but maybe something that makes the world richer.  And that the other person thinking differently does not invalidate you, it’s just someone thinking differently.  It has nothing to do with who you are and all of the beliefs you stand for.  We have incredible examples in history of how different beliefs and opinions have advanced humanity.  Maybe your different thoughts might be the catalyst for something greater, or maybe it will be the thoughts of the other person that moves a community forward.  The important thing is to advance as human beings and not squash these opportunities with our defensiveness.  This is difficult to do, so it may take you time.  What you may want to do here is close your eyes and breathe deeply as you visualize yourself choosing to become a more open person. 
  • Reflect if the defensiveness you feel is because you are tying up many of your beliefs together, and begin to consider how you can loosen these ties.  

I hope this article is of service to you.

Do you know someone who would benefit from becoming less defensive? Share this article with them, or share it with your friends and family so they can also start creating the life they want to live.  As always, leave a comment or question below, I would love to hear from you.