The literal meaning of defensive is the intention to protect. In the case of defensive behaviour, one wants to protect their psyche from criticism and deflect blame. When you look up the meaning of defensive, it says, “very anxious to challenge or avoid criticism”. A defensive person tries to protect oneself from blame. They aren’t open to the idea that they could have committed a mistake. Defensiveness is rather a reflex reaction to hiding their guilt and self-doubt.
This is a major relationship hurdle. Having a conversation with a defensive partner might seem like your feelings aren’t heard. They find excuses to shield their mistake. They’d want to justify their action. A random comment is also taken personally. Defensiveness is rooted in low self-esteem, inferiority complex or from childhood trauma. A person with an inferiority complex feels low when they see someone better than them. They fall into a vicious pit of comparison and thus develop a defensive wall to protect themselves from getting hurt.
How to identify defensiveness
Here are a few ways to gauge if you or the person you are talking to is defensive.
You feel the words directed at you are harsh or critical. Your first reaction to hearing them is making you feel hurtful. You feel that the person is indicating that you are the one at fault.
When their mistake is pointed out, they immediately blame another person for it. They claim that if the other person had done it right, they’d have made no mistake. They blame the organisation or external factor as the reason for their mistake.
Blow things out of proportion
When you don’t have anyone or anything to blame, you become dramatic by portraying yourself in the worst picture possible. You say things like “this place would be better without me” or “I know you’ve never liked me”.
Make the mistake seem trivial
When a defensive person has made a mistake, they describe the situation in a way that makes the problem seem to be smaller than it is.
Say something has gone wrong and the blame falls on them, instead of apologising and taking responsibility, they try to make you feel guilty. They try to gain sympathy or have a long face, ultimately making you apologise to them for pointing out the error.
How to deal with a defensive person
Defensiveness is a knee-jerk reaction and there are ways to get rid of defensiveness. Here are a few ways to talk to a defensive person.
Be polite and suggestive
To be polite to a defensive person, first, accept that it is an involuntary reaction. Sit down and have a polite conversation with them. Control the urge to get defensive when they get defensive. Instead, start with a compliment and then mask the criticism as a suggestion. For example, “Good job on the spreadsheets. Could you sort the products alphabetically? I would make it easy for the vendors.”
Before pointing out their mistake, assure them that it is only human to err. A defensive person cannot handle the blame as it makes them feel ashamed or low of themselves
Rephrase negative feedback
Instead of bluntly pointing out an error, rephrase the feedback as a question. Allow them to help you. This way, the message is conveyed without making the defensive person withdraw into their shell. For example, instead of telling the food, it lacks salt you can rephrase it asking them, “do you think a little bit of salt can be added to enhance the taste?”
After reading the above points if you feel you are a defensive person, then the following methods would help you feel open to suggestions
Whenever you feel attacked, take a moment to reflect. Maybe there could be a point in what your partner or friend is telling you. Perhaps their feedback could be a means to improve yourself. When you feel you are being criticized, take a moment to think why you feel bad. Keep in mind that it is alright to make mistakes and only from mistakes we learn
Don’t take everything personally
Remember, everyone is entitled to have their own opinions. Every comment passed in the room is not directed at you. Even if it is directed at you, learn to ignore it sometimes. It will make you peaceful
Boost your psych
Find ways to boost your self-esteem. Meditation and travel are ways to make you feel good about yourself. If you feel you don’t flair well in a particular task, practice. Practice and perseverance always fetch results, in turn, makes you feel successful. Compete with yourself
Defensiveness is not a disease but it is a relationship killer. With a little bit of mindfulness, patience and understanding, it can be uprooted.