Reflections

Our Defense Mechanisms

We all get defensive sometimes.  It's often challenging to dig a little deeper, look into the mirror, admit hard truths,  and be human! But one truth about being a human being is we all have flaws. And, we tend to dislike someone pointing out our flaws.  People sometimes recognize that they do have a tendency to be defensive (or sometimes maybe that's one more thing to be defensive about! ) If you notice this creeping up in your life more frequently than you would like, or others point out your defensive nature, here are a few things to consider.

 

1.  Even if you disagree with what someone says about you, challenge yourself to see a grain of truth in what a person is telling you about yourself.  Ask yourself, have I heard something similar before? Is this something I already know about myself and am sensitive about? Most of the time, when we get defensive it's because we really do believe there could be some truth to their statement.

2.  Be kind to yourself.  It's okay to have weaknesses.   They're inevitable. However, most character traits are not fixed traits, so there is always room for growth.  If you believe something to be true, commit to working on it. In Marsha Linehan's Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)  she discusses thinking dialectically- meaning the need to both accept, and to change at the same time. It is only through accepting ourselves as we are that we can begin the process of understanding we need to make necessary changes.  

3. Agreeing with someone can diffuse an argument.  Instead of the reactive pattern of defending ourselves, try agreeing with what they say, especially considering that there's probably some truth to it.  "Yeah, you're right, I think I do that sometimes" is much more effective than "What are you talking about? I don't do that!" If you take a moment before you react, and take some time to process, you will have a more calm, thought out response.  If the other person is angry, hearing you not escalate the argument, being humble, and staying calm can bring their intensity down as well.

 

Defensiveness comes in a variety of forms, but it all amounts to our various ways of avoiding the more challenging aspects of ourselves and our lives, things we would rather not see, believe, and hear.  

 

A few of the common ways people defend against a truth are

over-explaining themselves ("oh, I only did that because......" or "yes, I do that but this is why...")

denying ("what are you talking about?  that didn't happen")

intellectualizing (being overly logical and avoiding talking about feelings)

projection (attributing your unacceptable thoughts and feelings to someone else)

 

Our defense mechanisms are often deep-seated and so entrenched in our daily lives that we may have trouble recognizing them.  Sometimes, slowing down and being more reflective in our day-to-day life can help on the journey to self-awareness. Therapy also can be a helpful way to become more aware of defensive tendencies and learn to embrace the truth about ourselves.  Awareness of these patterns of defensiveness as well as changes in communication and behaviors can lead to a more whole, humble, person open to growth.

Laura Novak